Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom Parent Guide
The jokes haven't aged well and the casting is terrible. Fans of the books and casual viewers alike should give this a miss.
Parent Movie Review
It is 50 BC, and all of Gaul (modern day France) is under Roman occupation – well, not quite all. A small village of unconquerable Gauls continues to resist Caesar (Vincent Cassel) and his legions with the help of a magic potion which makes them invulnerable and gives them super-human strength.
Gaul isn’t the only part of the world with problems. Far away in China, the Empress’s daughter Sa See (Julie Chen) has been forced to flee her home to escape a coup led by her mother’s untrustworthy advisor, Deng Tsin Qin (pronounced like “dancing queen” and played by Bun Hay Mean). She finds herself in Gaul, and soon enlists the help of Asterix (Guillaume Canet) and Obelix (Gilles Lellouche), along with their magic potion, to rescue her mother and save her kingdom.
I grew up reading the Asterix comic books, so I was excited to see how it would survive the jump to film. Bad news: I’d have a better shot at surviving a jump from the Empire State Building. The original comics are so stylized, so heavily influenced by their medium, that translating them to live action is functionally impossible, a problem not helped by the really, really bad casting. Obelix, famously a hugely rotund gentleman, is being played by a roughly normally proportioned man in a fatsuit that makes him look pregnant rather than heavy. Asterix is supposed to be roughly half the height of everyone around him, but he’s played by the director, who’s taller than half the other actors. It’s a mess.
It’s also, unsurprisingly, more than a little problematic for contemporary sensibilities. The comics were not exactly inoffensive, but they were released in the middle of the last century. The times, they’ve been a-changin’, but the jokes haven’t. The movie wades through some bland stereotypes and into some murky Orientalism, and it just isn’t fun. I’m not going to give the film too much guff for the terrible puns in the faux-Chinese names simply because that’s kind of the fundamental gimmick of the franchise (see Biopix, Caesar’s new biographer and Titanix, a sailor), but that’s really the least of our worries.
The absolutely unforgivable failure is that the film fails to be entertaining on almost any level. The story is dull, inexcusably long, and overly complex. Worse, the writing is execrable. The French and English versions of the film are very different, so you can pick which jokes you like better, but I’ll tell you right now that there’s nary a laugh to be found in either. The soundtrack is also a trainwreck, abducting good songs like Queen’s We Will Rock You, The Ecstasy of Gold from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and even a Chinese-language version of (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing. It’s just a mess, and I don’t think it’s going to be a winner even (or especially) with existing fans of the comics.Directed by Guillaume Canet. Starring Guillaume Canet, Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Cassel. Running time: 112 minutes. Theatrical release June 1, 2023. Updated June 1, 2023
Watch the trailer for Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom
Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom
Rating & Content Info
Why is Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom rated TV-PG? Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom is rated TV-PG by the MPAA
Violence: There are frequent incidents of over-the-top slapstick violence.
Sexual Content: There are several crude sexual references.
Profanity: There is no profanity, although some insulting terms are used.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adult characters are seen drinking and smoking.
Page last updated June 1, 2023
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Asterix & Obelix are a sprawling series of book-length comic adventures written and illustrated by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, Uderzo published a few issues on his own and the series has been revived in recent years by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad.
Related home video titles:
The Adventures of Tintin is also based on an older French-language (but Belgian in origin) comic series with a history of racism, but had to good sense to not try for a live action production. The downside is that it’s so far in the uncanny valley that you’re going to need hiking boots and a tour guide to get back out.