Synopsis: When Julius Caesar lands in Britain, a small village holds him and his Roman legions off while Queen Cordelia sends her officer Anticlimax to get help in the village of Gaul. At the same time, Asterix and Obelix are in Gaul trying to make a man of Justforkix, Chief Vitalstatistix’s nuisance of a nephew. When Anticlimax arrives there, the villagers give him a batch of their magic potion. Asterix and Obelix accompany Anticlimax on his journey home and bring Justforkix along, hoping to make a man of him. In Londinium, Justforkix falls for the beautiful Ophelia, who happens to be Anticlimax’s fiancée, while Obelix falls for her teacher, the rigid Miss Macintosh. Distracted by their crushes, they misplace the cask that holds the magic potion.
eyelights: the quality of the cast. the silly, if uninspired humour.
eyesores: its loose adaptation of two books at once. the cheap-looking costumes and sets. the ill-suited soundtrack.
I’m a fan of Astérix and Obélix. The original books (i.e. the ones penned by René Goscinny, not the later ones penned by Albert Uderzo) were not only funny, but were clever, well-thought out, and a pure joy to read. It’s not to say that Uderzo’s masterful pencils weren’t important, it’s just that Goscinny’s pen was sharper.
The animated films which were adapted from the duo’s oeuvre have been largely successful at capturing the sense of fun and adventure of the books. I not only used to watch them religiously each year, when they played during the holidays, but I have each of them on home video – aside for the rather lackluster ‘Astérix et les Indiens‘.
The live action ones, however, are another matter altogether: aside for ‘Astérix et Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre’, they are dreadfully unfunny, cheap-looking and uninspired productions that have little in common with their crafty forebears. Needless to say, I don’t own any of them on home video. Nor will I. Nor do I care.
I wasn’t even enthused at the prospect of a fourth film in the series, so when I got it from the local library I was in no rush to watch it. In fact, the only reason I even proceeded as quickly as I did was because I really wanted to watch ‘Astérix: Le Domaine des dieux’ and I figured that I might as well kill two birds with one stone.
Interestingly, my lack of enthusiasm seems to have been shared by the movie-going public: In France, ‘Astérix et Obélix: Au service de Sa Majesté’ is by far the least successful of the series, with 50% fewer ticket sales than its predecessor, which was already the weakest box office contender of the lot, and nearly four times less than its biggest.
This time, our adventure takes us through a mish mash of ‘Astérix chez les Bretons’ and ‘Astérix et les Normands’: It takes the basic premise of Astérix and Obélix going to Great Britain with some magic potion to help them resist the Roman invasion, and then throws in the conceit of the Vikings trying to discover what fear is.
How, you might wonder? Well, this picture makes modern references, like having the Romans ask for current ID papers from the Gauls, or, in this case, having the Senate inspect Caesar’s books and questioning his expenses. This leads to the Romans calling in the Vikings to do their dirty work, in order to cut expenses in the field.
I know, I know… it’s a stretch.
I have no doubt that Goscinny would have come up with something more clever than this, but this isn’t Goscinny’s doing. In fact, he might take offense at the liberties taken with his creation (although, it appears that Uderzo was quite pleased with the results, particularly because Astérix and Obélix played bigger parts in this one).
Would Goscinny appreciate that this version of Britain is extremely anachronistic (with dense populations, a Queen, Mounties with fur hats, …etc.)? Would he accept that Jolitorax is sent on a mission by the Queen, instead of being Astérix’s cousin? And what about Astérix and Obélix leaving Idéfix behind, which is totally out of character?
Hmmm… not so sure.
The worst of it comes when Astérix takes out his frustrations on Obélix, telling the lovable oaf that he’s embarrassed by him, that he merely tolerates him, feels alone intellectually, …etc. They’ve had spats before, but this is not just a spat: Astérix cruelly demeans Obélix, which is inconsistent with their supposed life-long friendship.
Well, it didn’t sit well with me, anyway.
And then this lengthy friendship of theirs eventually leads to aspersions about Astérix and Obélix’s sexuality – you know, seeing as they’re two single men living together, and have been for years without any noticeable female companionship to speak of (not that we have any idea what goes on late at night or on their adventures).
Yeah, I know.
Firstly, it’s a cliché; it’s really nothing original and you’d think it would too trite a gag to use. Secondly, this intimidation is a form of bullying, which is absolutely not okay. Thirdly, it’s undignified: in shaming the pair, the writers are suggesting that there’s something wrong with being long-term singles and/or potentially being gay.
The things is, this movie was intended for family audiences. The original strip was as well, hence why there was never any hint of sexuality in it; it’s just not in the cards if you’re going to target children as well as adults. The filmmakers here forgot this: they made adult references, and inappropriate ones at that. And that’s not okay.
They really scraped the bottom of the barrel with their humour, tossing in further clichés with a few jokes about the perception that the French have of the Brits and vice-versa. While it’s mildly amusing, especially in light of the historical context, it’s simply not Goscinny-caliber stuff. I’m sure he would have avoided it altogether.
Goscinny liked to poke fun at cultural differences, but not for the benefit of any one group. He wrote them all to be a bit mad.
All of them. No one was better. (Okay, the Gauls were a bit better)
In the third act, they spend a LOT of time at Jolitorax’s fiancé’s place. This gives them time to develop a love triangle between Jolitorax, his fiancé and Goudurix (a slacker musician they’re supposed to mentor and whom they’ve inexplicably brought along for the ride), as well as a burgeoning romance between Obélix and the fiancé’s matron.
I don’t know if the filmmakers felt that it would humanize the characters, if they were catering to the female audience, or maybe were just padding the picture, but this whole segment slowed the picture down. By the rugby game finale, which should have been insane, I could barely keep my eyes open; I had switched off by then.
On a technical level, the picture is no better: the sets and costumes look cheap (crap wigs, beards, …etc.), there are glaring continuity errors and it features a terrible soundtrack full of clichés and English rock numbers (Look, I love the Ramones more than most people, but they simply don’t have a place here – and they’re played twice!).
Seriously, ‘Astérix et Obélix: Au service de Sa Majesté’ is a significant improvement over the boring third one, and the painfully dreadful first one – at least the performances are okay and there a few chuckles to be had. But that’s really not saying much. All told, the live-action series is of pretty low calibre, and it’s ready to be mothballed.
Date of viewing: January 16, 2016