Around two thousand years ago, the Romans ruled almost all of Europe, but there was one part of it they had not conquered, a tiny village in Gaul where the inhabitants held out against the oppressors by virtue of the magic potion they drank which gave them superhuman strength. There was one among them who longed to strike out for fresh pastures, however, and he was Lovesix (Stéphane Rousseau), who was conducting a long distance love affair with a Greek princess, Irina (Vanessa Hessler) by carrier pigeon. He could wait for her no longer, and decided to head for the Mediterranean and the arms of his true love - or that was the idea...
Wait a minute, what does this have to do with the character in the title, Asterix? This was the third live action film to feature the creations of Réne Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, and also the most expensive though sadly the least well-received. The majority of fans were not so keen on the rewriting of the original Olympic Games comic book, timed to be released at the start of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and felt that their heroes were effectively sidelined in favour of the guest stars. Certainly Christian Clavier, who played Asterix in the first two instalments, was unhappy with the same thing happening in Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatre, and declined to reprise his role here.
So Clovis Cornillac was the new Asterix, and while he didn't look like the cartoon, his presence was not too jarring, mainly because Clavier was right, the title character doesn't have that much to do, and neither does Gérard Depardieu's Obelix. But to say that they were irrelevant would be wrong, as if you thought of this as an ensemble movie you would get on with it a lot better. Some of those stars included Alain Delon as Julius Caesar, straightfacedly cracking a joke about the Césars and taking every opportunity to lampoon his supposed vanity; it's not bad casting and was cheering to see a genuine French megastar engaging in what amounted to two relentless hours of all-out silliness.
But the real star was Benoît Poelvoorde as Caesar's son Brutus (wait - Brutus was Caesar's son?!) who is scheming his way to the top and attempting to knock his dad off his throne by foul means. He grabbed every opportunity to make the audience laugh, and his performance may have been broad but it was necessary to be heard over the lavish production design and frequent special effects sequences. If nothing else, you could see where the money went as it was all up there on the screen as Asterix and his friends travel to Greece to help out Lovesix, who has gotten into a challenge where Irina has declared she will marry whoever wins the Olympic Games, which conveniently for the plot is just about to take place.
So it's either Lovesix or Brutus who will win her hand, and while the outcome is in little doubt, the manner in which the film went about its daft adventures was perfectly enjoyable no matter what the naysayers would have had you believe. It's true there was an air of terrific self-indulgence as not only does Depardieu get to spoof Cyrano de Bergerac in the balcony scene (and with Dogmatix as well!), but there were a host of sporting greats appearing in extended cameos, most notably Michael Schumacher in the climactic chariot race in what looked suspiciously like an advertising opportunity for his most famous team. Wait until the last ten minutes and the likes of Amelie Mauresmo and Zinédine Zidane appeared for a spot of comedy that looked as if the filmmakers were reluctant to end the movie and were continually pulling the audience's sleeve with a "Just one more thing". But this had a puppy dog, only wanting to please you charm, better than its reputation even if Asterix and Obelix could have made a more ingratiating focus. Music by Frédéric Talgorn.