Gorillaz: Reject False Icons review – plenty of music, but where's the art?

A first look at the cartoon band's new feature length excursion.

Gorillaz fans have been waiting years for an animated movie based around the antics of the world's longest-running cartoon band; it's been long mooted since the 2000s, with Terry Gilliam's name coming up at one point. Maybe a few were expecting something like that when announced that Reject False Icons would be screening for one night only in select cinemas, giving the whole thing an air of mystique.

Reject, as we'll stick to calling it, is not that film. Even calling it a standard music doc somewhat falls short as a description, not because the movie's some sort of mixed-media hybrid - how cool would that have been? - but because most documentaries have an essential narrative underpinning them, or private moments where you really get to know the humanz being presented to you on camera.

Reject has none of that, unless you count it as the basic story of Band goes on tour, Finishes tour, The End. That's what you get here, and if you expect nothing more, then Reject False Icons should be a pleasing experience for most Gorillaz fans. You get blasts of the live show, some studio jamming, a bit of banter here and there.

What you don't see much of is 2-D, Murdoc, Noodle, Russel and temporary Gorilla/Powerpuff Girl alumni Ace; in other words, the Gorillaz themselves. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's followed the project's trajectory from its cartoon inception in 2000 to the Damon Albarn side-project that the band essentially is today. Reject basically cements the Gorillaz as it stands in the 2020s, with no behind-the-scenes peeks of their music videos, no focus on the stage visuals behind Albarn and company, and barely any moments with the artist behind it all, Jamie Hewlett (even though his son, Denholm, is the one shooting everything we see.)

The band's one other feature length excursion from 2008, Ceri Levy's Bananaz, did a much better job at showing the unit as a duo, being half about the music, and half about the art. It also did a good job in showing dialogue and situations from start to finish, something Reject just doesn't seem interested in doing.

Conversations are either joined midway, or mixed with dodgy audio. A parade of guest singers are presented to us, sterling talent like Kelela and Lil Simz, but who have little to say or - more accurately - no chance to say it. 

None of these alternative stars really comment on what the band means to them, nor how they crossed paths, or where the inspiration for lyrics and performances may have come from. We don't get a feel for what's changed since Bananaz was released, or what the band stands for any more. We don't even get to know what's next for the group.

The most silent figure in all this is Jamie Hewlett himself. The Gorillaz character designer and visual guru doesn't really get a look in until almost 80 minutes in; when he does appear on screen, he does some cool sketches, talks a bit about the eraser on the end of his pencil - and that's it.

Imagine if we'd instead heard him talk about adapting his art as tech evolved in the 2010s, how he feels about his position in the act, what he thinks about the act's music and talent involved. We see him doodle among overheard mentions of what the characters are up to now - Murdoc in jail, Ace joining the band - but with little idea who's behind these ideas, or what fun these narratives open up to the creators. 

Damn, there could have been a whole segment based around why they decided to add a freakin' Powerpuff Girl character to the group, and the logistics in making that a reality.

Should you reject Reject False Icons, then? If you love all things animation, character design and pop culture, then yes. If you're into noodly keyboard jams, snippets of stage shows and Damon Albarn's contented face, then no.

Gorilalz: Reject False Icons premieres for one night only this December 16th, 2019. Book tickets here.

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