Review: 'Epic' is about as inspired as its title
This should come as no surprise, but Roger Ebert was a personal hero of mine. The man lost his voice years ago, but he was still able to speak clearly as ever in his writing, especially the movie reviews that were his main job. He died earlier this year.
I was reminded of a line he occasionally used during Blue Sky Studios’ Epic during a scene where the villain has captured the comedy relief sidekicks and is telling them stories of his son. One of them exclaims, “Your stories are boring and torturous!” As Ebert would point out (as he did for Jason X), the movie just reviewed itself. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
Epic features some really wonderful animation, great special effects and what I’m sure would have been remarkable use of 3D technology if I’d bothered to watch the movie that way, but none of it really matters, because the story is, well, boring and torturous.
I will give Epic this; it opens on an interesting scene. A man watches a trio of crows attack a lone hummingbird. Eventually, the hummingbird is struck from the sky; as it falls, the man is able to catch it. The man finds the tiny bird mostly unhurt, but on its back is a miniature saddle. It’s a good scene, full of mystery and menace.
This mystery and menace is instantly defused by the next scene, in which the tiny owner of the saddle runs down a tree, still being chased by the crows and their tiny riders. Okay, so I watched the trailers and knew the tiny people were very clearly out there, but let me have my false suspense for another scene or so.
Anyway, the man (Jason Sudeikis) is a kind of kooky scientist who believes there are fairies in his forest; his estranged teenage daughter Mary Katherine, or M.K. (Amanda Seyfreid), is coming to live with him now that her mother has died. Understandably, she thinks he’s crazy, because she’s not seen the trailers. Meanwhile, the fairies are having a big to-do; the fairy queen (Beyonce Knowles) is selecting an heir by picking a pod that will pass on her powers over nature. Her chief fairy guard, Ronin (Colin Farrell), is not pleased; he is afraid that her enemies will attack.
See, the forest must maintain balance between the forces of growth, represented by the fairies, and the forces of decay. By “maintain balance,” the movie means screw the forces of decay; those guys are ugly, so they’re the bad guys. Turns out the chief of said forces (Christoph Waltz, who I liked here for no other reason than I can listen to that guy monologue all day) and his son (Blake Anderson) are planning a surprise attack.
The attack goes off with a few hitches. Two characters are killed off; one kind of obviously, the other I’ll give the writers credit for surprising me. The pod is given to the teenage daughter, accidentally wandering in the wrong section of the forest at the wrong time, who is now magically shrunk to fairy size. She, and a merry band of misfits who I will now describe, must protect the pod until it can sprout and choose a new queen.
Besides the protagonist fish out of water teenager with parental problems and the grizzled veteran mentioned earlier, we have the heroic Nod (Josh Hutcherson), who recently quit the armed fairy forces because he was tired of the grizzled old veteran he sees as a replacement father – his real dad is dead, of course – treating him like an adoptive son, because that’s terrible. You already know everything you need to about him.
Despite most of the fairies looking like anthropomorphic mushrooms, twigs and flowers, all the major fairy characters look like miniature humans. The two comic relief characters, however, are anthropomorphic. One is a snail, and one is a slug. I am not sure if they are normal gastropods, and in the movie universe all such creatures can talk, or if they are a special breed of fairy that look like gastropods. They’re in charge of the pod garden, and therefore accompany the pod to keep it healthy until the inevitable magical ceremony.
The snail (Chris O’Dowd) wants to be a Leaf Man (the fairy armed forces official title) instead of a pod grower. That’s his character trait. The slug (Aziz Ansari) is more in line with the “annoying talking animal” archetype; he’s attracted to the female protagonist, so he’s basically like a funny, good, but still creepy Jabba the Hutt. (I’ve always wondered if the other Hutts think Jabba is some kind of weird pervert for his attraction to Leia; yeah, Carrie Fisher is hot in that golden bikini, but you’d think a slug would be more into other slugs.)
Finally, they meet Nim Galoo (Steven Tyler), a caterpillar who is the chief historian of the forest, and is the only person who knows what to do with the pod. He seems to have come directly from The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue; no seriously, I never thought I’d be watching a movie and think to myself, “They just ripped off that scene where the caterpillar and the crow pretend to be an owl.” He doesn’t pretend to be an owl with the help of a crow, but he does sing and dance while making slightly humbuggy predictions for a crowd of woodland critters.
Nim also illustrates the problem with these characters and this story: they are incredibly generic. Nim reminding me of a ridiculous, stupid scene from another movie makes him the most interesting thing in the movie, because at least “ridiculous” and “stupid” are something.
Beyond one early death that caught me by surprise, everything in Epic went along like clockwork; it’s fixed up with a really ornate face, but it’s just marking time until it’s over. I’ve seen this movie a million times already, occasionally done better, oftentimes just as boring as this movie. Even the title is borrowed; Epic? What is with up with that incredibly generic title?
Actually, it probably is Up, a movie that succeeded by doing things differently – an old guy as a protagonist; childhood hero as villain; even the annoying animal sidekick is different in that we have an explanation for him. The lesson animated movie-makers took away is “really vague title.”
Then Tangled came along, It also featured a blasé title; but once again, it was a success because it was, if slightly more generic than Up, still its own thing. And both Up and Tangled made sense once you saw them; but now we have movies like Brave (where no one was particularly brave) and Epic (which not only isn’t particularly epic, is also about things on a small scale, i.e. the exact opposite of epic). [Ed.: This may be the joke.]
I think that says it all, right there. I spent almost as much time rambling about trends in movie titles as I did on the plot of the movie I was supposed to be reviewing. Because this movie is generic and boring.
Don’t you hate it when that happens?