Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom

Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom
Original title:Astérix et Obélix : L'Empire du Milieu
Director:Guillaume Canet
Running time:114 minutes
Release date:Not communicated
We are in 50 BC. The Empress of China is imprisoned following a coup d'état fomented by Deng Tsin Quin, a felonious prince. With the help of Graindemais, the Phoenician merchant, and her faithful warrior Tat Han, Princess Fu-Yi, the empress's only daughter, flees to Gaul to ask for help from the two valiant warriors Asterix and Obelix, who have superhuman strength thanks to their magic potion. Our two inseparable Gauls agree to help the Princess to save her mother and free her country. And here they are, all on their way to a great adventure to China. But Caesar and his powerful army, always thirsty for conquest, have also taken the direction of the Middle Kingdom...

Mulder's Review

"I saw Claude Zidi's film in 1999, which I really liked, but it was Alain Chabat's film in 2002 that really hit me. In my opinion, it is this film that really developed the interest of the spectators for the adventures of Asterix and Obelix in live action... He managed to keep the DNA of the comic book while adding his own touch, his own tone: he invented something that had not yet been seen in the cinema in France. Then, I also saw the two following ones and I find besides, (even if it is always complicated to compare the films between them), that the artistic direction of the episode in the Olympic Games in 2008 is of beautiful quality... " - Guillaume Canet

We would have loved to discover a film as striking and successful as Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (2002) written and directed by Alain Chabat, which made it the best live adaptation of the Asterix universe. Created in 1959 by the scriptwriter René Goscinny and the cartoonist Albert Uderzo, there have been no less than thirty-nine albums published by Dargaud, Hachette and Albert René, ten animated films, five live-action films, including this one, video games, an amusement park and numerous derivative products. This universe has marked many generations of spectators and this film, co-written and directed by one of the best French directors, could have dusted off this universe but also relaunched the franchise at the cinema. Unfortunately, the too numerous weaknesses of the film make it a French blockbuster bloated by its imposing cast but lacking rhythm and especially a sufficiently mastered editing to make it one of the real cinematographic events of this beginning of the year

After the disappointments of Asterix at the Olympic Games (2008) and Asterix and Obelix: Au service de sa Majesté (2012), it is easy to understand the desire of Éditions Albert René after ten years spent finding a better approach to the Asterix universe and especially being able to convince both loyal readers of Asterix comics but also a new generation of spectators fed for the youngest to the subculture with its influencers with egos as oversized as their abysmal lack of culture (youtubers, instagrammers and Tiktokers). By trying to cast too wide a net with its impressive cast, we find ourselves faced with a film that moves away from the Asterix universe by making it too modern and that could have been a worthy successor to Alain Chabat's film, which also had an impressive cast, but where most of the actors seemed really convinced to be directed by the gifted director Alain Chabat, with a better screenplay co-written by Guillaume Canet, Julien Hervé and Philippe Mechelen. 

Not that Guillaume Canet does not manage to impose his style and we remember his excellent films such as Mon idole (2002), Ne le dis à personne (2006) and Les Petits Mouchoirs (2010), but this one seems to have lost its mojo especially when we look at the very disappointing Lui (2021). Here he seems to have to answer to important specifications to the point that his film lacks striking scenes and only very rarely manages to make the spectators who have paid their cinema tickets laugh. In the same way, his interpretation of Asterix is really disappointing and does not manage to surpass those of the previous actors who played this character on the big screen, Christian Clavier, Clovis Cornillac and Edouard Baer.

The plot takes place in 50 B.C. in China and in Gaul (the territory of present-day France). While the Empress of China has been imprisoned following a coup d'état fomented by a prince of one of the kingdoms of China, Deng Tsin Quin, her only daughter Fu-Yi and her protector Tat Han are led by the Phoenician merchant Graindemaïs to the village of the Gauls so that Asterix and Obelix can help them return to China, save the Empress and restore peace. Their crusade will be all the more dangerous when they have to face Caesar's army, which sees China as a new territory to conquer. With such a plot, there was enough to find the epic breath of the great adventure films and especially to pay tribute to the Asterix universe. In the end, as much as the numerous settings are well done and several actors deliver convincing characters, the film is cruelly lacking in strong scenes and punchy dialogues. 

As much as the character of Asterix seems to show that the actor Guillaume Canet had to accept this role reluctantly, Gilles Lellouche delivers the best interpretation of the character Obelix and almost manages to make us forget the very memorable one of Gérard Depardieu. In the same way, the presence of actors completely invested in their roles gives the film an undeniable added value such as Vincent Cassel, Jonathan Cohen, José Garcia, Vincent Desagnat, Franck Gastambide, Pierre Richard as much as others seem to be there only to pass in front of the camera as Issa Doumbia, Bigflo and Oli. We can also welcome the presence of artists Orelsan and Angèle and try to forget the grotesque laugh of Cleopatra played by the excellent actress Marion Cotillard. One could almost wonder if all the actors present in the cast were not acquaintances of the director or close to the distributor who wanted them to appear in the cast even if it is only to say a few sentences without real importance for the story.

Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom is certainly in second place among the live-action films related to the Asterix universe, but it is not a good film despite this. It would have been necessary and especially with the biggest budget of a French movie to have memorable scenes that remain in mind after having seen this movie in the cinema or giving the desire to see it again. Certainly adapting the universe of a cult comic book to the screen is a difficult mission, we still remember the catastrophic Gaston Lafaffe (2018) by Pierre-François Martin-Laval, but we think that with an excellent script and a skilled director like Guillaume Canet we could expect a great show and not such an artificial film that only seems to meet a very full specification and disconnected from the audience's expectations.

Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom
Directed by Guillaume Canet
Produced by Alain Attal, Yohan Baiada
Written by Guillaume Canet, Julien Hervé, Philippe Mechelen,
Based on the characters created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
Starring Guillaume Canet, Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Cassel, Jonathan Cohen, Marion Cotillard, Pierre Richard, Ramzy Bedia, Leanna Chea, Julie Chen, Linh-Dan Pham, José Garcia, Bun Hay Mean, Manu Payet, Tran Vu Tran, Zlatan Ibrahimović Philippe Katerine Jérôme Commandeur, Audrey Lamy, Vincent Desagnat, Franck Gastambide, Laura Felpin, Issa Doumbia, Angèle, Bigflo et Oli, Orelsan, Mcfly et Carlito, Thomas VDB, Marc Fraize, Chicandier, Tatiana Gousseff, Matthieu Chedid 
Music by Matthieu Chedid
Cinematography : André Chemetoff
Production companies : Les Éditions Albert René, Les Enfants Terribles, Pathé, Trésors Films
Distributed by Pathé (France)
Release date : February 1, 2023 (France)
Running time : 114 minutes

Seen on January 29, 2023 at Gaumont Disney Village, Room 1 seat L19

Mulder's Mark: