Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 15, 2016)
Nearly 30 years after the 1988 Winter Olympics, those games may remain best-remained for competitors who fizzled, not those who won. The Calgary Olympics gave us two now-famous participants who never sniffed medals: the Jamaican bobsled team and British ski-jumper Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards.
1993’s Cool Runnings offered a loose take on the bobsledders, and 2016’s Eddie the Eagle provides a look at Edwards. As a child, young Eddie (Tom Costello) decides he wants to grow up to become an Olympian. A harsh realist, his father Terry (Keith Allen) discourages this notion, but his mother Janette (Jo Hartley) backs him 100 percent and allows the fantasy to flourish.
As he becomes an adult (Taron Egerton), Eddie continues to pursue his goal. After he shifts from skiing to ski-jumping, Eddie eventually receives training from coach Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) and works his way toward a shot at the 1988 Olympics.
I admit I have an allergy toward most “inspirational tales”, and on the surface, Eagle smacks of the schmaltziest schmaltz one can imagine. Whereas Cool Runnings opted largely for broad comedy, everything about Eagle screamed that it would take a sappy, gooey approach.
Almost everything, that is – I found some hope that Eagle would turn into something watchable based on those involved. Actor Egerton and co-producer Matthew Vaughn paired for 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, a terrific action flick that suffered from zero sentimentality. Two people involved in such an edgy effort couldn’t make a total sap-fest, could they?
Yeah, they could, as Eagle embraces every cliché one can imagine, and it does so with a lack of irony. Every once in a while, I sense a hint of genre mockery – a sense that Eagle mildly wants to lampoon inspirational tales – but those moments pass quickly.
Instead, Eagle buys into the clichés full force and never rises above them. It feels like something written by committee, as it comes with no originality or desire to strike out new territory for itself.
Edwards seems like an odd subject for an inspirational tale anyway. Sure, he did persevere to make the Olympics, but he essentially did so through loopholes - loopholes that the authorities closed to make sure additional not-very-qualified athletes couldn’t follow his example.
Edwards also achieved no actual success in the Games. A totally fictional version of this story would end with Eddie’s victory against long odds and a gold medal around his next. Given Eagle’s need to adhere to some facts, though, this can’t happen, so we’re left with a protagonist who ends up in last place.
I get that Eagle wants to show us that there’s honor in competing, no matter how one does, and I respect that. It just doesn’t make for especially good drama, though. No matter how hard it tries to amp up the finale, Eagle comes with an awfully anti-climatic conclusion, the cinematic equivalent of a kid who gets a “participation trophy”.
Perhaps if Eagle did something interesting with the characters, it might have been more satisfying. Unfortunately, neither Eddie nor Bronson ever blossom into anything more than basic traits. Eddie’s our plucky hero, and Bronson is the disillusioned guy who learns to believe again. Yawn.
I do like the way that the film conveys the risks involved with ski-jumping. As viewed on TV, these endeavors look effortless, so the movie’s attempts to put us in the jumpers’ skis work.
Other than a few thrilling jump scenes, Eagle doesn’t offer much. It turns into a sporadically watchable affair but not one that involves the viewer.