Also reviewed this week: Everything Went Fine and Good Luck To You, Leo Grande
Lightyear (G, 105mins)
Buzz Lightyear was grandiose, delusional. A talking space toy bought to appease an eight-year-old boy, Buzz thought he was a real space ranger, an intergalactic warrior locked in permanent conflict with the evil Emperor Zurg.
It took a team of toys to persuade him otherwise, to open his helmet and smell the fresh air. Then, in Toy Story 2, the poor guy had an existential meltdown when he rounded a toy store corner and encountered an entire shelf packed with replicas of himself.
It was marvellous stuff, like Pirandello meets Mickey Mouse, but in Lightyear, a prequel, all that comedy gold is gone. You see Buzz was an item of movie merchandise, and Lightyear announces itself as the film that spawned that merch.
In a galaxy millions of light years from Earth, Buzz (Chris Evans) and his commanding officer Alisha (Uzo Aduba) are piloting a huge transport ship to a new world when their craft falls off course and crash lands on a hostile planet.
When they repair the ship, Buzz botches the take-off, stranding hundreds of his comrades indefinitely. The problem is that they lack the special fuel necessary to achieve hyperspeed and Buzz, racked with guilt, makes it his mission to fly test missions with experimental fuels until the right formula emerges.
While the others build a makeshift city and seem pretty pleased with themselves, Buzz regularly roars off to make circuits of the nearest sun.
But because these flights alter the space-time continuum, every time Buzz returns from a 60-second journey, several years have passed. His friend Alisha gets married, has a baby and gets old, but Buzz remains strangely unchanged, alone in his astral struggle.
Alone except for Sox, a robot cat Alisha gave him, which combines an externally optimistic personality with a flair for maths physics.
And when the Emperor Zurg shows up with a small army of robots and a perplexing grudge against Buzz, the space ranger joins forces with Alisha’s granddaughter, Izzy, and a team of barely competent recruits to do battle with the intergalactic despot.
In the first two Toy Story films, Buzz’s delusion was his selling point: he was like a small child who struggles to distinguish fantasy and reality, a failing which made him strangely lovable.
With his square jaw and GI Joe patter, he was a caricature of American masculinity, but also represented all that was best about that country: loyalty, camaraderie, a certain high-minded optimism.
Tim Allen’s voiceover had a lot to do with Buzz’s success as a comic character: in his head, he was always the star of some perilous Star Trek-type adventure; his sincerity was oppressive, impervious to irony.
Allen has been put out to pasture, replaced by Evans, who struggles to replicate the sense of Buzz as the tone-deaf hero, the straight man who isn’t in on the joke.
Instead, he’s just your garden variety space hero, his adventure unremarkable and generically animated.
That cat might look annoying, but in fact turns out to be the Dorothy Parker of the piece, throwing witty asides into chaotic action sequences while trying to sort out Buzz’s space-time problems as the ranger frantically runs around in circles.
The idea of a Buzz unchanged while all around him wither is reminiscent of the closing sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and typical of the kind of robust existential themes Pixar were once so good at seamlessly inserting into children’s animations.
But it is a rare moment of daring in a film that mainly plays it safe, and those countries getting upset about the fact that Alisha marries a woman ought to grow up and stop making exhibitions of themselves.
Lightyear is competent, but forgettable. The question to ask of all these sequels, prequels and franchise spin-offs is whether they’d have any chance of existing as stand-alone films, and in this case, the answer is a definite no.
Rating: Three stars
(No Cert, IFI, 113mins)
François Ozon’s witty and powerful drama is based on a true story and poses a dreadful ethical dilemma. Sophie Marceau is Emmanuélle, a Parisian writer who finds out that her father André (André Dussolier) has had a stroke.
It has affected his face and speech, and when Emmanuélle visits him in hospital, his spirits are low. A man of means, and an art collector, André now faces a humiliating future of constant care.
This is something he can’t live with and asks Emmanuélle if she will help him travel to a clinic in Switzerland, where medically assisted suicide is legal.
Devastated by this, Emmanuélle and her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) have some big decisions to make, and the ensuing drama exposes their complex relationships with both André and their emotionally distant mother Claude (Charlotte Rampling).
All of which sounds pretty miserable, but Everything Went Fine is oddly life-affirming, held together by a brilliant performance from Dussolier.
His character might be a selfish, catty monomaniac, but he’s very funny and hard not to like.
Rating: Four stars
No one does embarrassment quite as well as the British, and there’s lots of it in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, a sex comedy without much sex. Emma Thompson is Nancy Stokes, a retired schoolteacher who repairs to a hotel room for an encounter with an escort.
Nancy, who’s recently widowed, feels sexually unfulfilled, has never had an orgasm and is hoping Leo (Daryl McCormack) will be able to work his magic. He certainly talks a good game, is calm and suave and blindingly handsome, but the biggest obstacle to Nancy’s success is going to be herself.
A brusque, no-nonsense type whom it would be easy to imagine managing a women’s hockey team, Nancy is mortified by her situation and constantly avoids the close combat of intimacy by asking Leo about himself, and why he ended up selling sex for a living.
Written by Katy Brand, directed by Sophie Hyde, the film does Disneyfy the sex industry slightly, but the dialogue is pretty good, and Thompson and McCormack bring compelling naturalism to their roles.
Rating: Three stars