Review: Epic



A distinguished enough cast can't do much to make Epic rise to a higher level.

A distinguished enough cast can’t do much to make Epic rise to a higher level.

I had initially turned my nose up at some of the early trailers for Epic, deeming them uninteresting and derivative of other, better, works. But a later one that used Snow Patrol’s “What If The Storm Ends?” piqued my interest in a very effective way, so I decided to give it a go. In the end I’m not sure if it was really worth it.

Epic is the story of M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) who is trying to sort out the fractured relationship she has with her scientist father Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), a man obsessed with seeking tiny men he claims live in the woods around his home. Despite M.K.’s scepticism, the “Leafmen” really do exist, living under the rule of Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) and the military leadership of Ronin (Colin Farrell), who also has to deal with the impetuousness of one of his subordinates, Nod (Josh Hutcherson). When the rot-spreading Boggans, led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) make a bid to destroy the forest one and for all, M.K. is drawn into the miniature war by the magic of Tara, and with the help of Ronin, Nod, the caterpillar Nim Galuu (Stephen Tyler) and the slug/snail combination of Mub (Aziz Ansari) and Grub (Chris O’Dowd), she has to try and find a way to preserve the heart of the forest.

The general plot is nothing spectacular, and is taking its main points wholesale from such sources as Avatar and Fern Gully, though I suppose it is fair enough to say that it manages to add a degree of uniqueness that keeps the experience from being completely stale. The actual narrative is done in a dual fashion for much of the running time, switching back and forth between the war of the Leafmen and the Boggans, and the journey of the M.K. character. It actually takes a good bit of the running time to get right down to the “micro” process that is the whole hook.

I think it’s hard to undertake that concept and not get lost in the inevitable humour of the situation. The most famous use of it, after all, are things like “Honey I Shrunk The Kids” and even examples of a much more serious bent, like Michael Crichton’s last novel Micro, lose a little something with the comicalness of the premise, of little people getting trapped in handbags and having to deal with talking slugs.

Epic has an even higher likelihood of falling into that trap, seeing as how it is a CGI movie, but in fairness it manages to draw a distinct line between  the humour elements and the more serious stuff. It certainly isn’t anything on a par with A Bug’s Life and the like, but this is a serviceable plot.

I wouldn’t say that it is very “epic” though. The heart of it is a conflict between a lonely daughter and a distant father, and the actually epicness is supposed to come from the Leafman/Boggan war. But that war has such little at risk in the grand scheme of things – the destruction of a single forest, something magically done away with it with a single pod – that it fails to hit home. The point is, presumably, that “epic” stories can be found in small places, but the speed of the narrative and the rather limp finale mean that Epic could probably have been better called “Mildly Interesting”.

As I said, it is very fast paced, as any movie coming in at just over 100 minutes would be. There’s too much to go over here, too much epicness that the production team are trying to cram in, and in the end this results in a film that is rushing from scene to scene, set-piece to set-piece, without giving enough time for most of them to leave an impact on the audience. The finale, an all-out battle between the two factions, is rather disappointing, the focus squarely on the magical pod and M.K.’s interaction with her father, and a pedestrian final combat between Mandrake and Ronin that we’d already seen in the movie 20 minutes previously.

It’s the kind of movie where, having been initially introduced to the characters and the basic plot, you could just about fill in the blanks yourself. There’s a half-assed romantic angle they don’t really do enough with, there’s the kid-friendly anthropomorphic animal guys, the magical MacGuffin that will make everything all ok in the end, the bad guy gets killed (but not by the good guys, because that would be wrong) and its happy families when the credits role. In fairness, Epic at least manages to subvert a few things in the rare darker moments, like when Mandrake kills the bird Nod was riding at the conclusion, or when his son dies, so that’s something.

But aside from that, there’s nothing to really write home about, nothing that Epic can really do to escape a tag of “interesting, but forgettable”. Most characters have incredibly simple, almost clichéd, journeys to go on, like the reckless Nod who has to find his inner sense of responsibility, Bomba who has to understand that his daughter is more important than his work, and M.K. herself who, well, I guess makes peace with her father through her danger-filled adventure, which makes her appreciate he family more.

It’s always easy to spot the better actors in a VA production. Those who come from a comedy/stand-up/musical background, more used to being put in front of a mike and asked to instantly perform, sound better and more in tune with their characters, while others, the big blockbuster stars with no prior experience in this sort of thing, struggle. That’s why Ansari, O’Dowd, Knowles, Tyler and Sudeikis sound a hell of a lot better than the likes of Farrell, Hutcherson and Waltz.

Seyfried is enjoyable enough. She has an occasional sense of quiet desperateness to her, though I wasn’t too impressed with the critical conversation between her and her father before her transformation. She’s in and out, with varying levels of tempo, effort and to be frank, interest. It’s no virtuoso performance as a leading role and she pales in comparison to some of the others. Hutcherson is not putting in the best he could possibly could either, and I never really got an idea of his characters emotions or range throughout the course of Epic.

Sudeikis is probably the best of the cast. I really liked the mix of panic, curiosity and sadness in him, this obsessed scientist desperately trying to right every wrong in his life by tracking down the Leafmen. His side of the interactions with M.K. are more enjoyable, and he manages to add a satisfying amount of emotional maturity to the story by the conclusion, elaborating on just why he is so determined to find these mysterious creatures, even if they aren’t really the right reasons.

Colin Farrell just sounds wrong for the character model, if that makes sense. The Irish twang coming out of this warrior doesn’t feel right, and I wondered early on if there were some slight synching issues. Farrell is clearly not very comfortable in this role, and since he is quite a good actor, I can only put this down to the specific medium. Beyonce Knowles is a little better, and I think she manages to capture a little of the magic and barely hidden glee of the Tara character in her brief time on screen.

Waltz is basically just channelling a bit of Hans Landa here and calling it a day. He’s not phoning it in, but all this is missing is a somewhat more obvious German twang and a slightly deeper malice and it would be his most iconic character in a quasi-insect form. He’s threatening and has presence, but this is nothing Waltz hasn’t done before, and better. I suppose you could justifiably say that he simply isn’t being given enough to do, but when compared to someone like, say, Kevin Spacey’s Hopper in A Bug’s Life, Mandrake falls well short.

Even Waltz, as brilliant as he usually is, can't do much here.

Even Waltz, as brilliant as he usually is, can’t do much here.

Stephen Tyler is rather good as the wise old caterpillar, and I wonder if he might consider going more into the world of VA. Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari are given enough of an opportunity to lighten the tone and offer some enjoyable humour, Ansari more so, but in the end their role is basically that of a brief distraction from more serious issues. Pitbull plays a frog, and that’s about all I can say for that.

It’s a pretty prediction. The forest is illustrated very well, and a nice contrast is found between the greenery of the Leafmen and the decay of the Boggans. Stuff like the armour of the Leafmen, the special attention given to animal movements (especially one excellent sequence with a mouse), the leaf boat of Queen Tara, it’s clear that a really good amount of artistic work has gone into Epic. The Boggan’s are a strange race – the Leafmen are just miniature humans, I’m unsure just what the Boggans are a micro-version of, they have a constant insect motif though – but there is a good display of variety when it comes to them. One or two characters, like Bomba, seem to have been made to the wrong proportions when compared to others, but that’s a minor quibble.

There are some nice choices made with the universe that result in interesting visual styles. The miniature world lives in a faster timeframe than that of the “Stompers”, which allows for sequences that are sped up and also slowed down, with intriguing contrasts in-between, like when micro M.K. flees from her dog, or when Bomba’s attempts communication with his daughter.

There are some fluid action sequences as well, from Nod’s opening scene escape from the Boggans which was showed off some of the jumping motifs that became prevalent, the infiltration of the Boggan home area, which allowed for a darker, grimier backdrop than the movie had used up to that point, and the final confrontation over the Leafman fortress. I wasn’t too enamoured with that finale, but the bat swarm was at least interesting to look at.

Script-wise, its fine, nothing to really get too worked up about either way. The conflict between the Bomba father/daughter pair is written nicely, and I found the Professor’s obsession, by the end anyway, to be somewhat believable, as was M.K.’s pain at her father’s lack of care for her. On the other hand, the casual flirting between Tara and Ronin was rather dire, and most of Nod’s lines are forgettable. Mandrake has a few decent words to say, especially when he gets into the really evil territory. As with so much else of the film, there’s not much really to say here.

The same goes with the music. The score and the soundtrack aren’t memorable, and completely fail to reach the heights of other CGI movies. That doesn’t mean they are bad, but as with other productions, Epic’s failed my own personal test: having seen the movie, I can no longer remember any of the soundtrack in my head. It’s Danny Elfman, so its not like the score was done by some nobody.

Moving nicely on to themes. I wouldn’t say that Epic is especially deep when it comes to themes, and nothing gets really enough time to be marked down as an important one. There are bits and pieces of delusion, revenge, love and desperation. I can see only two themes to really expand upon.

As you expect, Environmentalism is a substantial one, but I’m happy to say that, despite fears beforehand, Epic is not a preachy movie. Unlike say, The Lorax, or the obvious reference material of Fern Gully, Epic is not about human destruction of the environment, and as far as I can see features no reference to such things at all. There is an underlying theme of protecting nature, but this comes to the fore in the form of a war where the forces of darkness are driven apparently by magic, and are made up of a completely alien species of life that bears little similarity to mankind.

Epic is about preserving the forest, but in the end a magical means is found to do this, and the entire thing has little basis in reality. The forest and nature is shown off as something worth saving, and the diversity of the whole thing is a crucial point, but in the end Epic offers no commentary on the current interaction between humanity and their environment.

Family is the other crucial theme. Obviously there is the fracture between M.K. and her father. That’s the driving force behind the entire M.K. character, and Bomba as well, though we only really learn that by the conclusion. Throughout M.K. adventure, she is exposed to a world where togetherness is everything – many leaves, one tree – and comes to understand that she cannot give up on her father that easily. Bomba eventually comes to realise that the fulfilment of his life ambition is meaningless, if his relationship with his daughter isn’t there. There’s also the only occasionally mentioned back-story for Nod about his dead father and how his absence has affected him, but unfortunately this, rather critical, aspect of the character is disappointingly underdeveloped, especially since the bare minimum we received seem to be important to the general structure of Nod’s own journey. There is also some brief interaction between Mandrake and his son Dagda, and Mandrake’s quest to take over the forest only kicks into overdrive with Dagda’s death. It’s almost refreshing to see a villain with what approaches a positive relationship with a family member. Mandrake’s vengeance quest after Dagda’s death is in stark contrast with M.K. desire to fix her own disrupted family unit, and with Nod’s hopes, by the end, of emulating his father.

Epic is, more than anything else, forgettable to a fault. This kind of ground has been trod before, and done better. Epic, through a standard plot, standard script, standard score and mostly standard visuals, offers up a CGI offering that struggles to be anything other than run-of-the-mill, the kind of movie that exists solely to keep kids and parents occupied for 100 or so minutes. It keeps its head above water with a few deeper and dark moments, but mostly stays firmly saddled to that 50% bar. Some of the performances are good, some of the visuals are stand-out, but that’s really about it. Epic won’t stay long in my mind, and I think that while I acknowledge it wasn’t a bad movie, such a declaration is far worse than most outright criticisms.

A disappointing effort.

A disappointing effort.

(All images are copyright of 20th Century Fox).

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2 Responses to Review: Epic

  1. Thanks so much for this awesome article this was
    just the thing I needed today!

  2. Pingback: NFB’s Film Rankings And Awards 2013 | Never Felt Better

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