Monday, 20 November 2017

Film Review: Against all odds, Paddington 2 is a work of pure brilliance

The best kinds of films are the ones that surprise you. I'm not talking about a good plot twist here, I'm talking more about films that turn out to be so much better than you could ever have expected, so much so that you can't help but grin when they finish. Paddington 2 is such a film, but more than that it's a film that oozes heart and soul: it's funny and it's warm and it's just so loveable that you want to squeeze its cheeks until it bursts. The film's predecessor from a few years back was great fun, but this is the textbook example of how to craft a sequel. Bigger doesn't always mean better, but can it when done right? Of course it can.

While the original Paddington was very much a story of fitting in, the sequel tries its hand at a narrative focused on finding the best in people and making even the worst situation work for you. Paddington (Ben Wishaw) wants to buy a book for his Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday, it's a pop-up book about London - the city she never got to visit because, right before she was destined to head there herself, she rescued Paddington and put her life on hold for him. He gets a job to start earning money to afford the book, but right when he's on the verge of success it's stolen by a man in a bearded disguise and Paddington is wrongly arrested. He's sent to prison, leaving Mr and Mrs Brown (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins) and their family to solve the case and clear Paddington's name.

One of Paddington's biggest assets was its pitch perfect cast, and the sequel again uses them impeccably. Bonneville's comic timing remains pinpoint accurate, as best shown during a breaking and entering sequence punctuated by maybe the film's best visual gag, while Hawkins again demonstrates an uncanny ability to ooze warmth and love through her words and movements. Julie Walters is once again marvellous as Mrs Bird, relishing in her heavy accent and wringing it for every beat she can, while Hugh Grant's turn as the villainous Phoenix Buchanan is as camp as they come but just as brilliant. It's clear that every actor here loves what they're doing, and it creates an infectious energy that fills every word of the script with pure, unfiltered joy. 

It's not hard to see that more money has been thrown at this sequel, but it lands in all the right places. The CGI for the eponymous bear is somehow even more seamless this time around, to the point where you just accept Paddington as a part of the world with barely a second thought. Perhaps most notably, the production design here is far beyond what we saw last time. A sort of Wes Anderson motif appears to run through the film, with bright foregrounds gorgeously contrasting with pastel backgrounds, creating a frame is beautiful as the film around it. While the original Paddington was consistently pleasing on the eye, the sequel is full on dazzling to look at.

Paddington 2 spends a lot of time in a prison but director Paul King makes the connection that this kind of environment doesn't exactly gel with the film's light hearted tone. In a brilliantly inspired move he uses a first rate gag to shift the atmosphere from dark and dingy to bright and warm, his film simply never loses sight of its tone. The prison sequences are also home to some of Paddington 2's funniest moments - Brendan Gleeson's performance as Knuckles McGinty is delightfully offbeat, and the film sources an endless but relentlessly funny sequence involving Paddington's prison pals and a visitors booth.

The comedy is another way in which Paddington 2 improves over its predecessor. While this film may not quite be as consistently funny as the original, it instead uses its first two acts to lay comedic groundwork that it completes in its finale. There's a trope in cinema in which an offhand element in a film's opening comes back as a saving grace by the end, something the original Paddington used simply but effectively with the back up marmalade sandwich under your hat. Paddington 2 takes whatever grievances you may have with this gimmick and shatters them, serving up a final act that draws back to its opening in endless ways, each more unpredictable than the last - there are moments in the film's finale that hard me shedding tears in laughter. And what's more, every last one of them feels genuinely rooted in the character it belongs to: writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby are ingenious in how they use the original film's character work to serve as a comedic backdrop in their sequel.

It's outstanding writing, and not the only example of how strong this film's script is. Paddington 2 overflows with warmth and love, but it never slips into sappiness or sickliness. It's a film about finding the best in people, and that's exactly what it does, and that it does so without any judgement whatsoever is what makes this such a resolutely human film, even if it's technically about a bear. King and Farnaby's script takes on an enormous weight load - from subtle Brexit analogies to slapstick comedy, from laugh out loud cameos to moments of quietly touching emotion - yet it never shows any signs of crumbling under the pressure. The film is fast and frantic (it all culminates in a train chase sequence that's more intense that the entirety of Michael Bay's career) but it always feels confident in every step it takes. It's like watching a masterpiece unfold before your eyes. 

I still can't believe I'm saying this, but Paddington 2 is a work of sheer brilliance, a film that has you laughing out loud one moment before tugging at the heartstrings the next, and the shifts from one to the other are always executed perfectly. It's quirkily performed and lovingly crafted, a pitch perfect example of how to create a sequel that expands on its predecessor in all the right ways without losing what made it such a delight to begin with. There may be more conventionally strong films this year, but I struggle to name any as infectiously joyous as Paddington 2 - it simply latches onto you and refuses to let the smile leave your face. It is of course possible not to enjoy the film, but I'd think twice about trusting anyone who doesn't find happiness here: if any film can make the world outside today feel just a little bit more bearable, it's this one.

In A Sentence

With a visual palette as delightful as its underlying message, the unexpectedly superb Paddington 2 is a funny, clever and phenomenally enjoyable film with its heart, brain and soul in all the right places.

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