I never really got Paddington. When I was young, I read the books and tried marmalade, hated it, gave the books up because they were misleading. I was that kind of child. So Paddington 2 wasn’t my first choice but I was dying to see how it could get 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and kept it for more than a day. Could this sequel of a movie I had no interest in seeing really be that good? Actually yes. But I don’t actually want to get too much into why because I wouldn’t want to spoil a thing for this movie.
Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.
At first, I wasn’t convinced that this would be worth watching. Oh yes it was beautifully put together, exquisitely shot and well acted, but I really wasn’t buying a talking bear who believes that politeness can accomplish anything. I found it twee and cloying. But it’s like a swimming pool – the water might be too cold at first but after it minute you’re fine. Once I acclimatised to the bizarre logic of the Paddington Universe, I really was able to accept the film on its own merits.
I found myself laughing at all the jokes. I don’t know why, I can’t remember any of them, but I’m pretty sure I laughed more than the kids. Maybe every joke in this film was just in my wheelhouse of funny. That can happen, right? Although you wouldn’t expect it from the trailer, which was not funny or, in fact, interesting. But turns out it’s the exact opposite of The Huntsman: Winter’s War – they took dullest parts of the movie and put that in the trailer. The rest of the film is wonderful, though you can see that everything is designed down to the last detail. If I had learned that Wes Anderson had secretly had a hand in directing this, I would not have been surprised.
I have to spend some time on Hugh Grant who played the villain of the piece. I normally like him but I’ve never seen him shine like this. He was smug and neurotic and crazy and devious and scary all at once. And it’s not just him – there was a lot of talent though and some amazing performances. Like Brendan Gleeson as a hardened criminal with a passion for food. And Peter Capaldi as the power hungry neighbourhood watch guy.
I think this was one of the best written movies in a long time. It is, of course, perfectly paced, but that’s the easiest part of writing. Much harder is making sure everyone has a reason for doing what they’re doing. Ever character in the story had something they were trying to do and you damn sure knew why they wanted it and how they intended to achieve it. Everyone. Not only that, but Paddington 2 has the most fired Chekov’s Guns I’ve ever seen in a film. Every plot device after the midpoint involved something or someone we’d already been introduced to. Repeatedly I had a shock of recognition and then the immediate sense that I knew exactly what was going to happen. Half the time I was delighted to be wrong. I am in awe of the writers of this film, that is hard to pull off.
So is Paddington 2 worth watching? Yes. Watched and studied. If you’re looking for an example of filmmaking perfectly done, this is your specimen. The message in the film might be something about family or good manners or maybe that marmalade isn’t so bad after all, but my takeaway was this: craft trumps everything. Be good at what you do and you can make anything.