Film Review: Early Man

Escape To Prehistory

Like one of the best (and slowest) archaeological digs ever, it seems that the creative genius that brought us Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run and the absolute wonderment that is Shaun the Sheep has been unearthed once again.

Nick Park’s directing talents have been dusted off and the plasticine spoils of the expedition are now gleefully presented in the fingers and thumb shaped ‘Early Man’ (2018).

As is ever the increasing norm, I had stayed away from any trailers of this new claymation adventure and had only seen the initial very early teasers, as to be honest I would be 100% on board regardless of whatever the movie was, such is my love for the Aardman studio. It wasn’t that long ago that their film premieres on BBC were a true family event where everyone gathered round at the same time, in the same room and watched it together. My how times have changed.

Off the back of that deliberate information obliteration it came somewhat as a surprise that the subject of the movie was pretty much entirely about football, albeit set in the Stone Age, which also seems to be the inspiration for the English national team’s techniques (that’s my wee Irish dig at English footy). I’m not the biggest fan of the sport, but I’d definitely get behind and scream from the terraces (or armchairs) for team Aardman any day of the week.

Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) lives a very merry simple life down in the valley (a huge meteor crater bursting with vegetation in a barren volcanic land) with his delightful oddball tribe of Stone Age folk who have a daily regular routine of hunting rabbits, well at least trying to. It’s a somewhat idyllic existence and they don’t really want for anything, however at the same time, there’s effectively no evolution going on either. Sometimes comforts can be a downfall, and certainly being stuck in one’s ways definitely isn’t a quality in any good sense.

While life has been ticking along nicely in the isolated valley, evolution has been busy elsewhere and it dramatically comes stomping onto their pebble fuelled manor clanging and banging their metal bits all over the shop like some brass blinged aliens (with French accents). The leader of these ever so slightly more modern renegades is Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) who is on the hunt for more ore to mine, and it just so happens there’s a rich seam of it in the valley. Like modern day capitalists they basically turf the locals out in the name of their own progress and greed.

An opportunity arrives with the discovery that Nooth is also a football manager running the local team Real Bronzio, the city and the vast stadium itself (all for huge profits too). Dug out of desperation (he had never even heard of the game before) to save his home challenges the team to a winner takes all match. The arrogant Lord and his peacock football hyper stars willingly accept.

So begins the tribulations and even more tribulations as the valley folk try to learn a game in a few days they never knew existed, and to then use that fresh knowledge on the reigning Premiership champions. Being an Aardman movie the outcome is sorta carved in stone at the beginning of the movie, but it’s excellent fun nonetheless.

It works on multiple levels relative to your age and knowledge of football in general, but by no means do you have to be a fan of the sport at all. Aardman are rightly loved for their fun, creativity, idiosyncratic quirky British humour and sense of joy in all their creations, and though this may not be their all round most successful venture yet, there is a simple joy in absorbing the magic of what they create, especially when it blasts along with such frequency as in this.

If you do know football there is a phenomenal level of visual and in jokes that are both very clever and brilliantly dumb as an ox stupid celebrated throughout, and as with seemingly EVERY English football movie EVER made there is the clearly written in law obligatory reference to the 1966 World Cup.

But again it’s not just about football, the visual and creative joys belt along at a swift pace throughout the film, and the opening sequence about the origin of football is worth the visit to the cinema alone. Theme’s of nostalgia for better times with sincere beliefs working together for the common good shine brightly against the materialistic and individualistic greed of the city folk. On that note given the evident and nasty negative of the rise of xenophobia and racism in the UK after the debacle that is Brexit, it’s an odd decision to have the baddies as blatant foreigners in a film that seems to have aspirations of rallying British pride.

Another plus to the unquestionable visual talent on show is the vocal masteries of the already mentioned Eddie and Tom being joined by Massie Williams, Timothy Spall, Miram Margolyes, Richard Ayoade and Johnny Vegas to name but a few.

So it may not have the iconic standards of one of the greatest matches ever, but it does have the unmitigated joy and fun of playing a game in the park in summer with jumpers for goalposts. It also just might encourage a whole new generation of sincere footballers who aim to play with integrity for their nation, but given my nationality, I’d rather that bit didn’t happen here.

7/10 ‘Early Man’ is out now.