When the first trailer for Eddie the Eagle debuted back in December, the lighthearted biopic of British ski-jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards immediately drew comparisons to Cool Runnings, Disney’s 1993 film about Jamaica’s first Olympic bobsled team.
Both films were set against the backdrop of Winter Olympics — the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, to be exact — and both films followed underdog athletes competing not just against other athletes, but the system itself.
On the surface, the comparison seemed apt, given the limited amount of footage the trailer provided — and it remains so, even after seeing Eddie the Eagle soar into theaters.
Directed by British actor-turned-filmmaker Dexter Fletcher, who helmed the critically praised 2013 musical Sunshine on Leith, Eddie the Eagle casts Kingsman: The Secret Service star Taron Egerton as the first ski jumper to represent Great Britain in the Olympics. Gifted with more stubborn persistence than athletic ability, the bespectacled, awkward Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards is smitten from a young age with the idea of becoming an Olympic athlete, much to the frustration of his working-class parents.
After suffering one setback after another in his dream to become an Olympic downhill skier, Edwards comes to the conclusion that his best path to the Olympic Games runs through — or rather, down — a ski jump, as Great Britain has never fielded an Olympic ski jumper, and every country is able to send one athlete to compete in each event. Now, with his heart set on being his country’s first Olympic ski jumper, Edwards embarks on a mission to qualify for the 1988 Olympics that has him crossing paths with a washed-up American ski-jumping champion played by Hugh Jackman, a British committee that wants no part of Edwards representing his country, and the painful results of defying gravity.
Eddie the Eagle is probably best described as exactly the sort of film its trailers tease — which isn’t always a given in the modern era of movie previews.
Fletcher certainly plays with the PG-13 rating at various points … this isn’t a Disney movie.
In portraying Edwards, Egerton does a fine job of inhabiting his flailing, awkward alter ego. It’s a surprisingly good transformation, given that his last prominent role had him playing a suave British super spy who saved the world without breaking a sweat. Anyone unfamiliar with the real-life Edwards might suspect that Egerton is over-playing the role, but the abundance of available real-world footage featuring “The Eagle” proves just how well Egerton captured Edwards’ assorted quirks and mannerisms.
For his part, Jackman performs admirably as the typical, Icarus-like former star who let his ego get the best of him and fell from grace, only to earn redemption through mentoring an athlete with the odds against him. The role is a common ingredient in just about every underdog movie, but Jackman seems to enjoy it enough to make it his own. Still, circling back on the Cool Runnings comparison, Jackman’s take on the character isn’t nearly as entertaining as John Candy’s take on what was essentially the same character in Disney’s bobsledding comedy.
Given the comparison that’s being made, though, it’s worth noting that Eddie the Eagle isn’t what some might consider an all-ages film. There’s a bit of a rougher edge around this ski-jumping story than the Disney-fied tale of Jamaican bobsledders, and Fletcher certainly plays with the PG-13 rating at various points. One scene in particular features Jackman loudly simulating sex acts while teaching Egerton’s character the proper build-up of momentum heading into a jump, and it serves as a helpful reminder that this isn’t a Disney movie.
What Eddie the Eagle does share with Cool Runnings and so many other compelling underdog stories, though, is a compelling evolution for its main characters — both the athletes and their mentors — that makes both their journeys and the one the audience takes with them feel worthwhile. As with similar films, you can see the end of Eddie the Eagle coming from far away, but that doesn’t make you any less inclined to take the jump with its hero.