Monday 23 September 2019

Review: Mary Poppins Returns

Cert: G; Now showing

Emily Blunt stars in Mary Poppins Returns (Disney)
Emily Blunt stars in Mary Poppins Returns (Disney)
Bumblebee (12A, 114mins)

Somehow I have contrived to have never seen the original Mary Poppins. I mention it because it is possibly slightly odd but more importantly because from other people's reactions I gather that how you feel about her return is at least partly predicated on how attached you were to the 1964 original. From my perspective this relaunch is fine, pleasant indeed. Some others, however, were almost distraught.

Set 20 years later than the original, during a great economic slump, the Banks children have grown up. Jane (Emily Mortimer) is a vague social activist and Michael (Ben Wishaw) a recent widower with three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson) who live in the family home in Cherry Tree Lane. But times are tough and the loan Michael took out on the home is overdue and the bank will repossess the house. The bank manager, a not-as-nice as he seems Mr Wilkins (Colin Firth), offers the only hope; to find father's share certificate to cover the loan.

So, while Michael and Jane undertake this increasingly hopeless task, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) reappears from the sky and along with lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) sings and dances through the moral, endlessly rammed home, that every setback is an opportunity.

Rob Marshall's film looks and feels quite retro, the songs are OK but not classics and Blunt gives her own edge to Mary Poppins, you suspect this one might have interesting stories to tell from her absence. The plot is very thin for the 140min run time but it's sweet and there are lots of great cameos. However, what kids, used to more complex films, will make of it I can't quite tell. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

Bumblebee

Cert: 12A; Opens tomorrow

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Bumblebee (12A, 114mins)
 

A contender for worst-ever movie franchise, you couldn't accuse Michael Bay's Transformers films of bowing to critical finger-wagging over five utterly horrid instalments. 

It makes Bumblebee quite interesting from the off. With Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) helming this prequel focusing on the popular yellow sidekick, everything looks and feels different now, as if Bay (who co-produces here) is atoning. Central to this welcome sea change is screenwriter Christina Hodson, who chucks out the stentorian crash-bang-wallop of scrapping CGI bots and refines everything down to a cuddly E.T./The Iron Giant pastiche. It couldn't be less original but we'll take it.

We are deep in the 1980s to the point of near-parody. No opportunity is spared by Knight to smear the decade of denim, Walkmans and Cyndi Lauper across the lens. The titular Autobot crash-lands on Earth following escape from his Decepticon-ravaged home world. Disguised as a busted old VW Beetle, the mute transformer is discovered by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a misunderstood tomboy with a love of old cars. She helps him thwart the evil Decepticons that tailed him to Earth. He helps her negotiate the jungle of teenage adolescence.

Just enough heart escapes the shameless 1980s-for-dummies nostalgia (see the fun had with the soundtrack). The animation has improved too. Definitely the most watchable Transformers outing by a mile, then, but that is not saying a whole lot. ★★★ Hilary A White

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