It’s surprising, given the virtual pop-band conceit, that there wasn’t a full-length Gorillaz film years ago. Maybe this is because Murdoch, 2D, Noodle and Russell have slowly been overwhelmed in the course of the project’s two-decade history by its operational reality – which now verges on, as this film points out, 100 contributors. Making up for the fact that illustrator Jamie Hewlett’s gargoyle-ish ensemble are present only in flashy cutaways, his son Denholm gets to prowl behind the scenes on recording sessions for recent back-to-back albums Humanz and The Now Now, and the world tour that Damon Albarn’s funky omnibus packed in around them.
The downside of family involvement is that everything is strictly sanctioned. Albarn jokes in an after-credits scene about the directorial whippersnapper exposing all his “idiosyncrasities”. But they amount here to nothing more than being perpetually on muso cloud nine, orchestrating, among others, Mavis Staples, Little Simz, actor Ben Mendelsohn and one-time nemesis Noel Gallagher in the studio and on stage.
Albarn’s capering, grufty mug and gold tooth make him resemble some mixing-desk Steptoe though, generally, he seems a lot happier than the self-regarding figure who sometimes appeared in Britpop documentaries. If there were personality clashes, we don’t see them, nor is there any inquiry into the band’s USP, the relationship between sound and image, or how Albarn corrals his collaborators.
Hewlett opts for a nippy edit, never lingering on any vignette or performance. Which stops us savouring any single musical highlight – though Peven Everett, with his lightning-bolt vocals, has an energising effect, a more-than-able deputy for the late Bobby Womack.
It’s ironic that the film doesn’t just reject false icons but, to some extent, the band’s cartoon avatars, too; in prioritising Gorillaz meatspace, it inadvertently confirms the marginalisation of the original concept. Still, with Hewlett Jr often chronicling events in cool monochrome, shooting in close proximity if not exactly total intimacy, this snappy scrapbook tips the hat to the infectious creativity of Albarn’s travelling circus.
• Gorillaz: Reject False Icons is released in the UK and the US on 16 December.