Someone take Zack Snyder’s slow motion button away from him. Please. The man has talent, that’s clear for all to see (though admittedly it has come through more in bursts than in a consistent stream; Dawn of the Dead is probably still his most well-rounded work), but his relentless pursuit of slow-mo ‘coolness’ is starting to get a little tiresome.
To be fair, this is not the most pressing moment to bring up the slow-mo issue; not because it doesn’t negatively affect his latest film – it does – but because it comes towards the bottom of a longer list of problems. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (bit of a mouthful) shoots for epic from the first second and, while it sometimes flirts with the dramatic in a visual sense (some of the shots are quite lovely) the film itself is derivative and, surprisingly for something that is so visually accomplished and filled with lovable owls, actually quite dull.
The story concerns a young owl, Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) who falls from his perch along with his jealous brother and ends up in the hands of the Pure Ones, an evil group of owls intent on conquering the world. Forced into captivity and slave labour, he and a group of companions take it upon themselves to seek out the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a mythical tribe of owls somewhere across the great ocean.
The setup is predictable, but enough to hold our interest; the problem is with the pacing. Our protagonists have a long way to go in a short space of time, and because this is a kid’s film at heart, Snyder can’t allow anything like the sprawling run time of his previous project, Watchmen. The 90 minutes will hold the attention of the young ones, but adults will be frustrated. Characters come and go, locations flash by in the blink of an eye, while the ‘great ocean’ that receives so much on-screen hype is crossed about four times during the film in single cuts.
The frustration of the pacing would be redeemed if the characters were likeable. I thought it would be impossible not to at least love these cute owls, but they’re just so disappointingly dull. There are attempts at humour and intrigue, but in reality most of the character stuff falls a little flat. Soren’s little sister Eglantine becomes one of the most sympathetic characters in the film – mainly because she’s the cutest – but she only has ten minutes of screen time.
It’s darker in tone than a lot of children’s films, but not to the extent that it becomes overly scary. There is plenty of owl on owl action (ahem) in which the nicely animated birds strap massive metal claws to their talons and go at each other in airborne skirmishes that play out like incomprehensible parodies of the battle scenes in Snyder’s own 300. Add in the slow motion and it all becomes a bit silly, and unfortunately also quite cheesy at times.
The film ends with a cliffhanger that baits a sequel which may or may not happen depending on how many parents take their children to see it. It isn’t terrible, but it is hugely disappointing, particularly because it has a nicely established aesthetic and an unusually dark tone. Snyder’s first foray into animation is not a complete failure, but we’ll have to look forward to Sucker Punch to see if he can find his A-game.