Skip to main content

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.


Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.


Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they might, his messy encounter with the fearsome Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson) isn’t drawn out quite long enough before the latter becomes his protector (albeit Knuckles remains pleasingly gruff for longer), an incident with Buchanan dressed as a nun (featuring the returning Farnaby, running with a classic British comedy riff as he is once again infatuated by a man in drag: “Stop the stunning sister!”) speeds by too quickly, and the sequence in which Buchanan discovers Mr and Mrs Brown in his house needed an ever so slightly more outlandish explanation for their presence to knock it out of the park. Compared to the Brown household mishaps in the first movie, the inspired chase involving a skateboard and a policeman’s helmet, Mr Brown (Hugh Bonneville) dressed as a cleaning lady, or the marvellous use of the over-used Mission: Impossible theme (or even just the burst of Hello when Peter Capaldi’s Mr Curry first claps eyes on Nicole Kidman), and the sequel is more jackdaw but less sustained in its hilarity.


This time round, rather than a dedicated taxidermist, a pop-up book holding a treasure map fuels the plot, although really, it’s simply about the little bear spreading his values of openness, honesty, politeness, inclusivity and marmalade to all he meets, and touching even the hardest of hearts with his uncommon genuineness. This aspect can’t be faulted, unless you take objection to the Harry Potter-by-way-of-Richard Curtis presentation (or, as King puts itMary Poppins-like”): the tourist’s dream of a cosy, beatific, perpetually cheery London.


There are a few teething issues, truth be told; the first quarter of an hour is content to amble in the otherwise risky manner of a picture that knows it has a captive sequel audience, and the flashback detailing how it was Paddington came to be adopted by his aunt and uncle is only necessary to those who assume people go to follow-ups without first seeing the original.


But once King gets underway, he keeps us thoroughly diverted until the final act, at which point he ratchets the pace – and tension – up a gear for an all-out duelling train chase. His greatest achievement is how much we care for the CGI bear, though. Indeed, the chase culminates in a sequence rivalling any tearjerker for pathos, whereby Paddington looks set to succumb to a watery grave. Ben Wishaw’s contribution to the success of these movies can’t be understated either, giving voice to a gentle, unaffected bear who always puts others first, but it’s in the supporting players that these pictures flourish their colour. And top of the pack is Hugh Grant.


The only disappointment of Grant’s performance is that his best scene is left until the closing credits (a show-stopping, behind-bars musical performance that goes down a storm). He’s reminding us throughout, for any who refused to pay attention over the last two decades, what a talented comedic actor he is. Buchanan, a vain, washed-up thesp reduced to doing dog food commercials (dressed as a dog, eating dog food), sees the chance to produce a frightful-sounding one-man show (“An evening of monologue and song”) with the loot the pop-up book leads to, and pulls out every dastardly stop to achieve his goal, and a succession of goofy disguises and accents.


Grant switches from ingratiating charm to gleeful villainy with utmost ease, and also does a better ham Poirot than Sir Ken (and let’s face it, ham Poirot is the way you want your Poirot), as well as walking atop a (moving) train more convincingly than Sir Ken. There’s great enjoyment to be had from his hack actor dropping in of references to theatrical luminaries (“Larry”) and a succession of Shakespeare quotes (“Screw your courage to the sticking place”) and misquotes (“Exit bear, pursued by actor”. Well, mis-stage directions).


Possibly even surpassing Grant is Gleeson, who fits the cartoonishly foreboding prison like a big hairy glove. It’s with Knuckles that the picture’s redemption arc resides; he’s effectively required to accept Paddington and ultimately be his champion and rescuer much in the manner of Mr Brown in the original, a change of heart you can see half an hour off but which is no less satisfying for that when it comes. King is clearly having the most fun in this setting, transforming stir into a pleasant, pink-fatigued, plant-strewn patisserie off the back of Paddington’s mood-alerting menu for marmalade.


The New Statesman would have you believe Paddington 2 forwards a “welcome anti-Brexit message” (it must be a terrible burden to get your jollies from enthusing over the perceived politicisation of family movies – provided they fit your own political perspective, naturally) on the basis of Buchanan hating working with others, so it’s gratifying that King and Farnaby nursed no such intent, instead namechecking Capra – suitably as the picture feels like it comes from a different era – while getting in a dig at Star Wars along the way (“The need for kindness transcends all political debates…. I think Paddington is about seeing the good in everyone, and trying to break any of those deadlocks”).


It’s actually only Mr Curry who’s offered no redeeming aspects, although Capaldi makes the part a dishevelled delight – he’s much better in this than as the Doctor, although he can’t really be blamed for the latter, except perhaps for taking the part knowing what Steven Moffat inflicted on Matt Smith –  and if they ever remake Steptoe and Son (they’ve done Porridge, after all), he’s a shoe-in for a dirty, lecherous old Steptoe Sr (with a mutton-chopped Smith as his Alfred?)


In expanding the cast and canvas, the regulars aren’t quite enabled to make the most of plot threads introduced and subsequently resolved with nothing in between. The kids are now difficult teenagers and not quite as effective (J-Dog, indeed), while Bonneville continues to tap his flair for comedy as Mr Brown, just not quite as productively this time; occasionally, a recurring gag is on the lazy side (Henry’s biker days). Occasionally, even when it’s lazy, it’s still very funny (his meditation practice coming in handy while stretched amid two speeding trains). 


Sally Hawkins is ever adorable as Mary Brown, but where before she was Paddington’s empathically ardent supporter, now the whole family are. Julie Waters is a national treasure at this point, so immune to criticism, obviously, but as I mentioned in my review of the original, I much preferred her in slightly mental mode as Harry Hill’s nan. She does deliver of the best lines, however, warning, without winking, that “Actors are the most evil people on the planet”.


Other notables in the cast include Tom Conti as a cantankerous judge – understandably so, given what Paddington did to his hair – put in his place by an exasperated wife, Joanna Lumley as Buchanan’s agent, required to deliver an old (but amusing) “Nice buns” riff, and Richard Ayoade offering expert testimony on marmalade. Wolfie, the dog Paddington initially gives chase to Buchanan on also turns in a fine performance, although it did set me wondering, in Pluto and Odie fashion, why some of the animal kingdom can speak and not others.


Dario Marianelli’s score wallows in poignancy more than Nick Urata’s original, reflecting the slightly less irreverent tone. Erik Wilson ensures the visuals pop (his distinctive lensing was also brought to bear on Ayoade’s directorial efforts), but most of all, King shows himself to be one of those rare TV directors – and even rarer TV comedy directors, step forward also Edgar Wright – with genuine cinematic flair.  Paddington 2 looks great, a step up even on the impressive original, and King’s as comfortable staging an elaborate, expertly-martialled train chase as a flamboyant musical number. I’ve seen him compared to Wes Anderson, but much as I love Anderson’s work, that really only applies to his talent for the tableau; King’s otherwise for more kinetic in sensibility. Indeed, I’d love to see him take a crack at a more faithful Fantastic Mr Fox; I’m sure he’d do it justice. Perhaps after Paddington 3.






Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism

Yeah, it’s just, why would we wannabe be X-Men?

The New Mutants (2020) (SPOILERS) I feel a little sorry for The New Mutants . It’s far from a great movie, but Josh Boone at least has a clear vision for that far-from-great movie. Its major problem is that it’s so overwhelmingly familiar and derivative. For an X-Men movie, it’s a different spin, but in all other respects it’s wearisomely old hat.

Now listen, I don’t give diddley shit about Jews and Nazis.

  The Boys from Brazil (1978) (SPOILERS) Nazis, Nazis everywhere! The Boys from Brazil has one distinct advantage over its fascist-antagonist predecessor Marathon Man ; it has no delusions that it is anything other than garish, crass pulp fiction. John Schlesinger attempted to dress his Dustin Hoffman-starrer up with an art-house veneer and in so doing succeeded in emphasising how ridiculous it was in the wrong way. On the other hand, Schlesinger at least brought a demonstrable skill set to the table. For all its faults, Marathon Man moves , and is highly entertaining. The Boys from Brazil is hampered by Franklin J Schaffner’s sluggish literalism. Where that was fine for an Oscar-strewn biopic ( Patton ), or keeping one foot on the ground with material that might easily have induced derision ( Planet of the Apes ), here the eccentric-but-catchy conceit ensures The Boys from Brazil veers unfavourably into the territory of farce played straight.

I can always tell the buttered side from the dry.

The Molly Maguires (1970) (SPOILERS) The undercover cop is a dramatic evergreen, but it typically finds him infiltrating a mob organisation ( Donnie Brasco , The Departed ). Which means that, whatever rumblings of snitch-iness, concomitant paranoia and feelings of betrayal there may be, the lines are nevertheless drawn quite clearly on the criminality front. The Molly Maguires at least ostensibly finds its protagonist infiltrating an Irish secret society out to bring justice for the workers. However, where violence is concerned, there’s rarely room for moral high ground. It’s an interesting picture, but one ultimately more enraptured by soaking in its grey-area stew than driven storytelling.

Never underestimate the wiles of a crooked European state.

The Mouse on the Moon (1963) (SPOILERS) Amiable sequel to an amiably underpowered original. And that, despite the presence of frequent powerhouse Peter Sellers in three roles. This time, he’s conspicuously absent and replaced actually or effectively by Margaret Rutherford, Ron Moody and Bernard Cribbins. All of whom are absolutely funny, but the real pep that makes The Mouse on the Moon an improvement on The Mouse that Roared is a frequently sharp-ish Michael Pertwee screenplay and a more energetic approach from director Richard Lester (making his feature debut-ish, if you choose to discount jazz festival performer parade It’s Trad, Dad! )

Dad's wearing a bunch of hotdogs.

White of the Eye (1987) (SPOILERS) It was with increasing irritation that I noted the extras for Arrow’s White of the Eye Blu-ray release continually returning to the idea that Nicolas Roeg somehow “stole” the career that was rightfully Donald Cammell’s through appropriating his stylistic innovations and taking all the credit for Performance . And that the arrival of White of the Eye , after Demon Seed was so compromised by meddlesome MGM, suddenly shone a light on Cammell as the true innovator behind Performance and indeed the inspiration for Roeg’s entire schtick. Neither assessment is at all fair. But then, I suspect those making these assertions are coming from the position that White of the Eye is a work of unrecognised genius. Which it is not. Distinctive, memorable, with flashes of brilliance, but also uneven in both production and performance. It’s very much a Cannon movie, for all that it’s a Cannon arthouse movie.

Yes, exactly so. I’m a humbug.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (SPOILERS) There are undoubtedly some bullet-proof movies, such is their lauded reputation. The Wizard of Oz will remain a classic no matter how many people – and I’m sure they are legion – aren’t really all that fussed by it. I’m one of their number. I hadn’t given it my time in forty or more years – barring the odd clip – but with all the things I’ve heard suggested since, from MKUltra allusions to Pink Floyd timing The Dark Side of the Moon to it, to the Mandela Effect, I decided it was ripe for a reappraisal. Unfortunately, the experience proved less than revelatory in any way, shape or form. Although, it does suggest Sam Raimi might have been advised to add a few songs, a spot of camp and a scare or two, had he seriously wished to stand a chance of treading in venerated L Frank Baum cinematic territory with Oz the Great and Powerful.

So, crank open that hatch. Breathe some fresh air. Go. Live your life.

Love and Monsters (2020) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, Michael Matthews goes some way towards rehabilitating a title that seemed forever doomed to horrific associations with one of the worst Russell T Davies Doctor Who stories (and labelling it one of his worst is really saying something). Love and Monsters delivers that rarity, an upbeat apocalypse, so going against the prevailing trend of not only the movie genre but also real life.

It’s always open season on princesses!

Roman Holiday (1953) (SPOILERS) If only every Disney princess movie were this good. Of course, Roman Holiday lacks the prerequisite happily ever after. But then again, neither could it be said to end on an entirely downbeat note (that the mooted sequel never happened would be unthinkable today). William Wyler’s movie is hugely charming. Audrey Hepburn is utterly enchanting. The Rome scenery is perfectly romantic. And – now this is a surprise – Gregory Peck is really very likeable, managing to loosen up just enough that you root for these too and their unlikely canoodle.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.