Films of the year: Paddington 2 (4th place)
My local multiplex is a good one. It’s the Empire in Rubery, Birmingham, and for the most part, patrons are well behaved, and get on with the simple business of watching the film in hand.
Twice in 2017, though, I’ve audibly witnessed the curse of someone instantly giving their review as soon as the picture fades to black, and the first credit appears. First time? That was for Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, where someone about 20 rows back declared in a pitch perfect Birmingham accent that she thought the film was “clucking smit” (I think that’s what she said).
In the case of Paddington 2, though, a woman a row in front of me, with pretty much the same accent, pretty much captured the mood of the screening when she declared “ah, that were lovely, wunnit?”.
It really was. I’ve known, in conversation, some people sniff when I try and tell them that Paddington 2 is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long, long time. Granted, I don’t always help my case by arguing that it’s a direct sequel in the quality threshold of Aliens and Terminator 2. But I do firmly believe it. I also believe that it did what few sequels do, but every sequel should, by standing on the shoulders of the first film, and then seeking to tell a different story.
In the case of Paddington 2, it follows the title character – voiced with the warmth of a cup of cocoa by Ben Whishaw – as he unwittingly finds himself behind bars, and attracting the attention of Brendon Gleeson’s scene-stealing ‘Knuckles’ McGinty. The other new major addition to the ensemble is Hugh Grant, in his best role in forever, Phoenix Buchanan. Spoiling nothing, Grant is not only perfectly cast, but perfectly performs the role and plays to it, too. In a film bursting with laughs, Grant helps himself to more than his fair share.
I really think that writers Simon Farnaby and Paul King, and King’s direction, deserve championing too. King’s work is just seamlessly brilliant. The picturebook sequence, for instance, is one of the many reasons why Paddington 2 belongs firmly on a cinema screen, that a filmmaker has considered a scene and worked out a filmic, beautiful way to present it. It’s craft and storytelling of the first order. Furthermore, he and Farnaby’s script feels like it’s been pushed and pushed and pushed to be better. You can really tell. Perhaps the one sequence that slows the narrative – the hairdresser scene – is so joyful, that how could you cut it out? Everything else seems to service the story, without ever being overt about the fact it’s doing that.
I do think that Paddington 2 captures the spirit and majesty of the first film, expands it, and adds to what made that initial movie so special. And, along with Captain Underpants, I’d happily call it the family movie of the year.
But also I’ll go further: it’s one of the very best films of the year full stop, and a piece of work that can stand toe to toe with the majority of this year’s crop that eventually get nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
It’s a really special movie, this, and I can only echo what the lady in front of me at the Empire in Rubery said, as three generations of my family were sat in a row, utterly swept up in exactly the same movie, at the same time. That really were lovely.