REVIEW: Early Man (2018)

Written By: Nigel Asipa
Oggy oggy oggy, oi oi oi!
Seeing that in Aardman studio’s latest venture reminded me how infectious that chant is, even though I’m no sports enthusiast. Director Nick Park looks to flip the lid on Britain’s most coveted sport by going further back in time. A meteorite makes its way to the earliest civilisation man can recall and nearly obliterates everything in its blast radius. Some of not all make it unscathed and are amazed by what they see, a lava rock. They grunt and ponder on what to make of it, touching it is probably not a good idea, but it’s that clumsy curiosity that births a phenomenon. This sequence is very much dialogue-free, and the rest of the film could’ve been as such, they all sound like Patrick Star.
This legend is soon passed down to a small, good-natured tribe who seek to hunt rabbits as they’ve nothing else better to do. One is Dug (Eddie Redmayne), who wears an over-avid smile, pig-like nose and broom-like hair. He suggests that hunting mammoths would spread out the hunger factor much further. Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall) can’t see that far, he thinks small while Dug thinks big. A mammoth ends up at their camp a lot sooner than anticipated, except its heavily armoured and scares the living daylights out of the tribe, forcing them to flee their valley. We’re introduced to Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), and he’s the villain, how do i know? He says ‘excellent’ in the most sinister manner possible, think Mr Burns. He’s part of the Bronze age and deems it unquestionably superior to the Stone age.

One thing leads to another and Dug is in a stadium where the game of football is played. “What’s football?” he ponders, he picks it up pretty quick for a neanderthal and offers a challenge to Lord Nooth. The stakes are that Dug and his tribe will challenge Nooth’s team to a game of footy and if the tribe wins they reclaim their valley back, otherwise they’ll be damned to work in Nooth’s mines for the rest of their days. The tribe, however, has not the foggiest on how the game is played and Dug isn’t the most qualified for a tutorial run. Enter Goona (Maisie Williams) who has secretly practised a great deal of time honing her skills and is willing to pass on her knowledge to the tribe.
I very much enjoyed Chicken Run and Shaun The Sheep, and after seeing Early Man, Aardman’s characters tend to be impossible to hate or even dislike. Well except for Melisha Tweedy, that’s the closest to evil we’ve seen from the studio to date. What’s especially endearing about this lot is the buffoonery of the antagonists, Nooth and his team speak like they’re desperately want to be French, something reminiscent of the Monty Python gang.  Hiddleston certainly sounds entertainingly hammy as the nefarious leader and Redmayne’s Dug sounds like Newt Scamander at age 14.
There are so many puns by the way, you’ll see it in the trailer. For instance, there’s a woman at a market stall admiring a loaf of sliced bread saying excitedly “ooo sliced bread, well that’s the best thing since….well ever”. There are about as many puns as there are punts. Much of its silly charm doesn’t quite make its characters all that memorable, however, especially when compared to those of Chicken Run. They’re certainly endearing in their own right, and with them being Neanderthals, you can expect them to be slightly dimwitted or just a little naive.
Aardman’s signature quirkiness only gets them so far in this case. Dealing with lessons of sportsmanship, team spirit and destiny, some of its sentiment comes off a little forced at the end. If this was an actual family, there might have been more room for poignancy. The urgency is there, and the underdog element certainly has us on their side, but for future football fans, the themes will be pretty redundant beneath all the sweet, slapstick gags. For all it’s glee and uber friendly spirit, the premise is more enlightening than the narrative itself. Still, i chuckled as much as I’d hoped.
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