Cleopatra (Monica Bellucci), Queen of the Nile, is not in a good mood as she is being taunted in her palace by Julius Caesar, leader of the Roman Empire who is denigrating the achievements of her country. Caesar believes Egypt is past it as a significant power, and doesn't see why she should be bothered anyway as her family is Greek, but Cleopatra will not be calmed down and makes a rash promise that she will have a lavish palace built for him by the time he returns in three months. Now she must find an architect, and the only one available is Edifis (Jamel Debbouze), mainly because he's not particularly skilled - but what help can he possibly find?
How about three indomitable Gauls and their dog? This was the second of the blockbusting adaptations of the Asterix comic books, and based on one of the most highly thought of works in the canon, René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's Asterix and Cleopatra. Fans of the originals would find much of the plot of that carried over to here, entirely wisely as that narrative had been expertly fashioned and besides, they would have been put out if there had been too much of a difference between the page and the screen. This included the gags, so for example Obelix's accidental demolition of The Sphinx's nose is present and correct.
But to show they were moving with the times, many references more readily recognised by the 2002 audience were included too, some of them pleasingly daft, such as the pirate captain standing on the bow of his ship and yelling "I'm the King of the World!" as he goes into battle, but many a little too jarring, such a character whose voice takes on the properties of a mobile phone: silly, but it took you out of the Ancient Egyptian setting too much. What of our heroes, did they make the transition better than they did in their previous, middling effort? The answer is yes, as if there was one aspect that was appropriate it was the casting, with Gérard Depardieu the ideal Obelix who never lets us forget he fell into the cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby.
Christian Clavier returned as Asterix, his makeup still not quite right (thanks to obvious wig and false moustache) but embodying the character's pluck and resourcefulness nevertheless. As Getafix, the druid who agrees to help Edifis, Claude Rich also suffered unusual hairpiece syndrome, but was otherwise acceptable, and by the time the party are off to Egypt to save the day you've settled with them. Funnily enough, with Monica Bellucci in the Cleopatra role, you might have expected them to do more with her, but while she was included for just enough of the book, here the Queen is used more sparingly although it does not appear to have been the design of this update, it's simply how the story plays out and how faithful the filmmakers are.
Director Alain Chabat took the Caesar role, which might come across to some viewers as vanity or taking the chance to enjoy a massive snog with Bellucci, but actually the way it unfolds in the movie, well, er, that's exactly how it comes across. There is a sense that everything is in the service of the jokes rather than anything else in the production, fair enough, but Chabat does tend to make rather heavy weather of them, especially when there are expensive computer graphic effects involved. There isn't much funny about admiring the skill of computer programmers, and those effects rarely look as organic as live action ones would, but then, it would be harder to stage the setpieces, as when the Egyptian workers are treated to the potion which lends them super-strength, without them. On the whole, this was a bit of a tacky bauble of an Asterix movie in spite of the cash flung at it, but it did amuse enough to be called a qualified success. Music by Philippe Chany.