Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated epic film, Napoleon, is set to hit theaters on November 22. With the review embargo for the film lifting on Tuesday night, early reactions from critics have been largely positive. Written by David Scarpa, the lavish period film boasts a runtime of two hours and 38 minutes and stars Joaquin Phoenix as the French military commander and later despot Napoleon Bonaparte, and Vanessa Kirby as his consort, Empress Joséphine. The movie depicts Bonaparte’s meteoric rise from lowly artillery commander to Napoleon I, Emperor of France, and includes notable military engagements such as the battles of Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Early reviews of Napoleon have praised its epic scale, particularly the set-piece battle scenes that make the film a worthy theatrical experience. Critics have also commended Scott for his ambition in telling Bonaparte’s disparate story and have lauded Phoenix and Kirby’s performances. However, some critics criticized the film’s length and expressed that Scott’s direction may have felt a bit bloated.
As of Tuesday evening, Napoleon’s Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 78 percent from 27 reviews and 70 percent on Metacritic from 19 reviews. The film is a joint venture from Sony Pictures and Apple Original Films and will be released in theaters on November 22 by Sony Pictures before streaming on Apple TV+ at a later date.
Key excerpts from some of the most prominent early reviews have been compiled below:
In a mixed review, The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney wrote that Napoleon, “for all its brawn and atmosphere and robustly choreographed combat, this is a distended historical tapestry too sprawling to remain compelling, particularly when its focus veers away from the central couple.”
Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian gave Napoleon a five-star review, praising Joaquin Phoenix’s “deliciously insinuating portrayal” of the doomed emperor and commending Scott’s leaning into spectacle.
IndieWire’s David Ehrlich found that Napoleon worked best as a comedy, noting the film’s laugh-out-loud moments and describing it as a “stinging character study entombed within a sweeping epic.”
Empire Magazine’s Catherine Bray described Napoleon as “a historical epic which is constantly on the lookout for subtle ways to undercut historical epics” and praised Scott’s distinctively deadpan take on the story.
However, critic Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com felt that Napoleon is “a series of accomplished battle sequences looking for a better movie to connect them” and criticized the film’s scope and script.
Uproxx’s Mike Ryan highlighted the comedy aspect of Napoleon, calling it “surprisingly hilarious” and expressing his appreciation for the intentional humor in the film.
BBC critic Nicholas Barber was captivated by the spectacular battle scenes and pithy vignettes, calling Napoleon “an awe-inspiring achievement.”
Jordan Farley of Total Film felt that Napoleon is one of Scott’s “finest features in almost two decades” but also noted that the film could feel rushed in some areas.
Overall, Napoleon has garnered a range of responses from critics, with its grand scale, battle scenes, performances, and comedic elements receiving praise, while some have criticized the film’s length and narrative structure. As the release date approaches, audiences will have the opportunity to form their own opinions about Ridley Scott’s ambitious portrayal of Napoleon Bonaparte.