'Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion': Film Review

A fun but trivial follow-up.

France’s favorite Gaul is back in this second CG-animated adaptation of the popular comic book series.

After successfully rebooting the Asterix franchise into a clever CG animation movie with 2014’s The Land of the Gods, writers-directors Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy offer up a lively if less-enlightening follow-up with Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion (Asterix – Le Secret de la potion magique).

Chockfull of gags and pop-culture references, this latest tale of France’s favorite superhero suffers from a brand-new storyline that fails to convince in the way of the original comic books from the 1960s and '70s, which were written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo. Indeed, while Land of the Gods was adapted from a 1971 comic that humorously dealt with questions of urbanization and modern living, Magic Potion is much more of a cartoonish, kid-friendly affair without much depth.

Still, the film is playing big at home, raking in more than $2 million upon opening last Wednesday and nearly $7 million through Sunday night. With the holidays on the horizon, it should continue to dominate the local box office and could come close to the take of the first movie, which grossed more than $50 million worldwide.

Voiced by comedian Christian Clavier, Asterix is — as all French people know — a barrel-chested Gaul protecting his village (and by extension, his people) from Roman invasions during the first century B.C. Aided by the barrel-bellied Obelix (Guillaume Briat), Asterix and the Gauls are above all safeguarded by the wise magician Panoramix (Bernard Alane), whose magic potion allows them to pounce the better armed and better trained Roman army, which far outnumbers the Frenchies.

When Panormaix decides to retire, sending Asterix and Obelix on a quest to find his Druid successor, all hell breaks lose at home as the Romans — lead by the ridiculous Tomcrus (pronounced Tom Cruise) — start attacking. Meanwhile, an evil wizard named Sulfurix (Daniel Mesguich) does everything he can to steal the potion’s secret recipe, which, for lovers of French cuisine, seems to contain carrots, salt, fish, honey and mead, as well as fresh mistletoe that can only be harvested with a golden billhook.   

Packing their movie with one-liners, music cues (including the 1980s hit “You Spin Me Round”) and plenty of slapstick, Astier (who created the cult TV sketch series Kaamelott) and Clichy (who worked as an animator on Pixar’s WALL-E and Up) keep the jokes coming and the action nonstop, with Philippe Rombi’s thundering score making it all meld together. Unlike other Gallic attempts at this kind of big-budget tongue-in-cheek cartoon, at least the directors know how to pull their effort off with slick efficiency and a fair amount of wit, even if the scenario itself feels far too simplistic.

Indeed, the original Asterix comics, which became popular during the “Glorious Thirty” years of postwar economic stability, were very much a reflection — and a sendup — of Charles de Gaulle’s flag-waving enthusiasm and France-first policies. Here the filmmakers have unfortunately divorced the product from the context, removing any social or political references while making lots of nods to pop entertainment in the way that Hollywood does. The result is a movie that skirts buy on its energy, not to mention its cast of fun characters, but feels devoid of meaning.  

Production companies: M6 Studios, M6 Films
Cast: Christian Clavier, Bernard Alane, Daniel Mesguich, Alex Lutz, Alexandre Astier, Elie Semoun, Gerard Hernandez, Guillaume Briat, Lionnel Astier, Francois Morel, Florence Foresti
Directors: Louis Clichy, Alexandre Astier
Screenwriters: Alexandre Astier, Louis Clichy, based on an original story by Alexandre Astier, based on the work of Reny Goscinny, Albert Uderzo
Producer: Philippe Bony
Executive producer: Natalie Altmann
Director of photography: David Dulac
Production designer: Alexandre de Broca
Editor: Bertrand Maillard
Composer: Philippe Rombi
Animation directors: Coline Veith, Jerome Charton
Sales: SND Groupe M6

In French
85 minutes