I'm not into sports. I don't follow soccer -- or "football" everywhere in the world outside the U.S. -- and thus don't even quite understand it. I thought Early Man was going to be a cute and silly movie about cavemen (and cavewomen) of the Stone Age fighting against people of the Bronze Age to preserve their dying way of life. Turns out it's a movie about how people of the Stone Age invented soccer, and then used a match against Bronze Age players in a wager to keep their valley.
I'm trying to be fair here. But Early Man is wonky from the start even from outside its massive focus on soccer. It can't even get its history right in broad strokes, its opening scene depicting humans and dinosaurs co-existing. What is this, produced by the curators of the Creationist Museum? At least Jesus never pops up.
Yeah yeah, it's just a cartoon -- or more accurately, stop-motion by Aardman Animation, which previously brought us delightful feature films like Flushed Away (2006) and Shaun the Sheep (2015). Its full history is admittedly slightly spotty, but they are capable of very fun and clever storytelling. They make quite an effort at it with Early Man, but honestly, this movie just didn't speak to me.
There are occasional giggles with moderately effective gags here and there, but the story focuses far too heavily on this soccer game. The Bronze Age people have come to mine for ore in the small, lush valley where the Stone Age people, who are sweet but a little boneheaded, make their home. Young Dug (Eddie Redmayne) finds himself accidentally scooped up and taken to the Bronze Age land, where he happens upon a soccer pitch (it is called a pitch, right? -- you see how much this movie is not made for me?). He befriends a young woman named Goona (Maisie Williams) who has dreams of playing the game in front of all the fans, and she trains the Stone Age team and winds up joining them.
The story features the requisite lessons of teamwork being more effective than self-advancement, nothing especially new or inventive there. Early Man is relatively fun overall, I'll concede, but neither its animation nor its script features even half the inventiveness that we can typically expect from Aardman. In fact, the animation designs are goofy as hell, even by Aardman standards. Honestly I found myself disinterested, close to bored, relatively early on. The least they could do is give it a less misleading title than Early Man -- like, I don't know, Early Football Players -- and make the story clearer in promotional materials.
But, I can imagine this movie working a lot better for other people, to be fair -- specially people with more than a passing familiarity, or an eager interest, in the sport of soccer. I do not. Thus, I would need the movie to offer something more substantial than this one does to sustain my attention. But, that's just me.