Like numerous other kids around the world, I was a big reader of the Asterix series of comic books growing up. I have vague recollections of an animated TV show, but Asterix and Obelix in Britain (2012) was the first of the live action films that I had checked out.
The first thing that becomes apparent is that this film has been lovingly designed to invoke the sort of hyper-real medieval universe that the comic books played out in. The second thing that becomes apparent is that this is a deeply silly film. Delightfully silly though, rather than annoyingly silly. The plot tracks Asterix and Obelix as they trek from Gaul to Britain to deliver a barrel of magic potion to the Brits, currently under siege by the Romans. Hijinks ensue, generally involving the swatting away of the aforementioned Romans in increasingly ridiculous ways. At least in my circle of friends, Obelix was always everyone’s favourite character from the comic books. Nothing is different in this film as the character, brought to life by Gerard Depardieu and some hefty padding, is clearly the star of the show. For much of the film Depardieu’s charismatic performance actually threatens to outshine his co-stars, especially Edouard Baer as Asterix who at times seems rather pedestrian in comparison. It doesn’t hurt that the script grants Obelix probably the tenderest emotional core in the film as well as a vast majority of the best lines. Not to mention a pair of the most spectacular pants in film history. Probably the only performance that comes close to matching Depardieu’s is that from Fabrice Luchini as Caesar, who also benefits from the best of the script, but conveys it with a delicious smarminess.
Asterix and Obelix in Britain manages to nail an off-kilter, absurdist tone that is actually very difficult to pull off. Whilst it may appear on the surface to be an unhinged, on the run approach, for a film of this tone to be a success, it must in fact be a tightly controlled operation. Unlike most other films that aim for this level of silliness, basically everything that the film tries work. The stuffy stereotypical Brits, with their penchant for dropping everything in the arvo for a cup of hot water and a continued insistence on incorporating contemporary songs into a theoretically medieval world for example would both most likely irritate in many other films. This theoretically medieval place is really thoughtfully designed though, especially the sets which are fantastic, bringing the iconography of the time to life through a light hearted, almost Willy Wonka-esque lens. Kudos also should go to the script, which is chuckle-inducing funny on a really consistent basis, as well as also being nicely self-referential. The film is a little long though, due to the fact that the main storyline gets forgotten for the most part. But even this lack of focus is in a way all part of the charm of the film.
If you can’t handle films that revel in their extreme silliness, it is probably best to steer clear of Asterix and Obelix in Britain. On the other hand if you have an appetite for the stupid, especially if you were or are an Asterix fan, you will have some fun with this.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs