The Asterix comics have never fared particularly well on screen. Previous attempts to make animated versions of the characters have largely been hindered by technical limitations, and the less said about the live action versions, the better. This new film, Asterix: The Mansion of the Gods brings the characters into the realm of 3D computer animation, and it is finally the Asterix film that fans deserve. It captures the staunchly irreverent spirit of the books, with the movie giving much of its focus to the overall buffoonery of the residents of its absurd version of history.
Julius Caesar has hatched a new plan to finally conquer the last barbarian village in Gaul. Rather than sending another legion to be destroyed by the magic potion-enhanced strength of these villagers, he sends an architect to build a series of apartment buildings in the nearby forest. Surprisingly, the plan seems to be working, the presence of Roman civilians in the forest greatly affecting the lives of the villagers. Asterix, the bravest and most cunning of the barbarians, must figure out a way to save his village from Roman encroachment.
The Mansion of the Gods represents the heights of farce and satire for this series. It perfectly encapsulates what Asterix is really all about. It is less about the beating up of Romans and more about depicting the foibles of everyday life through the absurd lens of this milieu. This is ultimately a story about gentrification, about a group of simple folk who get caught up in the trappings of luxury and end up in trouble because of it. On the other side are oblivious city dwellers discovering for the first time that there is life beyond Rome.
The film finds a nice mix between comedic antics and outright social commentary. This is really the kind of film that has something for everyone. It is a very silly, entertaining film that actually has something to say about society at large. Through the buffoonery of its characters, it starts to talk about the absurdity of daily interactions. And it does so while keeping a strong humanist streak at its center. There are no real heroes or villains in the world of Asterix. There are only people, trying their hardest to function given the strangeness of their situation. Even Julius Caesar is just some dude trying to get by.
The animation is pretty good overall. It can't match the technical quality of the bigger Hollywood productions, but it does manage to capture the spirit of the comics. Fights, for example, aren't animated like big action scenes. They are clouds of dust, or bursts of weirdly choreographed chaos. It's all really quite fun. The English voice cast is all right, though it does feel like the translation is a little awkward at times. The timing is off, and some of the jokes don't land as well as they really ought to.
Asterix: The Mansion of the Gods is a must for fans of the series. The story isn’t new, but the movie makes additions that feel pretty fresh. Apart from a couple of lame pop culture reference, the film sticks to the classical style of slapstick-y, absurdist humor that gives the books their appeal. Newcomers to the series might some help to catch on, but it’s easy enough to just fall for the staunch silliness of the entire enterprise. This movie does capture the spirit of the books, and lays down the kind of fun little romp that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.