A chainsaw-wielding George Washington assembles a ragtag team to fight the British in this violent animated movie.
This review of the Netflix film America: The Motion Picture does not contain spoilers.
It’s 1776, and the Founding Fathers have gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence. It’s a defining historical moment, and they celebrate by…playing beer pong? Something’s not right. Then the British invade, violently massacring those fathers…and Benedict Arnold runs off with the Declaration of Independence? This is history, but not as you remember it.
Netflix’s America: The Motion Picture, which claims to be “based on actual history,” is a film destined to be either endlessly discussed, defended, and attacked from all sides or completely ignored. In the movie’s most self-aware moment, the Apache leader Geronimo says of Americans: “You wanna get through to them, you’d have to put your message in like, I don’t know, the dumbest thing possible, like a cartoon or something.” It’s a bold line, one that presupposes a bolder movie than the one released on Netflix today (just in time for July 4!). America: The Motion Picture is content to pay lip service to the larger debates surrounding this nation and its founding, so it has more time for bloodthirsty action scenes.
The question of who is this for? (too irreverently anachronistic for the history crowd, too “woke” for the right, too gung-ho for those on the left, and too violent for most of the rest) is answered by a look at its creative team. Although produced by newly-minted animation staples Chris Lord and Phil Miller, the film comes from Archer director Matt Thompson and retains that show’s animation style; all bosomy women and muscled men with big guns (pun intended). And boy is it violent; decapitations and viscera galore (all animated, of course).
After the aforementioned prologue, we are introduced to George Washington (Channing Tatum, proving unmatched in the field of lovable himbos), who wields chainsaws that appear from his sleeves like he’s in Assassin’s Creed. His best friend, Abe Lincoln (Will Forte), is torn apart by Benedict Arnold (Andy Samberg), a famous traitor and…also a werewolf (I know, I know). A distraught Washington decides to continue his friend’s plan to start a new country. He recruits a ragtag team of Sam Adams (Jason Mantzoukis playing founding father as a frat bro), Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan), and a female Thomas Edison (Olivia Munn), who wants to use the war to prove “science,” despite all the naysayers around her.
Rounding out the team is Geronimo (Raoul Trujillo), who puts Washington’s problems into perspective. While the former had his land stolen and people massacred, the latter is tired of stinky, no-good rules. America: The Motion Picture is at least somewhat aware of the realities of America’s founding (probably more so than something like Hamilton).
In the start, at least, the movie is all hyperactivity — with action scenes set to raucous music and a head-spinning number of comedic anachronisms. It takes a while for the tone to settle down, or more it ramps up, but you’ve gotten so used to it by the end it feels natural — but the last few sequences are delightful in their ingenuity and willingness to go all out with no-holds-barred cultural references (that are solid jokes more frequently than they are references for reference sake) and gleefully gory action.
There are Fast and Furious nods, endless tea jokes, and humorous profanity (after Washington speaks a witty one-liner, Arnold taunts, “did you practice that in the car?” to which Washington yells, “What the f**k is a car!”). Overall it amounts to a perfectly entertaining movie, if not the transgressively clever one some of its lines suggest. Just make sure not to watch it with the whole family unless your family chooses violence.