CGI is more impressive these days than it ever has been. With an army of animators you can render everything from fur to water realistically down to each hair or droplet. Legend Of The Guardians looks very slick – all of its owls’ feathers ripple with air currents and the flame and water effects are mesmerising but all these things don’t go half way to making up for a plot which is as pedestrian and hackneyed as every worn-out fantasy cliché.
The story sees two barn owns, Soren (Jim Sturgess) and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) who are just learning to fly. Soren is obsessed with tall tales that his dad’s been telling them since childhood – of armoured Guardians and their leader Lyze Of Kiel who fought off all threats to the owl empire of Ga’hoole. While branching one day, the boys scuffle and fall to the ground only to be carried away by a raiding party of long-eared owls.
Forced into captivity and slavery at the hands of the Pure Ones, evil owls who believe that might is right, Soren and his companions escape and go off in search of The Guardians, great defenders rumoured to live far across the Great Ocean. But will they be enough to stop the Pure Ones’ plan and their super-weapon, The Flex?
It’s an intriguing story and one that sparks some initial interest but the pacing is so frustratingly off the mark, that it’s hard to get into. As it’s a kids’ film it needs to be snappy but the Great Ocean that is so often remarked upon as being impassable is traversed in the blink of an eye. New characters are introduced and dispensed with so quickly, it’s hard to keep track of them, much less develop any attachment to them and the ones that do stick around are so mundane that it’s hard to really care.
There are plenty of action scenes – owls donning armour and razor-sharp blade attachments to their talons lead to some promising fight scenes but director Zack Snyder ruins it by using his trademark slow-mo button so often that the whole thing feels extremely silly and ripe for parody. It’s also chock full of questionable plot holes – exactly what is this avian super-weapon and what does it do? It’s never explained and consequently a palpable sense of danger is completely absent. How exactly do owls forge armour? – Do they dive-bomb red-hot bit of metal with their faces?
Legend Of The Guardians is so marinated in clichés – the inevitable clash of brothers, the five man band, the climactic standoffs between old rivals – that the film may as well be a tick list of tropes. All this makes the film familiar and predictable, and despite the impressive visual style, is actually rather dull and has absolutely no substance to back it up.