Paddington 2 (2017) (Review)

2017 has been a particularly torrid year. We've experienced the fall-out of the ghastly Brexit; the 'so horrendous it makes me cry on a daily basis' Trump presidency; numerous, devastating natural disasters; terrifying atrocities committed by human beings upon other human beings; and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (to say nothing of Geostorm and The Emoji Movie). Bad news lurked on every screen and we found ourselves wishing the year away. And then along came a bear, going by the name of Paddington. We've seen the charmer, created by Michael Bond before, in the 'it had no right to be this good' film adaptation in 2014 and lately, the new M&S Christmas advert. Our marmalade-loving furry friend has arrived with us again to convince us that, for one brief shining moment, all can be well in the world if we search for the good in each other. Paddington 2 is an utter joy we don't really deserve.

Having settled with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens, Paddington has become a reliable friend to so many, offering emotional support to anyone in the community who requires it. Wanting to purchase a unique pop-up book of London for Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday, Paddington raises just enough money (through various odd jobs) to purchase the gift - but when it is stolen from the antique shop, Paddington is sent down for the crime and sentenced to ten years. Convinced he is being framed, the Brown family work tirelessly to free Paddington - but will their efforts be for nothing, with someone attempting to derail their plan?

Paddington 2 is as pure, sincere and wholesome as cinema comes. Kind-natured and well-spirited, the Paddington sequel oozes optimism and warmth, seemingly incapable of putting a foot - or paw - wrong. Without a bad bone in its body, it is perfect cinematic escapism for the whole family to enjoy and appreciate, and while the central character is technically an animal, humanity seeps through the film's beautiful canvas exceptionally well. Truly glorious and undeniably touching, it truly is an artistic, cinematic triumph that will fill your heart.

Embracing a timely set of powerful themes (including inclusivity and acceptance), Paddington 2 is packed with positive messages to teach younger ones and gentle reminders for the more cynical out there, encouraging us to look for the good in the world at a time where it is increasingly difficult to notice it. While it tackles the likes of Brexit and immigration head on, it does so in a smart and sophisticated manner, largely thanks to the tightly-constructed and well-considered screenplay from Paul King and Simon Farnaby; the pair manage a strongly-paced, well-structured story and prevent it from becoming a total rehash of the first by infusing inventive set pieces and creative dialogue into the mix. It is sprightly, energetic and streamlined, clocking in at a solid 103 minutes, with every minute a complete treat.

On top of the strong foundations provided by the fantastic writing team, the cast are on-hand to infuse further magic and warmth into the wondrous affair. Ben Whishaw once again impresses as the eponymous bear, with his instantly soothing and cuddly tone bringing our furry friend to life expertly: his vocal performance captures every lovely thing about Paddington, to the point where it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role - like the previously cast Colin Firth. It may sound an obvious and clunky thing to say, but Whisaw is Paddington and Paddington would not be half the success it is without Whishaw's magnificent embodiment of Paddington. Returning cast members such as Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters provide reliably solid turns, as does Peter Capaldi as the walking-talking-bumbling amalgamation of every Brexit voter on the planet. It's very well played.

Hugh Grant is wonderfully committed and suitably wacky as Phoenix Buchanan, the film's pantomime-eseque villain. Frequently hilarious and flexing his comedic chops excellently, he has such fun as the narcissistic actor and ensures the audience have someone to root against. He is sharp but self-aware, preventing Buchanan from feeling like a total joke: he genuinely does feel threatening at times, too. Nicole Kidman left some large shoes but Grant does a terrific job at filling them. Brendan Gleeson is the perfect choice as the threatening-but-softening Knuckles and his interactions with Paddington are such breezy fun. The diverse cast, in general, do a tremendous job at installing Paddington 2 with excitement, energy and emotion.

The film's increased budget is put to terrific use, responsible for some beautiful set pieces and designs for our appreciation. There's a touch of Wes Anderson about it, particularly reminiscent of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with popping colours and bold, almost cartoonish stylistic decision making it a stunning visual experience. From the funfair recreated from your childhood memories to the vivid London streets and iconography, the film zips and zaps between these sturdy set pieces effectively. Directed with aplomb by a returning Paul King, who ensures the project is continual family-fun, he delivers the slapstick with the heart string-tugging with an abundance of material to explore along the way. It is a precisely measured masterclass that never feels forced, thanks to fantastic storytelling and confidence behind the camera (as well as in front of it).

What's more, the infusion of animation into the live-action is seamless, even smoother than it was in the already-impressive original. It is a technical feat of tremendous proportions - in fact, you may find yourself disappointed sometime after the credits roll when you remember that Paddington does not actually exist and isn't skipping around London somewhere with his marmalade sandwiches. King breathes life into this quintessentially British family adventure, balancing the various tone swirling around the film with real poise and sophistication. All enhanced by a rich colour palette and Erik Wilson's ravish cinematography, Paddington 2 is as much as feast for the eyes as it is for your emotions.

Dario Marianelli's soundtrack really enhances the film's plethora of emotion. It is a well-orchestrated and varied selection of tracks, capturing a number of the film's tones: touching and soaring when it comes to the tender moments, quirky and exciting in the comedic sequences, it really helps elevate the film, and control the weight of the assorted emotions.

It has been so difficult to narrow down the highlights because the film is simply bursting with them. From a wonderful Marmalade-making time lapse to an ingenues prison escape sequence, a community standing for unity and kindness to the animation pop-up book, there are so many individual magical moments to love about Paddington 2, enhancing the entire film generously. Emotional and uplifting, the film's final scene especially is one of tremendous power, and the film restricts what could have been a mawkish moment into a tear-inducing one, and one of the finest moments of 2017 cinema. You leave the theatre with a renewed outlook and determination to be a better human, installing a profound effect on those of us who may have been desensitised by a pretty depressive year.

To find fault in Paddington 2, you must really scrutinise it  - and that goes against everything the titular bear has taught us. It does, however, clumsily drop a few slightly too-obvious narrative signposts early on into the exposition-filled, 'up to speed' introductions. 'That'll be used later on', you think to yourself - and lo and behold it is. It is a very minor thing to pick up on in an otherwise delightful film, but it was noticeable nonetheless. In the moment, you want Paddington 2 to take a couple more chances, but upon reflection you realise that attempting any narrative boldness and cunningness would risk destroying the entire fabric of the film - one that feels like a warming, generous and authentic hug from a loved one.

As anti-Brexit as I am, Paddington 2 is an utter delight. Perfect fun for the whole family, it has obviously been made with a great deal of love and understanding, profound in its message and heartfelt in its story-telling. Somehow, given how much of a pleasant surprise the 2014 film was, the sequel is an improvement in almost every sense of the word - bright, funny, warm and sincere. Difficult to fault and so very easy to love, everyone working on the film has so much to offer, all responsible for an exquisite, pretty faultless and charming slice of cinema - from the cast, director, writer and producer. Paddington 2 really is as sweet as marmalade.


Summary: Lovingly-made and packed with so much heart and soul, Paddington 2 is one of the year's very best. Our world does not deserve a film as warm, optimistic and utterly lovely as Paddington 2 but it definitely needs one - it will make you laugh, cry and strive to be a better human.