Jujutsu Kaisen 0 (2021)
“Jujutsu Kaisen 0” stars Megumi Ogata, Kana Hanazawa, Mikako Komatsu, Koki Uchiyama, Tomokazu Seki, Yuichi Nakamura, and Takahiro Sakurai. Released in Japan on December 24, 2021, followed by a North American release on March 18, 2022, the film is about a high school student who attends a mystical school known for fighting curses.
The film was directed by Sunghoo Park, who's known for directing "Jujutsu Kaisen", "The God of High School", and "Garo: Vanishing Line". It is based on the manga series of the same name created by Gege Akutami. It is also a prequel to Akutami's Jujutsu Kaisen manga series. No one wants to have a curse placed upon them. They affect their daily lives in ways you can never imagine, especially when it involves your late lover. Fortunately, the best way to ignore them is to fight them. This weekend offers plenty of new content for different audiences to combat the caped crusader for the box office crown. Today, I'll be looking at one that many anime followers have waited for. Since I reviewed the latest "My Hero Academia" film and "Belle", I might as well keep this train going. This movie is an entirely new experience for me compared to "My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission" because I hadn't watched a single episode of "Jujutsu Kaisen" before watching the prequel. I read about its concept online, but I didn't get a chance to immerse myself in this world via anime. I also haven't read the manga the film's based on. So if you're wondering why I'm reviewing it without any knowledge of "Jujutsu Kaisen", I can only say that I enjoy action-packed anime. Thankfully, the film is a prequel to the source material, so I should have a comfortable time talking about it with a fresh mind. With that said, let's see if this adaptation can please the franchise followers and modern moviegoers without getting cursed.
The story follows Yuta Okkotsu (Ogata), an isolated high school student suffering from a terrible curse. He is constantly haunted by the spirit of his childhood friend Rika Orimoto (Hanazawa), who died from a tragic accident six years ago. Yuta's life seems to be over until he encounters a mysterious sorcerer named Satoru Gojo (Nakamura). Satoru guides Yuta to the Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High School to teach him how to control his curse. As Yuta trains with the other sorcerers to battle curses, he must use his skills to protect the world from Suguru Geto (Sakurai), a villainous sorcerer who seeks to eliminate humanity and gain Yuta's curse.
The good thing about this movie is that it isn't set in-between the "Jujutsu Kaisen" series. Instead, it focuses on the events before that show, along with some characters introduced in the series, including Yuta and a huge talking panda named Panda. I wonder where they got that idea from? When it comes to film adaptations of manga or anime shows, I always look to see if they can attract two types of audiences: the people who adored the source material and those who have little to no experience with it. Because the movie is a prequel, this made its task a bit less stressful, as it doesn't force the newcomers to read or watch "Jujutsu Kaisen" to understand the prequel. It made that choice optional rather than a necessity. As someone who hasn't got into "Jujutsu Kaisen", I had no problem growing attached to the world and characters built for the movie. But does that make it a good adaptation of the series, or in this case, a good film? Of course, it does, but it isn't without its share of curses.
The movie's heart comes from Yuta Okkotsu, who's not only grieving over his friend's death but is also frightened about his curse hurting those around him. As the story progresses, we see Yuta training to break the curse, only for him to use it to save his new friends from Geto and accept his friend's demise. Amid its bloody violence and creepy imagery, the film offers a suitably-handled story about loss and acceptance. Unfortunately, its structure prevented this promising plot from reaching beyond its intended heights. The way it was structured narratively felt like it was originally made as a television series before the writers decided to make it into a movie. It's almost like they combine the most crucial episodes into a 105-minute-long motion picture. As a result, "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" becomes something that may leave some newcomers like me struggling with maintaining the emotional connection regarding its pacing and rushed character development. I did enjoy the main characters because of their personalities and chemistry, but I don't think they're enough to make me care for them a lot. But, of course, that could be my fault for not getting into the source material beforehand. As a newcomer, I thought the story was decent enough to provide some flashy entertainment and heart. However, it might be better off as a limited series regarding its narrative structure, in my opinion.
I decided to watch the English Dub version of "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" for this review. Why? Because I can. The English cast managed to provide some tolerable voice work into their characters, ranging from Kayleigh McKee as Yuta to Lex Lang as Geto. Some of their dialogue can be a bit iffy at times, but the cast's efforts in providing humor and energy carried enough momentum to make this dub a bearable choice for those not wanting to read the subtitles. Finally, we have the film's animation produced by MAPPA, the same studio responsible for many projects like the "Jujutsu Kaisen" anime and the 2016 film "In This Corner of the World". The animation is top-notch in its designs, environments, monster-like curses, and action sequences. It delivers plenty of vibrancy and richness in the film's scope and artistic settings. More importantly, it also offers some fluidity in the character movements to make the movie more cinematic, mainly for the fight sequences. The fight scenes in "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" are highly energetic and smoothly choreographed regarding Sunghoo Park's direction and animation style, which helps me forget the film's narrative shortcomings.
Overall, "Jujutsu Kaisen 0" is a visually impressive and entertaining adaptation of Gege Akutami's prequel manga. It is also a welcoming addition to the "Jujutsu Kaisen" lore for many fans of the series. Despite being cursed by its narrative shortcomings, the film is enjoyable enough to get specific newcomers, including me, interested in joining this curse-fighting clan. With its tolerable voice cast, striking animation, engaging action scenes, and a decent plot, this is another anime movie that I was happy to watch on the big screen. Not as much as I was while watching "My Hero Academia", but happy nonetheless. If you're a fan of the manga series or in the mood for a supernatural action flick, this movie is worth checking out. Just don't bring your curse with you if you do.
“Belle” stars Kaho Nakamura, Ryo Narita, Shota Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Koji Yakusho, and Takeru Satoh. Released in Japan on July 16, 2021, followed by the United States on January 14, 2022, the film is about a high school student who encounters a mysterious beast in a virtual world.
The film was written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who also directed films such as "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time", "Summer Wars", "The Boy and the Beast", and "Mirai". It is inspired by the 1756 French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. The internet is a place where you can be whoever you want to be. However, that might not be enough to make you famous, especially when you're in a virtual reality world. Aside from the latest addition to the iconic horror franchise, the second weekend of the new year didn't offer anything else that caught my attention. That is until I discovered that a new anime movie arrived in the United States this weekend. That's when I knew that this month might not be so dull after all. This movie marks the latest project from Studio Chizu and Mamoru Hosoda, both of which previously worked on "Wolf Children", "The Boy and the Beast", and "Mirai". While I haven't watched the former two yet, I did see "Mirai" a couple of years ago when it was showing at my closest cinema, and I thought it was fantastic. So when I saw that he was involved with this film, I already became hooked on what he could do with this relatable concept. The movie already made a big splash when it received a 14-minute standing ovation at last year's Cannes Film Festival and became a modest box office hit in Japan. Now, it's looking to repeat that success with its U.S. launch. Was it worth logging on to for anime fans and general audiences alike? Let's find out.
The film centers on Suzu Naito (Nakamura), a high school student who's passionate about singing and writing songs. After losing her mother in a tragic accident, she became resentful and abandoned her dream. One day, under her best friend Hiroka's (Ikuta) suggestion, Suzu logs into the popular virtual world known as "U", where everyone can be anything they want. Think of it as the OASIS from "Ready Player One", but without the pop culture references. Under her new identity, "Bell", Suzu rediscovers her passion and quickly becomes a huge phenomenon. When a monstrous avatar called "The Dragon" (Satoh) arrives at the scene, Suzu goes on a quest to figure out the mystery behind the avatar and discover her true self along the way. Based on the concept alone, it's easy to assume that it's an anime version of Beauty and the Beast set in an online fantasy open-world environment. However, it doesn't go out of the way to become a complete rip-off of the classic fairy tale or the Disney version. Instead, Hosoda used this inspiration to represent a coming-of-age fantasy teen angst drama that deals with self-acceptance, grief, loss, abuse, and the difficulties surrounding online identities. You know, stuff that might be uncomfortable for young viewers, especially when taking its PG rating and animation into consideration. Since I grew up watching the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast and enjoyed anything related to video games, I knew that this movie would be right up my alley. After experiencing it myself, I can easily assume that this virtual tale is as stunning and heartfelt as the classic story that inspired it. "Belle" is another fantastic example of how animation reflects not just from a storytelling perspective but also an emotional one. When it comes to the film's plot, Mamoru Hosoda has a way of making things simple but also ambitious with its themes and narrative. While there were a couple of elements that weren't explored that much due to its pacing, especially the creation of U, Hosoda managed to grab my attention regardless due to the film's characters, direction, style, and messages. I honestly found a couple of sequences that made my eyes sprung a leak multiple times, mainly in the film's third act. Part of that is due to the development of Suzu, where she struggles to embrace her true self in a world where people hide themselves and their painful secrets through different identities. I thought it was well-executed with its engaging scenarios and emotional depth. Some people may find it emotionally manipulative, but I find it to be highly thoughtful and inspiring, especially for those who went through that same situation themselves. When you get past some of the pacing issues and the film's two-hour-plus runtime, you too might find many things that'll make you appreciate the art of animation storytelling. The voice cast did a solid job with their performances, and by that, I mean the English dub cast. While there were some unfamiliar names in the English cast, such as Kylie McNeill (Suzu), there were also some familiar ones, including Jessica DiCicco (Hiroka) from "The Loud House" and Chace Crawford (Justin) from Amazon Prime's "The Boys". All of the voice actors involved did what they could to make the English dub as watchable as the Japanese version, and the result was suitably divine. Kylie McNeill was a shining star regarding her performance as Suzu as she delivered plenty of heart in her character's timid personality. Not only that, but she is also a magnificent singer. Jessica DiCicco also did very well as the voice of Hiroka, and Brandon Engman delivered some good comic relief in terms of his performance as Shinjiro Chikami, Suzu's classmate. Like Hosoda's previous films, "Belle" wouldn't be what it was without the cherry on top: the animation. This beautifully immersive movie relies on the visuals, lighting, and backgrounds to enhance itself on a spectacle and story-driven level. The virtual world of U was also awe-inspiring for its designs and the CGI effects for the avatars. Anime movies usually work best with 2D animation. However, this film proved to be one of the examples where CGI in the anime department can also be as effective with the right amount of effort, especially when combined with traditional animation. I would also give the movie credit for its remarkable soundtrack, mainly the songs performed by McNeill. The music managed to tug my heartstrings in all the right ways.
Overall, "Belle" is a gorgeous and highly thoughtful depiction of the pain hidden by online identity. Despite a couple of issues with its pacing, this animated gem showcases Mamoru Hosoda as one of the finest and reflective storytellers to date regarding the art form. Thanks to its solid cast, fantastic animation, superb soundtrack, and strong execution for its narrative and themes, the film marks another successful effort from the filmmaker and Studio Chizu. It is worth logging into if you're a fan of Hosoda's previous projects and animation in general.
Don't Look Up (2021)
“Don’t Look Up” stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothee Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep. Released on December 10, 2021, the film has two astronomers attempting to warn humanity of an approaching comet.
The film was written and directed by Adam McKay, who also directed films such as “Anchorman”, “Talladega Nights”, “The Other Guys”, “The Big Short”, and “Vice”. If the coronavirus isn’t enough to wipe out the human race, maybe a huge life-threatening space rock will. The holiday season was chock full of things that sought to disrupt our Christmas celebration, such as the multiverse, heartless humans, gentlemen spies, and even the Matrix. Today, I am adding an incoming comet to that list, thanks to Adam McKay. Since his shift towards dramatic territory in 2015, the filmmaker has delivered a couple of distinctive fact-based comedy dramas that land him in the awards race, even though they’re far from masterpieces, primarily 2018’s “Vice”. McKay’s next film goes for a more satirical approach as he depicts the climate crisis as only he knows how. Despite receiving some mixed reviews regarding its execution, the film became the latest project to land McKay in the awards circle once more. In addition to being named one of the best films of 2021 by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute, the film also earned numerous Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations as of this writing. Seeing that I enjoyed some of McKay’s previous works, this accomplishment, along with its all-star cast, was enough for me to see what all the fuss was about. With that said, let’s see if this latest comedy marks another win for the Oscar-nominated director.
The story follows two astronomers: Astronomy professor Dr. Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) and his student Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence). They discover an unidentified comet that’s heading towards Earth during their usual studies. With only six months left until it collides with the planet, Randall and Kate must use every method known to man to warn everyone of their impending doom. For a film that’s over two hours long, the plot is about as basic as a simple math equation. However, there’s more to this story than just two scientists convincing a bunch of idiots about an incoming asteroid. The film also serves as a satirical allegory of social media, the government, and cultural indifference to climate change, which may resemble the COVID-19 situation in late 2019. Combine that with McKay’s sense of direction and humor, and you get something that Trey Parker and Matt Stone would’ve come up with for South Park. Regarding satirization, we all feel the need to poke fun of ourselves every once in a while. Some may feel offended by how they’re portrayed, while others just shrug it off and chuckle at the irony. I’m one of the people who prefer to have fun with satire if the material given has enough merits to earn my laughs and interest. Fortunately, that’s what “Don’t Look Up” did. As mentioned before, the film has been dividing critics and audiences left and right since its release. Half of the people praised it. The other half, not so much. If someone asks me which group I agree with regarding this movie, I would tell them that I agree with the people who liked it. I would even say that I was pleasantly surprised at how hilarious, entertaining, and thoughtful it was. While not entirely perfect, the film showcased McKay’s miraculous ability to shed light on some political commentary while providing a tongue-in-cheek depiction of humanity’s impending doom. Aside from its ironic portrayal of people’s indifference towards a specific crisis, the film delivered a highly entertaining yet impressively accurate representation of a scientist’s frustrating process of warning people about a climate breakdown. Now, I’m not into climate change as much as others, but I can easily compare this situation to how we’re being warned about impending diseases, mainly COVID-19. We’ve been told multiple times about it, yet we did nothing to ease the damage. That’s the only reason why I relate to this film so much. Those similarities remind me that people still have a lot of work to do to keep themselves alive. But, of course, there were other reasons why this film was another massive surprise for me, with one of them being the all-star cast. A lot of heavy-hitters were so talented in their roles that it’ll take forever for me to list them all, so I’m just going to highlight the ones that I enjoyed watching the most. Leonardo DiCaprio was unsurprisingly magnetic and riveting in his role as Randall Mindy, which could show possible signs of him getting another Oscar nomination. Maybe even another Oscar win? Jennifer Lawrence made a return to acting after her short hiatus, and I got to tell you, she still got it. Regarding her performance as Kate, she delivered several moments in her comedy and drama that prove how talented she is when given suitable material to work with. Jonah Hill still nailed his comedic chops as Jason Orlean, and Meryl Streep was an absolute gem as the President. Another reason was Adam McKay himself. Regarding his direction and script, I can quickly tell that McKay had a lot to say in his satire, even though some jokes can prove to be iffy for some detractors. More importantly, the filmmaker managed to balance this commentary with its black comedy tone and visual effects without making specific moments feel too jarring. The comedy aspect was one of my favorite parts of “Don’t Look Up” because of the well-written dialogue and the irony of humanity’s idiocy. It was hysterical, it was on point, and it was catastrophically enjoyable. Unfortunately, what kept it from being a perfect movie in my eyes was the editing. This film marked the latest collaboration between McKay and editor Hank Corwin, following “The Big Short” and “Vice”. Compared to those films, the editing in “Don’t Look Up” was pretty awkward to witness, especially when it comes to the transitions. They sometimes just cut to the next scene while people are talking, and it took me out of the film so many times. It’s a distracting flaw that I fear may also bother specific viewers. Despite this issue and its two-hour-plus runtime, both McKay and Corwin did what they could to keep the pace as lively as possible.
Overall, “Don’t Look Up” is a near-brilliant satirization of humanity’s stupidity and media indifference to the crisis at hand. While the editing can be as frustrating as people’s negligence towards their impending demise, the film nonetheless handled the balance between satire and social commentary to a satisfying degree. With its excellent cast, McKay’s direction, a worthy screenplay, and sharp wit, “Don’t Look Up” is the filmmaker’s best movie in his career. It’s a shame that I didn’t watch it earlier before I started my top ten best list, but hey, better late than never. If you liked McKay’s previous movies and have a Netflix account, this film is worth checking out, and remember, when in doubt, always listen to the scientists.
The King's Man (2021)
“The King’s Man” stars Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, and Charles Dance. Released on December 22, 2021, the film has a Duke racing against time to save the world from a devious plot.
The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed films such as “Layer Cake”, “Stardust”, “Kick-Ass”, and “X-Men: First Class”. It is a prequel to the “Kingsman” film series, which is loosely based on the comic book series of the same name by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. A gentleman is always polite, precise, and, more importantly, humane. But, on the other hand, these people have their ways to become proper gentlemen, and they’re not as peaceful as they sound. This year’s holiday season brought us another R-rated action film for the older crowd to endure after their stressful Christmas shopping, and it’s a part of a franchise that took the spy genre to a whole new level. The “Kingsman” films from Matthew Vaughn have enjoyed their share of successes lately thanks to their cast and their combination of adult violence, comedy, and spy elements. I liked them for those same reasons, even “The Golden Circle”. Following the release of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” in 2017, fans have been patiently waiting for the return of Eggsy and Harry Hart in a brand new adventure. After four Kingsman-less years, the adult-rated franchise is finally back with its latest installment, although not in a way we expected. Before we see Taron Egerton suit up as Eggsy once again, Matthew Vaughn is taking us back in time to see how the secret service came to be, with a brand new cast and a World War setting to boot. While it wasn’t exactly what most fans wanted, there’s no doubt that we’re pretty ecstatic to return to this unique world filled with violent gentlemen and crazy gadgets. Does it serve as a long-awaited prequel that’s worth the wait, or are we better off waiting a couple more years for Eggsy’s return? Let’s find out.
The story occurs in the 1900s, many years before “Kingsman: The Secret Service”. The main focus is on Orlando (Fiennes), a British aristocrat and Duke of Oxford. Along with his servants Shola (Hounsou) and Polly (Arterton), Orlando created a secret spy network dedicated to protecting the world from violent conflicts before they occur. Joining alongside them is Orlando’s son, Conrad (Dickinson), who’s eager to fight for the country, but can’t due to Orlando’s overprotective nature. When a mysterious group led by the Shepherd plots to pit the German, Russian, and Britain empires against each other, Orlando and his team set out to prevent this war from happening. If you’ve watched the previous “Kingsman” installments, you’ll know what you’re going to get out of “The King’s Man”. It’s a highly stylized and violent spy film that’s as energetic as it is often humorous. With the film shifting its tone from the modern spy comedy genre to a war thriller, it offered a refreshing take on the franchise that also delivered what we expect from a film about gentlemen spies. While this new direction might not impress every fan of the film series, it’s still an exciting and stylish action thriller that provides elegance in action filmmaking over substance. Regarding its story, I would have to say that this is the weakest installment in the adult-rated franchise so far. “The King’s Man” had an anti-war plot that featured a father-son relationship and a basic globe-trotting adventure to prevent a deadly conflict. When the story isn’t focused on taking specific elements too seriously, it becomes a fun and frenetic popcorn ride that wasn’t afraid to embrace its identity. Although, it did come with the cost of providing a couple of disappointing outcomes, mainly the relationship between Orlando and Conrad. Now, it’s not to say that they heavily affected my experience as a whole since they did well in subverting my expectations regarding its formula. But I will say that one of the film’s surprises made that specific plot element somehow pointless. At least, in my eyes. Along with its rough pacing in the first act and inability to recapture lightning in the bottle, the story in “The King’s Man” wasn’t gentlemanly enough to join the high rankings. However, as a source of entertainment, it’s an enjoyable origin film that centers on the organization’s birth and an intriguing vision of historical events. As for the cast and characters, I thought they were fine enough to take over spy duties for Taron Egerton and Colin Firth. Fiennes, Arterton, and Hounsou managed to deliver some worthy performances as Orlando, Polly, and Shola, respectively. Dickinson provided an okay presence as Conrad, even though his performance was lacking in depth during a couple of scenes. The main highlight of the cast was Rhys Ifans, who offered a unique and gleefully bizarre take on Grigori Rasputin. The franchise usually has specific characters that are just as kinetically insane as the violence, and Rasputin happens to be an example of that. I still think Samuel L. Jackson’s Richmond Valentine from “The Secret Service” is tough to beat, but this demented version of the Russian mystic came pretty close. Another thing that I enjoyed was its style, particularly in its action scenes. When it comes to the “Kingsman” films, no director handles its unique presentation better than Matthew Vaughn himself. From its creative panning shots to the slo-mo sequences that rival Zack Snyder’s filmmaking vision, Vaughn showcased that the film’s impactful thrills aren’t just from the combat but also the cinematography. This alone proves that the filmmaker is still the perfect choice to helm a franchise like this. The action sequences were also immensely entertaining, thanks to its swift choreography and Vaughn’s direction. Unfortunately, they’re not as over-the-top and brutal as the previous films. So if you’re hoping for it to have something that rivals the church sequence from “The Secret Service”, I’m sorry to say that you’ll be left feeling unsatisfied with the result. However, I would admittedly say that “The King’s Man” should please people who weren’t fond of the graphic violence from the first two movies. The action may not have many kills that deserve the R-rating, but that doesn’t make it even less fun. Plus, it won’t make specific people sick to their stomachs, so I’m going to call that a win.
Overall, “The King’s Man” may not have all of the qualities to be a perfect gentleman, but it has enough style and action to stand alongside its previous movies. Aside from its disappointing plot elements and pacing, the film is a diverting piece of escapism that favors presentation over substance in the best way. With its suitable cast, Vaughn’s direction, and entertaining action scenes, the film is another installment that shows that manners maketh man. If you enjoyed the previous “Kingsman” movies, the film is worth checking out this holiday season.
Sing 2 (2021)
"Sing 2" stars Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, Pharrell Williams, Letitia Wright, Eric Andre, Chelsea Peretti, and Bono. Released on December 22, 2021, the film has Buster Moon and his cast preparing for a show at the Crystal Tower Theater.
The film was written and directed by Garth Jennings, who also directed "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "Son of Rambow". It is a sequel to the 2016 animated film "Sing", also directed by Jennings. You better dust off your microphones and warm up your vocal cords because it's time to sing loud and proud once again. The folks at Illumination Entertainment are back from their one-year hiatus due to the pandemic to release a follow-up to one of their successful films. No, I'm not talking about the Minions. Not yet, anyway. I'm talking about a film about anthropomorphic animals who sing and dance their way to the top, American Idol-style. Garth Jennings' "Sing" may seem like a "Zootopia" rip-off regarding its setting and characters, but underneath the surface is a colorful and heartfelt comedy involving a group of animals facing obstacles to achieve their musical dreams. Following its critical and commercial success, Illumination put a fast track on a sequel with Jennings and the entire cast returning for an encore, except Seth MacFarlane, who's busy spending his "Sing" money on more episodes of Family Guy. I wasn't expecting the animation company to revisit this world. While I highly enjoyed "Sing" for its charm, heart, and songs, I usually looked at it as a one-and-done deal, like how I did with "The Secret Life of Pets". But I was willing to give it a chance since I enjoyed the characters they introduced in its predecessor. Was this second verse as comedic and heartfelt as the first? Let's find out.
The story takes place sometime after the events of the first film, where Buster Moon (McConaughey) is thriving with his new Moon Theater. His recent production has impressed all but one viewer: a talent scout named Suki (Peretti), who tells him he would not make it in Redshore City. Hoping to prove Suki wrong, Buster reunites the gang and heads to the city to share their original pitch with entertainment mogul Jimmy Crystal (Cannavale). Unfortunately, Crystal quickly disapproves of Buster's idea. They then come up with a new show idea that would feature the legendary rock star Clay Calloway (Bono), who hasn't been seen in 15 years. This resulted in Buster and his troupe facing brand new challenges during their three-week preparation, including convincing Calloway to come out of retirement. Like the first film, "Sing 2" forgoes the cartoony slapstick that Illumination is known for in favor of a jukebox musical drama centering on characters preparing for the big event. This direction was what I liked the most from its predecessor because it gave the studio a chance to provide a character-driven story amid its kid-friendly antics and humor. The execution was far from Oscar-worthy, but it delivered enough heart and energy in its characters, songs, and messages to make it one of my favorite films from Illumination. Unsurprisingly, "Sing 2" offered more of the same as the original, just in a different environment, and the show they're putting together reminisces the Star Trek franchise. If that's what you're looking for, then there's no doubt that you and your kids will have a fun time revisiting the vibrant and musical world of "Sing". However, if you're hoping for it to be the next great animated sequel like "How to Train Your Dragon 2" or even "Toy Story 2" quality-wise, don't waste your breath with this one because that's not happening. While it delivered what worked in the original, such as the cast and animation, "Sing 2" failed to recapture the same amount of soul and magic that made its predecessor a remarkable family film. Now, it's not to say that it's unnecessary or terrible, as it had plenty of humorous and charming moments that made me appreciate its feel-good vibes. It's the fact that I was slightly disappointed in the direction it was going for despite Garth Jennings' involvement in writing and directing the film. Along with having some of the same beats as its predecessor, the story in "Sing 2" was pretty straightforward and predictable, mainly due to Universal's terrible marketing. I'm sorry, but the recent trailers sucked the tension right out of the film by showcasing its third act. They should've just released the first trailer, and that's it. Save the surprises for the actual movie. Now I understand why people don't like movie trailers anymore. The plot also had some intriguing elements in the character development that would've made the story emotionally engaging. The overall theme of "Sing 2" is what we currently face today while chasing our dreams: overcoming our fears. Throughout the film, we see specific characters facing their concerns while preparing for the show. First, Buster Moon learns not to let Jimmy Crystal tell him what he can and cannot do for the show. Next, Rosita (Witherspoon) encounters her fear of heights while playing the main lead. Then, Johnny (Egerton) worries about losing his self-confidence while working for his choreographer Klaus Kickenklober (Adam Buxton). Then we see Meena (Kelly) attempting to overcome her shyness, resulting in her meeting a charming ice cream vendor named Alfonso (Pharrell Williams). Finally, we have Clay Calloway, who's concerned about performing in front of people again after his wife passed away. It's an inspiring and heartfelt message that should resonate well with young kids because it teaches them not to let their fears get in the way of achieving their dreams. Unfortunately, since this is Illumination we're talking about, its storytelling wasn't as thought-provoking as the themes it represented. It's not entirely awful, but it was pretty underwhelming regarding the elements they introduced, especially when taking the arcs for Clay, Rosita, and Meena into account. The character arcs were either rushed or nonexistent to the point where the film robbed itself of its emotion. I can understand that it didn't want to alienate the kids with its deeper themes and slow pacing, but in cases like this, it doesn't always work as an excuse for average storytelling in animation. Despite this issue, the characters, both old and new, were enjoyable enough to entertain the target audience, thanks to its entertaining voice cast, ranging from the charismatic McConaughey as Buster Moon to U2 lead singer Bono as Clay Calloway. Bobby Cannavale also did some solid voice work as the film's antagonist, Jimmy Crystal, regarding the actor's vocal range and the character's devious and selfish personality. Like the first film, Nick Kroll and Garth Jennings as Gunter and Miss Crawly, respectively, were the main highlights of the cast in "Sing 2", mainly due to their gleeful humor and amusing presences. Then, we have the film's animation, which looked as vibrant and lively as in the previous film. Redshore City is a fabulous animal rendition of Las Vegas, and the space-themed show in the third act is a magnificent sight to behold direction-wise and visual-wise. It's another good example of Illumination's ability to provide colorful blasts of imagination, even though its storytelling still leaves much to be desired.
Overall, "Sing 2" is another Illumination sequel that hits the right notes in its presentation and heart but stumbles in everything else. When it comes to the cast, the jukebox songs, and the animation, the film is a fun and harmless experience that's worth singing along to with the kids, especially if you enjoyed the first film. Sadly, its disappointing direction for the story and character depth prevented it from joining the top-tier animation choir. It's a tolerable distraction for the kids if they're bored of "Encanto" or "Clifford the Big Red Dog", but it doesn't deliver anything beyond its verses for everyone else. On the bright side, the film is another way to introduce your kids to U2, so there's that.
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