Saturday, 22 August 2020

Spycies (2020) - Movie Review

Oh look, another decent animated film that got shafted by terrible marketing. Only this example might be even worse than Red Shoes And The Seven Dwarfs, as the slip-up here is… well, you can see the title; it doesn’t get any more obvious than that. And I’ll admit, my initial interest in this movie came out of wanting to find the story behind what is easily the worst pun title I have ever seen. But, like I said, I’m not here to rag on yet another dreadful talking animal movie. Instead, I’m here to highlight a surprisingly solid feature.

Let’s start with the animation, courtesy of Chinese studio Lux Populi. This is some genuinely amazingly-looking stuff, from the stretched-out character designs to the texture qualities to the detail put into the high-tech environment of the story, and it might even give some of the bigger Hollywood studios a run for their money. It has the odd hiccup, usually in the form of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cost-cutting moment that looks jarringly worse than anything else around it, but for the most part, this film looks great.

Off the back of that, as a spy-tinged buddy-cop flick, the action scenes are not only genuinely exciting but hella creative to boot. From the opening chase scene on what I can only call hover-rickshaws, to a Chinese dragon racing through the inside of a hospital (with stereotypical Chinese instrumentation behind it, lest we forget where this all came from), right down to the bonkers finale involving freeze rays, Shaolin kung-fu, and the inmates of a psych ward kicking major arse; this is amazingly fun as pure animated spectacle. Not a bad effort from a director better known for working on the Highlander animated series (as well as its Atari Jaguar video game tie-in).

But as a feature with a point to it beyond squee, it admittedly has its low points. I don’t know whether to chalk up the writing problems to it being a redub of a Chinese production, or this being the debut for all three credited writers, but the tissue in-between the awesome action beats can get a little weak. There’s some definite leaning on buddy-action tropes with the ‘plays by his own rules’ cop Vladimir and the geeky tech-assist Hector, the subplot involving Hector and his crush on his favourite actress/bee princess kind of kills the pacing (which is already all over the place), and for those who look at this and immediately think ‘Zootopia knock-off’, we also have an eerie facsimile of Judy Hopps in the character of Chloe.

However, its reliance on tropes didn’t end up bothering me as much as it could’ve because, as the film’s plot progresses and finally grabs onto a singular direction, it actually leads to a rather compelling narrative to do with wildlife conservation. Yeah, this ends up feeling more like Arctic Justice than anything Disney-related, except that comparison sells this film short because this actually works as kid-friendly environmentalism.

Part of that is down to the way the topic itself is handled, which banks on the technology of the film’s world to raise some interesting ideas, but mainly because of how much emotion is poured into it. It essentially turns into a conflict between the want to save species from extinction and, with the all-animal cast on-screen, the consequences of that mission going wrong. It puts a (for lack of a better term) human face onto the issue of climate change, and while it may fumble with the landing ever so slightly, it makes for a more compelling sit than I’m used to getting from this sub-genre.

So, yeah, not only is this a good talking-animal feature, the fact that it’s told through those animals ends up giving its bigger messages a real push. Add to that the (mostly) decent voice acting, the animation chops on display, and some deliriously fun action scenes, and you’ve got a pretty solid family film that I can easily see entertaining both kids and the more adventurous animation junkies out there. So long as they can stop their eyes rolling in their sockets from the title, that is.

No comments:

Post a Comment