aficionados of British sports and prehistoric puns.
The plot is kicked off by Dug (voice by Eddie Redmayne), a young caveman who is a member of a pretty stupid tribe who has somehow managed to survive by only eating rabbit, while avoiding the much bigger and meatier animals. The Chief of Dug's tribe (Timothy Spall) wants things to remain the way they are. After all, he's the eldest member of the tribe (he's 32), and feels his tribe should stay put where they are to survive, instead of seeking out mammoths to hunt. One day, the tribe is attacked by a kingdom that has embraced bronze mining and making material out of metal rather than bone and rocks. They are led by the flamboyant Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddletson), and conquer the land of Dug's tribe for the precious ore that is hidden underneath.
The tribe is kicked off their land, and Dug quickly comes to the conclusion that the only way to get it back is by challenging the kingdom to a game of soccer. The stakes are high, for if they lose, Dug and his tribe will be forced to work in the mines the rest of their lives. Cue the training montage, where the tribe seems to be hopeless at the sport. But then, they are aided by the spunky young Goona (Maisie Williams), who is not allowed to play the sport in the kingdom because she's a woman. From there, anyone with the slightest knowledge of how these movies play out can figure out what happens next. The girl who no one will let play ends up being a star athlete, the kid who wants to play but is kept on the sidelines (in this case, the "kid" is a wild boar named Hognob, who is Dug's pet) will have to step in and help the team out near the end of the game, one of the players on the good team will get injured at one point, and the evil team will cheat in order to win. Do the cavemen end up winning the big game? I wouldn't dream of spoiling the ending.
Early Man just seems content to exist, and is never better than it needs to be. The characters who make up Dug's tribe are largely interchangeable and are not interesting. This goes for Dug himself, as he never changes or seems to learn anything during the course of the film. He's just endlessly optimistic and cheerful, except for the brief moment where the evil Lord Nooth tries to talk him into forfeiting the match. Even the jokes seem oddly uninspired, and often come across like holdovers from The Flintstones, with the cavemen using tiny crocodiles as clothes pins and a beetle as a beard shaver. The only gag that works is a Message Bird (voiced by Rob Bryden), who mimics the voice of the person who has sent the message, and acts out their part. This is clever, and frankly, the movie could have used more jokes like it.
There are some great visuals and a couple chuckle-worthy lines ("You haven't touched your primordial soup!"), but outside of these fleeting moments, Early Man seems like an effort that was made by great artists who had something else on their minds at the time. It's far from terrible, but there's just very little to get excited about here when you get down to it.