A solid action-fantasy flick that veers into slightly family-unfriendly territory…
A bit of a departure for Blue Sky Studios (the animators behind the Ice Age franchise), Epic is a swashbuckling fantasy adventure film that manages to live up to its name visually if not in any other capacity.
The film follows teenager Mary ‘MK’ Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) who, mourning the death of her mother, is sent to live with her eccentric and estranged father (Jason Sudeikis), a scientist whose career was destroyed by his obsessive belief in a civilisation of tiny, forest-dwelling people. Well it turns out Dad was right when MK is magically shrunk down to miniature size by Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) and entrusted with a leaf pod which, once bloomed, will dictate the new leader of the forest to banish the evil Boggans, who are lead by Christoph Waltz’ grey-skinned warlord, Mandrake. Along with Nod (Josh Hutcherson), a hunky miniature royal guardsman and his experienced commanding officer Ronin (Colin Farrell), MK must discover the secret of the pod’s power, both to save the forest and get herself back home.
Got all that? Clearly Epic has a pretty hefty amount of lore and backstory to cover in just less than an hour and three quarters but manages to do so admirably, keeping the pace zipping along and doling out action thick and fast.
However, while the film’s many chase and combat scenes are certainly exciting and tremendously well-animated, there’s always the nagging suspicion that they were filmed specifically for Imax 3D, with lots of dynamic falls and lunges aimed squarely at the viewer. To an audience watching a 2D version, this can make some of the set-pieces feels overly-contrived to thrill an audience watching on a 3D screen.
While it’s fun (and certainly colourful), Epic is also surprisingly violent for a family film, with a couple of major deaths and wave upon wave of goblin-like Boggans being killed by arrows. There’s no blood, but still, it’s unambiguous that these minions have been violently killed.
Another adult theme creeping into the ostensibly kiddie-friendly fare is one of bereavement. Several characters are suffering from grief (the five stages are even obliquely referenced by MK in an awkward discussion with her father) yet it’s depicted pretty unconvincingly, prompting the question, why even include it as such a pervasive theme if it figures so little into the characters inner lives?
Indeed, despite playing out on a huge, lush and beautifully animated landscape, Epic is robbed of its titular gravity thanks to similarly incomplete and unsatisfying character development and relationships. Romance blossoms (pardon the pun) between MK and Nod, but the film does very little to show any evolution in their relationship. And while MK is nominally the protagonist, once shrunk down to miniature size she does very little other than hold a plant and snark occasionally at her goofy male sidekick.
Even with its fantastic visuals, solid action and surprisingly deft vocal work from its stars (even Beyonce manages to inject her character with a degree of wit and charm), Epic just doesn’t have the depth or humour to feel and look, well, epic.
Epic opens today in UK cinemas and on 24 May 2013 in US cinemas.