America’s founders as frat bros, violence, inconsistent humor, and social and political satire. Those are what you’ll see when you watch America: The Motion Picture, the animated reimagining of the founding of the United States.
This film is yet another animated romp produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, but this time they’re not turning years-old film tropes on their head like they did with The Lego Movie or 21 Jump Street. No, they’re making a *checks notes* raunchy political satire? Yep, you read that right. From director Matt Thompson of Archer and writer Dave Callaham of Wonder Woman 1984 comes America: The Motion Picture.
Now this isn’t some historically accurate film about the American Revolution where the actors and filmmakers take things super seriously. It’s not Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln or Tom Hooper’s HBO miniseries John Adams. Here, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln grew up together as best friends, Thomas Edison was a woman, King James is closer to Darth Sidious than British Royalty, and Benedict Arnold is the one who killed Lincoln. And he’s a werewolf.
If this all sounds absurd, crazy, and off the wall, then you probably have a good feel for the movie overall. In fact, if you watch the movie’s trailer, then you’ll pretty much know exactly what you’re getting into. Channing Tatum voices George Washington and Jason Mantzoukas voices Samuel Adams as they attempt to take down Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg) and King James (Simon Pegg) in this alternate history Revolution. It’s the perfect way to portray this idealized mythos of the founding of a deeply flawed country.
This is of course where you have to admire the movie. Its goal is to challenge the idea of American exceptionalism that we were taught in first grade where white guys invented everything except for peanut butter and the Pilgrims and Indigenous People happily sat around a giant table at the first Thanksgiving. So this movie leans into those misconceptions (or lies) that have been shoved down our throat and shows the version of American history that has skewed the way so many people see this country.
The white main characters of Washington, Adams, and Lincoln are the heroes, while Geronimo and a Black man known as Black Smith (a play on blacksmith) tag along on the heroes’ quest to find the Gettysburg Address, which leans into the idea that anything good in the country is because of white people who just have others at their side. The movie also addresses the conflation of nationalism and religion, guns, sexism, racism, the idea of war, and places a big ol’ emphasis on the importance of trusting science. You could possibly argue that it takes this too far, but I found it all to be so over the top that the satire was obvious. In fact, the movie makes it abundantly clear it’s satire with a fourth wall break when one character says, “You wanna get through to them? You’d have to put your message in the dumbest thing possible. Like a cartoon or something.” And then the characters give it a second or two to fester before getting back to the shenanigans.
Boy, are there a lot of shenanigans in this film. The gags are both visual and spoken and the movie barely gives you time to digest one before throwing two more at you. Like Vin Diesel, the jokes come fast and furious to varying degrees of success. Paired with the humongous visual spectacle, this movie is all over the place. One minute you’re laughing at little jokes and the next, you’re watching a final battle play out that feels like a mix between an Avengers movie, the Lord of the Rings franchise, and the Hoth battle in Empire Strikes Back, and the giant battle is actually a good deal of fun.
But whether or not you’ll like this movie all depends on how you feel about this kind of comedy in general. Like I said, if you at least chuckled at the trailer, then you’ll probably enjoy the movie as a whole. If not, you should probably stay away because the messaging and satire won’t work for you anyway. And that’s not an indictment on you or the movie. It just leans heavily into a very specific genre that’s easy to dislike.
America: The Motion Picture is largely a mixed bag. Its intentions are pure, but the jokes don’t always land and the story and pacing can be a little confusing. It has a knockout of a final scene that finally leans away from the idealized version of America it’s been portraying and instead feels like something you could see actually happening in real life and being reported on by the nightly news. If this seems like your kind of thing, give it a watch. If not, you’re not missing out on anything spectacular.