The Angry Birds Movie and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly
After the disaster that was Ratchet & Clank, this COULDN’T be worse… right? Honestly, with the track record that video game adaptations have, it’s not like a shitty movie based on a mobile game can tarnish their legacy any more than Street Fighter: Legend of Chun-Li did, which isn’t to say that I have any hope for this movie; just that it’s not in a position to do much damage. Does this turn out to be an unexpectedly competent surprise, or just another awful adaptation to add to the pile? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the angriest bird in Birdville, or whatever this place is called, named Red (Jason Sudeikis) who has finally pushed the citizens of Bird-opolis to the breaking point! After an “incident” gets out of hand involving a slightly messed up cake and cracked egg, Red is assigned to mandatory Anger Management which is led by Matilda (Maya Rudolph) and is attended by Chuck (Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride), and Terence (Sean Penn); none of whom are particularly well adjusted. That’s only the first half of the movie though. Eventually, a ship chock full of pigs arrives at the Island of Birds and come offering friendship and gifts of the outside world! Only Red can see that they’re up to no good though, but no one wants to listen to him because… well he’s an asshole. Still, he manages to get Bomb and Chuck on his side enough so that they agree to go with him to find the LEGENDARY MIGHTY EAGLE who is said to watch over Bird-sylvania and aid it in its time of need. Can red get over his anger issues long enough to do some real good for his fellow birds? Can the LEGENDARY MIGHTY EAGLE save the town before the pigs enact their nefarious plan? Have these birds never bothered to go off of their island!? How have they never heard of pigs before!?
This movie is an absolute mess. A cacophony of noise, pop culture references, and dance numbers set to an unbearably overplayed soundtrack, all leading to the conclusion that this movie is in dire need of a better script and a strong sedative. I can’t tell if this is the result of a studio panicking to salvage an unworkable production or cynically making a movie that would appeal to the dumbass youth of today. Either way, while it does have a few points of merit, being a legitimate movie isn’t one of them. What little story is here could barely fill the back of a cereal box (or an app description) and its structure and pacing feel like an overambitious episode of Saturday Night Live gone haywire. I can’t say the movie doesn’t have laughs or endearing characters from time to time, but none of those things are in a movie that works as a whole or comes together as anything meaningful. It’s a movie that throws everything against the wall to see what sticks (an apt metaphor considering the license) but is the worst example of that philosophy in action because it’s used, not as a tool to enhance the humor or to make the world feel less staged, but rather to the detriment of story, characters, and the three act structure.
Let’s start with the characters that are onscreen long enough to examine in… well as close as we can GET to depth. For the most part, they are endearing to at least some degree. Red is kind of inconsistent as both the raging asshole of the island as well as the one sane person, so in some scenes he doesn’t care about anyone and in others he’s desperately trying to save the birds from falling into the Pigs’ trap. By that token, the people he’s working off of also inconsistently flip flop between TRYING to help Red with his problem and then intentionally ostracizing them. One scene, everyone’s being happy and pleasant to Red who’s just brushing them with insults, and then in another scene Red’s house is destroyed and the rest of the villagers are pissed at him for complaining about that. That’s not to say that characters can’t be hypocritical or contradictory if it’s part of the greater message the movie is trying to impart, but this is not the movie to look for deeper themes about the human (or I guess bird) condition. I really can’t tell what message the movie IS trying to have, whether it’s about standing up for yourself, if it’s okay to be angry sometimes, or even if it’s a bitter screed against colonialism. Probably none of those as it would take time and effort to build up a theme; neither of which this movie can spare as it has a million more jokes to cram in.
None of the other characters are as interesting (and I use that term loosely) as Red is, but most of them are fun and have their funny moments. Josh Gad and Danny McBride as Red’s sort of friends Chuck and Bomb are both one note and have some REALLY bad moments in here, but they do bring some funny material to the table. Mya Rudolph as the Anger Management councilor Matilda is also a lot of fun in her scenes, and while Kate McKinnon as Stella is a reoccurring cameo at best, she has some solid moments here and there. The movie is filled to the brim with character actors such as Keegan-Michael Key, Tony Hale, Hannibal Buress, even the Smosh guys apparently, and the sheer charisma and talent that these comedians bring to their bit parts elevates the film a tad even if they don’t really get a chance to shine. However, there is minor character in here that steals the movie in whatever scene they’re in, and that’s Terence played by Sean Penn. It’s a simple joke (think Roxanne’s dad from A Goofy Movie or Kowalski from Ren & Stimpy) but it’s extremely well executed here and manages not to overstay its welcome.
Bill Hader does fine as King Leonard of the pigs, but the rest of the pigs are just carbon copy minion types who sputter around and provide unfunny sight gags. They’re role in the story is rather uninteresting as well as they are just shticky plot devices with little characterization or personality. Still, they are downright charming compared to Peter Dinklage’s Mighty Eagle. I love the guy and think he’s a great actor, but this character is absolutely abysmal. It’s the classic HERO IS A SHMUCK routine that we just saw with Captain Qwark in the Ratchet & Clank movie, only it falls flat here and Mighty Eagle comes off as an unfunny prick. Not a single one his jokes land and the middle of the movie (where he makes his debut) is an endless drag because of it.
Outside of the characters, the only thing this movie has going for it (or at least what it put all of its effort in) are the jokes and visual humor. Most of it did not land for me and it’s absolutely relentless. Rather than pick the best jokes and trim the ones that don’t work, they instead let every awful and unfunny joke slide which means most of the movie’s runtime is for jokes instead of a story; killing the pacing and undercutting any semblance of an arc. There are moments that made me laugh in here, but they were few and far between as I had to sit through an endless parade of puns, references, awkward moments (they’re not FUNNY awkward, they’re just awkward) and running gags that do not know how to end. Thankfully the movie gains a modicum of focus in the third act which means we don’t get AS MANY bad jokes back to back and it manages to have some clever moments such as when they actually integrate the Angry Birds game into the narrative. It’s not that they COULDN’T make a funny movie, they just didn’t have any discipline or restraint which dilutes whatever good humor was achieved.
The saving grace that keeps it from being a Ratchet & Clank or Uwe Boll level disaster is that this movie has polish and money. It never looks bad or feels incompetent in any way which you are almost guaranteed whenever you see a movie based on a video game because studios rarely have faith in such properties, so the fact that these adaptations fail becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The movie I can best compare this to is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, or rather its sequel (originally titled Revenge of the Leftovers). That first Cloudy movie had a similar throw everything at the wall and see what sticks mentality, but it was used as a tool to fill in the space between the actual drama and the themes they were trying to impart. More important than the jokes, the fantastic animation, and the great voice acting, is that the movie had heart. It gave you a reason to care about what was going on and about Flint Lockwood’s struggle to find acceptance and to do something great with his life. Once the sequel rolls around though, the heart was almost completely gone, so while it looked just as good and had some strong humor, it didn’t have a reason to make you care about what was going on, and so it’s a lesser sequel. Angry Birds is missing a heart, whether by the failings of its filmmakers or by the cynicism of trying to turn an app into a movie. Either way, it’s disappointing because it actually COULD have been better.
Is this the first great video game movie? No. It’s up there with some of the better ones like Mortal Kombat, Prince of Persia, and the Resident Evil franchise, which are all passable knock offs of better movies, and the fact that this isn’t such a blatant imitation of any one particular film means that it deserves a bit more credit. Still, while it isn’t selling itself as some other movie but with video game characters, it also follows a lot of the trends we see in many mediocre kid’s movies. Invest in the visuals, throw in as many jokes as possible, and add some very cute and marketable characters to sell toys with. It may be a solid video game movie by those low standards, but it does very little to stand out from its cinematic contemporaries like The Peanuts Movie or Zootopia. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for right now as it’s a strategy that seems to work for video game adaptations, and we do have some higher budgeted stuff on the horizon such as Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. If you’re a fan of CG animated movies, there are certainly worse ones out there, but it’s also not something you need to rush out to the theaters to see. That great video game movie is still out there! We just need to keep believing!! Unless they fuck up Metal Gear Solid. THAT will be the last straw damn it!!
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