Ridley Scott’s epic Napoleon hits theaters on November 22, but the review embargo for the film broke on Tuesday night and the initial response from critics was largely positive.
Written by David Scarpa, the lush historical film, which lasts over two hours and 38 minutes, stars Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix as the French military commander and later despot Napoleon Bonaparte and Vanessa Kirby as his consort, Empress Joséphine. The film charts Bonaparte’s meteoric rise from a lowly artillery commander to Napoleon I, Emperor of France, and includes notable military battles such as the battles of Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Among the first reviews, Napoleon is praised for its epic scale, especially the battle scenes that make the film a worthy theatrical experience. Critics also praised Scott for his ambition to tell Bonaparte’s diverse story. There was also praise for the performances of Phoenix and Kirby. Some critics took issue with the film’s length and felt that Scott’s direction may have been a bit bloated.
From Tuesday evening Napoleon‘s Rotten Tomatoes score was 78 percent from 27 reviews and 70 percent on Metacritic from 19 reviews.
Napoleon is from Apple Original Films and Sony Pictures. The film will be released theatrically on November 22 by Sony Pictures and will stream on Apple TV+ at a later date.
Below are key excerpts from some of the most prominent early reviews.
In a mixed review, The Hollywood ReporterThat’s what David Rooney wrote Napoleon, “For all its power and atmosphere and robustly choreographed battles, this is a sprawling historical tapestry that’s too vast to remain compelling, especially when the focus veers away from the central couple.” Rooney added that “while Scott can be praised for his ambition, neither he nor Scarpa manage to build those many plot pieces into a flowing story.”
In his glowing five-star review in the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote that the film is “a wonderfully insinuating portrayal of Joaquin Phoenix’s doomed emperor, whose mocking face matches the frame of a bicorne hat and a cheerful tricolor cockade.” Bradshaw praised the film’s scope and Scott leaned on spectacle, writing that the director “does not engage the audience with metaphysical meaning and certainly does not withhold the old-fashioned pleasures of spectacle and excitement.”
from IndieWire David Ehrlich was mostly pleased with the film and thought that Napoleon worked better as a comedy than a historical epic, given the film’s string of laugh-out-loud moments. “A tantalizing character study, buried in a riveting epic that begins like a house on fire before stumbling through the climactic years of its subject’s life with all the grace and determination of the Austrian army trying to escape Austerlitz. ‘Napoleon’ works best when it says: the French emperor for filth, which he does early and often.”
Catherine Bray, to enrol Empire magazinealso found Napoleon Worthwhile and described the film as “a historical epic that constantly looks for subtle ways to subvert historical epics.” “Scott’s take on Napoleon is remarkably dry: a funny, idiosyncratic close-up of the man, rather than a broader, all-encompassing account,” Bray writes.
Less fascinated was critic Brian Tallerico who writes in his review on RogerEbert.com That Napoleon is “a series of accomplished battle sequences looking for a better film to tie them together.” Tallerico is another to dispute the film’s scope, writing that “one of the problems is that David Scarpa’s script tries to pack a lot of life into the running time of a single film.”
Uproxx‘s Mike Ryan is another critic which emphasizes the comedic aspect of the “surprisingly hilarious” film Napoleon. “I can’t take credit for this observation, but a friend of mine who saw the movie said, ‘It’s like watching Tim Robinson play Napoleon,’ and this is quite factual. Oh, make no mistake, this is by design,” Ryan wrote, adding, “This is not my way of saying Napoleon is bad. It’s now honestly one of my favorite films of the year – a film that, before I saw it, seemed a little too stoic and ‘important’. Instead, I probably laughed harder during this movie than during any new movie this year. And the laugh is genuine and intentional.
BBC critic Nicholas Barber was fascinated by the spectacular battle scenes and the many spicy vignettes and wrote that Napoleon is “an awe-inspiring achievement, although it may give you a greater appreciation of Scott’s leadership qualities than of Napoleon’s.” Barber writes that “the film serves as a great summary of Napoleon’s career, a beautifully illustrated Wikipedia page ticking off most of the major events of his adult life.”
To write for Total movieJordan Farley felt that Napoleon is one of Scott’s “best features in almost twenty years.” Farley writes that “the film can feel as if it is in a race to squeeze everything in, while the essential politics unfolding on the fringes and in backrooms are never as gripping as when Napoleon and Josephine’s deeply unhealthy relationship unfolds is playing.”