UK Release Date: 10th November 2017
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Paul King
Writer: Paul King, Simon Farnaby
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin
Synopsis: Paddington discovers an elegant pop-up book that will make a perfect gift for his aunt’s 100th birthday, but he finds himself locked up in prison after the book goes missing.
The world may never have been as cynical as it has been in 2017. Donald Trump is in the midst of inciting nuclear war on social media and Britain is blundering around blindfolded through a Brexit minefield. In that climate, there’s something utterly wonderful about Paddington 2. It’s a film told through the wide, innocent eyes of a character capable of seeing the best in absolutely everyone, regardless of whether they’re a kindly family man, a flamboyant thespian or a incarcerated safe cracker moonlighting as a prison chef.
When the first Paddington arrived, it was a delightful breath of fresh air. Three years on, returning director Paul King and his new co-writer Simon Farnaby have crafted a sublimely sweet confection that exceeds its predecessor in every way. It’s an adventure that builds from simple roots and is able to maintain its sense of proportion even as it deals with life-or-death jeopardy and some seriously hefty emotional blows. King remains sure-footed and confident in a tale that seems to exist in a parallel world – one of pastel colours, boundless optimism and a strange combination of past and present.
Paddington (Ben Whishaw) has been living with the Brown family for several years when the film begins. A pop-up book catches his eye in Mr Gruber’s (Jim Broadbent) antique shop and he decides it will make the perfect present to send to Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) as she celebrates her 100th birthday in Peru. When the book goes missing, Paddington finds himself accused of the theft and locked up in prison with the ruthless, grumpy chef and safe cracker Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson). He must find a way to clear his name and his suspicion soon falls upon narcissistic luvvie Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant).
There’s a joyous simplicity at the heart of Paddington 2 which, at its most basic level, is about a kid who really wants to buy a present for his aunt. The only difference is the boy in question is actually a CGI animated bear with a gift for slapstick. Ben Whishaw delivers another tremendous central performance as the eponymous ursine, bringing childlike innocence to a character whose complete lack of cynicism is a genuine virtue. It’s remarkable to think the role was originally earmarked for Colin Firth, as it’s something that fits Whishaw like a particularly fetching, colourful woolen glove.
Outside of its fluffy protagonist, Paddington 2 benefits from a truly enviable roster of British comedy talent. Returning stars including Sally Hawkins, as kindly Mrs Brown, and Peter Capaldi, as intolerant neighbourhood busybody Mr Curry, add real colour to the world. The standout, though, is Hugh Grant. He waltzes into every scene and devours the scenery as rabidly as the movie’s prisoners scoff the marmalade sandwiches Paddington is able to provide for them. Grant is having an enormous amount of fun and that spirit oozes out of every frame.
The joy of King’s work in Paddington 2 is in the way he subtly raises the stakes without ever pushing his movie too far into the blockbuster arena. This is a film that features a near-drowning, a train chase and a daring prison break, but it’s also one of the most straightforward and enjoyable movies to hit cinemas in quite some time. It’s not complicated, it’s not big and it’s not clever, but it is an experience that can transport even the most jaded adult cinemagoer back to the uncritical wonderment of their childhood. The final, rousing emotional rug pull is blindingly obvious from the moment the scene begins, presented with absolutely no poker face, but that doesn’t prevent the tears from coming when King reveals his hand.
There simply has not been a film as purely pleasant as Paddington 2 this year. It doesn’t have the social pinch of Get Out or the crazed imagination of mother!, but it’s a perfect example of cinema at its most potent. King and Whishaw have proved to be a compelling big-screen pairing and there’s enough raw emotion at play here to bring more than a couple of tears to even the most world-weary of eyes.
Pop or Poop?
It feels odd to say this, given how strong 2017 has been at the movies, but Paddington 2 is almost certainly the best film released into cinemas this year. Ben Whishaw’s wide-eyed central performance is heart-breaking and Colin Firth delivers his best performance in years as a thieving actor desperate to return to his glory days. Most importantly, though, there is a spring in its step and a lightness of touch that is simply perfect for these troubled times.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.