Sure, Angry Birds is based on a popular mobile-app game, but the game is pure nonsense: It doesn't have anything approaching an actual story or genuine characters. So it's downright audacious to see that the story a rare all-male creative team chose to hang on that framework is one that has been virtually taboo on the big screen: male anger.
Yes, sometimes male anger is the butt of a movie's joke — "Oh, look at that poor guy, his hormones are going crazy!" — and sometimes movies will (correctly) condemn out-of-control male rage. But that's not what's going on in Angry Birds: this movie supposes it is a vindication of male anger. Can you think of the last movie you saw — or even heard about — that was about men who are angry... and this is a positive thing?
There is a sense of desperate male fury about Angry Birds, as if the filmmakers recognize the futility of what they're attempting but are determined to plow on nevertheless. Forcing a logical narrative onto an absurdist, nonlinear interactive experience was probably never going to work in a satisfying way, and they've only highlighted how phony it is with their unlikely male hero, Red (the voice of Jason Sudeikis), who is an outcast in his community because of his outbursts; we are apparently meant to feel sorry for him because of this! In the opening sequence, he is violently rude to people he has wronged when they are understandably upset about being wronged, after which he is sent to an "anger management" course, where he meets other angry birds: Terence (the voice of Sean Penn), Chuck (the voice of Josh Gad), and Bomb (the voice of Danny McBride).
It's cute that the male filmmakers opted to buck the natural inclination to make their main characters female; their matching birds in the game are not gendered, and so most players simply assume they're female. Nice blow for male equality! But any gentle underscoring of the plight of men... er, I mean, of male birds, is absent. This is a fantasy world in which birds are flightless, for instance, and yet, where is the hint of tragic irony in this? For us humans, birds are a symbol of freedom precisely because of their ability to fly: You might imagine that any meninist tale of how males are denigrated because of their emotions might look to flightlessness as a sad metaphor for the curtailing of their freedom to be themselves.
Instead, Angry Birds is all about the anger. The birds here have believed that their island is the whole world, and that there are no other creatures, but when a shipload of pigs arrive, Red is instantly suspicious. He's furious, in fact, that everyone else is being so welcoming. In the real world, of course, Red would be seen as delusional. But here, Red is right! The pigs are up to no good.
There is some quite nasty stuff that comes next: A scene in which the pigs do a song-and-dance number dressed in assless chaps — which causes all the lady birds to swoon — is followed by Red sneaking onto the pigs' ship to learn their secrets, during which we glimpse a copy of Fifty Shades of Green (the pigs are green) given prominent display. We are clearly meant to infer that the pigs are dangerous seducers. And this is a trap that Red must save his fellow birds from.
Red finds himself astonished that the "fate of the world" is now left up to "idiots like me." It is, and this is perhaps the most implausible thing about Angry Birds. A self-professed idiot male, clouded by hormonal rage, is going to save the world? I don't think so. There's a reason why no one else has tried to float such a notion before in movies. Let's hope we never see it again. ♦