Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Exit, Pursued By A Bear

Year: 2018
Director: Paul King
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins
Run Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

So, yes. Against all odds, I really really liked the original Paddington. But now it's four years later, the world has fallen to pieces, and the track record for movie sequels - especially to kids' movies - has never been particularly strong. There's no way Paddington 2 could provide the same level of earnest, warm quality that its predecessor had in spades. Right? Right?!

Wrong. So, so wrong.

Paddington 2 sees our beloved, marmalade-devouring bear Paddington (Ben Whishaw) having settled into his new home with the Browns, who are all more or less the same, but nudged a slight bit forward in their arcs and dealing with the problems that come with being four years older than they once were. Henry (Hugh Bonnevile) is attempting to drown his midlife crisis in yoga and ignoring the fact that his work promoted a younger, fitter employee past his rank. Mary (Sally Hawkins) is longing for adventure and training to swim across the English Channel. Judy (Madeleine Harris) has rather given up on boys and taken up journalism, and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin) is attempting to appear cool in spite of his intense love of steam trains.

Paddington's retired Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) has her 100th birthday coming up, and he has decided to buy her an antique pop-up book of London landmarks, to help her feel close to the city she always wanted to visit but never got the chance to. He takes on a series of jobs at which he fails hilariously to save up for the book so he can send it to her home in Darkest Peru.

And a Paddington movie is nothing without a sublimely arch villain, so enter Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a fading, self-absorbed actor - think a more foppish Gilderoy Lockhart - who steals the pop-up book, knowing that it contains clues as to the location of a hidden treasure. Paddington is wrongfully accused of the crime and sent to prison, where he must work to befriend his fellow inmates, including violent chef Knuckles (Brendan Gleeson), while the Browns attempt to suss out the identity of the real culprit.

Unfortunately, he has a tendency of just blending into the background, what with his drab outfits and so forth.

If I hadn't obliterated every doubt you had yet, Paddington 2 is a spectacular success both as a sequel continuing the look and feel of a consistent universe, and as an insular movie striking off in its own direction with separate, if thematically similar, ambitions. If anything, this movie doubles down on the original's emphasis on creating a humanizing - or rather, bear-izing - tale of immigration. The more diverse ensemble certainly helps in this regard (the original Paddington is still a masterpiece, but it's awfully white), but the way the film explores the character of Aunt Lucy this time around is a heartbreaking, bittersweet portrayal.

The moment that really drives that emotion home is also conveniently the moment that declares that Paddington 2 hasn't forgotten the visual inventiveness of its forebear.

Or fore-BEAR. Geddit?

As Paddington flips through the pop-up book, he imagines himself and Aunt Lucy running through the cut-paper world, exploring the sights of a city she'll only get to visit in her imagination. Not only is it a splendid effects showcase, blending the 3D animated bears with 2D paper animation in a lusciously gorgeous scene that completely eschews live action for a moment, it's a stirring and deeply felt sequence that will have you openly weeping ten minutes into the film.

But this isn't a movie that strives to make you sad. Oh it succeeds in spades at doing that, and your chest cavity will be sore from all the times your heart swells, but it's not cruel or punishing. It's just... life. It's a celebration of the good and the bad and the way that suffering has a tendency of giving way to radiant peace. It's certainly an anti-Brexit argument, but it's couched in such an undeniably warm, loving register that it never feels preachy or forced. It's just lovely and charming, just like every other part of this movie.

These elements peacefully coexist with everything else, from the broad slapstick that's played so earnestly you can't help but be drawn in to the little visual gags that never needed to be there, but prove just how much love went into the creation of this whole affair.

In any other kids' movie, this would easily be the worst, most pandering moment. I don't know who they sold their soul to, but it just freaking ISN'T.

Now, there is an element here where Paddington 2 is a bit of a step down from part one. The Brown family, although they get more solo scenes considering that Paddington is in prison for half the movie, are a bit less fleshed out than they once were, and they always were a little bit archetype-y. They're explored less enthusiastically, although the script is still tight enough to incorporate them all into the adventure with Swiss watch precision.

And there's no amount of sidelining that can take away from just how gosh darn good of a performance Sally Hawkins is delivering here. She is always a delight, but she takes the character she created in the first one and draws a sly, self-effacing humor from her overzealous commitment to every action she undertakes in this silly, off-kilter world she's been placed into. If she's not in the conversation for next year's Best Actress nominations (and she won't be, because the world is a cruel place and the Academy even crueler), the world will be robbed of the recognition of a true treasure.

The plotting also slips a bit with Hugh Grant's treasure hunt, which - to be fair - has way too many steps. He is supposed to find twelve clues scattered throughout the city, and although that is assuredly far too many for a simple little 100 minute film to handle, the way they skip through them feels like a gargantuan chunk has been carved out of the story. But again, this element is rescued by an actor at the top of their game. Hugh Grant is simply delightful, embracing the camp pomposity of his character with a lacerating, sarcastic portrayal of aging stardom.

It's hard not to be upstaged by the glorious pastel dandy outfits that came straight from the brain of some fevered fashion genius, but Hugh Grant pulls it off, providing the film with a villain that's just as stylistically bizarre and captivating as Nicole Kidman, but in a wholly different direction.

All in all, Paddington 2 is just the bee's knees. It's more of the same, but different, just like a sequel should be. And when that same is this tremendous and that different is so inspired, it's hard not to want to sing the praises of this movie from the rooftops of any convenient towers or skyscrapers.

TL;DR: Paddington 2 is a tremendously worthy sequel that recaptures the spirit of the original.
Rating: 9/10
Word Count: 1187
Reviews In This Series
Paddington (King, 2014)
Paddington 2 (King, 2018)

No comments:

Post a Comment