’28 Weeks Later’ is a Shockingly Effective Sequel

28 Weeks Later movie poster

When I heard that they were making a sequel to Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” I couldn’t help but wonder why. How could you make a sequel to a movie like that without it being the same old thing? 20th Century Fox put together a company called Fox Atomic which specializes in horror movies and sequels to horror movies because god forbid the money stops there! They made “The Hills Have Eyes 2.” I thought “The Hills Have Eyes” remake was great, but I was not as excited about seeing the sequel because it had a different director who made some bad horror films.

Now they have released “28 Weeks Later.” That’s great, milk it as much as you want. No mercy or respect for the franchise. Then again, these were my thoughts before I actually watched the movie. It had the good luck of at least having Danny Boyle and Alex Garland on as executive producers, so I was assured this follow-up wouldn’t be of poor quality. Under the tense direction of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who previously directed “Intacto,” “28 Weeks Later” adds itself to the list of sequels which equal the original in terms of vision and sheer terror, and it ends up delivering what it promises; an extremely intense and unsettling movie going experience.

All the main characters from “28 Days Later” are absent here, so we have a whole new cast of characters trying to stay alive while stranded in a part of the world engulfed by the rage virus. It starts off with a group of English people who have managed to find refuge in a home where they hide from the infected. The main characters are a married couple played by Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormick who are seen preparing dinner when the movie begins. Most of the actors here are not too familiar to audiences, and this helps the movie in its approach. Carlyle will definitely be familiar to those who remember him from “Trainspotting” and “The Full Monty,” and each of those movies show off how much of a range he has as an actor.

The opening of “28 Weeks Later” has a supreme amount of tension that never lets up. I got to see it at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and I sat in the back with my hands over my ears because I was eagerly anticipating all hell breaking loose as soon as the movie started. I typically watch most horror movies like this because it’s not what I see that gets to me, it’s the sound. Look no further than the original “Halloween” for an example of this.

The opening is brilliantly shot because you feel like you are right there with these people inside the house. You don’t see the outside world until they do, and it ain’t pleasant. When the infected make their inevitable entrance, Carlyle’s character ends up abandoning his wife who screams at him from a window in disbelief. He runs away from the infected at warp speed, and the fact he escapes with his life is both astonishing and shameful.

The story then moves to London after the outbreak with things finally returning to normal. The United States Army has taken over, and the first of the survivors are now coming back into the safe zone to start their lives over in a land now free of infection. We get to meet the children of Carlyle’s and McCormick’s characters who are played by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton. Carlyle’s character is, of course, unprepared to tell his children how their mother perished among the infected, and he lies to them about what happened. As much as you despise him, you can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. Don’t you hate that?

Anyway, his lie about their mother being killed gets exposed when she is found alive in a closed off area of England. She has been bitten by the infected, but somehow has not been overtaken by the rage virus. Her blood seems to have some sort of immunity from the virus which keeps her from going completely psychotic. It is incredibly tragic that husband doesn’t have the good sense to keep himself from kissing her. A kiss is just a kiss? Not in this movie!

As you can expect, all hell breaks loose, otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie. The military tries to control the situation and they end up resorting to, when nothing else works, code red as they quickly see there’s no stopping the spread of infection. They can’t tell the difference between who is human and who is infected, so they resort to killing everyone to keep the situation contained. What makes this scenario so terrifying is how realistic is presented here, and the depressing solution the military takes to contain this horrifying situation is painfully understandable as it threatens the rest of the world. So, those young kids now have to find their way out of the “safe zone” and run away from those who have no choice but to bite and infect them.

There is a lot of shaky handheld camera work in “28 Weeks Later” which gives the movie an immediacy which sucks you in just like the original did. I have been back and forth in regards to hand held camerawork because it can veer easily from being exciting to the becoming relentlessly annoying. Don’t even get me started on the later movies of Woody Allen. I can’t even begin to tell you how nauseous I got while watching “Deconstructing Harry” on the big screen.

But here, the shaky camerawork is perfect as it brings us right into the chaos these characters are feverishly trying to escape. The camera goes all over the place to where we can’t tell where the exit is or if we can trust the person next to us. Fresnadillo is excellent in drawing you into the mindset of the chaos and confusion of what the characters are forced to experience. What if you can’t find your way out? What if the person next to you is infected? Where is the safest place to go? Everyone is running for dear life, but in which direction does one head?

What also makes “28 Weeks Later” work is it’s not just based on thrills and chills as there is an intelligence at work here. There’s a subtle critique of the seemingly endless occupation of military forces in other countries as they futilely try to control a situation completely beyond anyone’s control.

Aside from those kid actors who are terrific and very down to earth, there are a few others worth mentioning. Jeremy Renner plays Doyle, a military shooter who quickly develops a conscience when he decides not to follow orders and instead save a little boy who doesn’t deserve to die. I also want to mention Rose Byrne who plays Army doctor, Scarlet. I like it when a movie where there is a very strong female character who thinks she has found the key to eradicating infection. Of course, no one listens to her because the quick fix-it answer is to kill the host and everyone else if it comes into contact with. Byrne is very believable as a soldier who has no choice but to hold it together when the world around her quickly crumbles.

“28 Weeks Later” is an incredibly tense ride from start to finish, and it never lets up. There’s an unnerving sequence where the main characters have to flee from a chemical attack by going into the underground subway which is pitch black, and the only way they can make their way through is with night vision. This proves to be one of the scariest scenes I have seen in a motion picture in the longest time.

Whereas “28 Days Later” found a measure of hope at its conclusion, “28 Weeks Later” is unrelentingly bleak. Any hope is vanquished by the end, and its last shot features a famous landmark which shows how inevitable it is infection will spread from country to country. This sequel proves to be very respectful of its predecessor, and it goes even further into the nightmare the world is caught up in and beyond everybody’s control. It makes me eager to see “28 Months Later” which I hope will at some point in the future become a reality. But personally, I am waiting for “28 Millennium Later.” The way things are going right now, humanity is doomed in one way or another.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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‘Thor’ Arrives with Thunderous Abandon

Thor movie poster

Thor” makes its presence known with thunderous abandon. Now like many comic books, this one is yet another I haven’t read, so I can’t say how true it stays to its origins. However, judging from the great Kenneth Branagh’s handling of the material, I imagine it’s very respectful to the character.

Heeding closely to classic Norse mythology, Thor is the god of thunder and heir to the throne of Asgard. But on the day of his ascension, the Frost Giants invade the planet’s deeper regions to retrieve the Casket of Ancient Winters, the source of their power. They are easily defeated, but their violation of the truce put together between them and Asgard seriously pisses Thor off. Against his father’s wishes, he and his fellow warriors journey to the Frost Giants home planet of Jotunheim to keep some frosty ass. Odin, however, intervenes and, infuriated with his son’s arrogance, strips him of his powers and banishes him to Earth. For a warrior like Thor, being banished to Earth does feel like a nasty insult.

First off, I really liked the way Branagh handled this material. In the wrong hands, this could have easily become high camp which would have been enjoyable for all the wrong reasons. But Branagh takes the characters and places they inhabit seriously, and he infuses them all with a strong humanity which comes to define them more than does their place in the universe. Even the villains are remarkably complex as their corruption results not so much from a need for power, but instead for a father’s love and approval. Of course, with Branagh directing, you can count on many Shakespearean references throughout, be it Iago from “Othello” or “King Lear,” and they prove to be a perfect fit for this movie.

I was also impressed with how well Branagh handled the visual elements of “Thor.” The last time he made a movie heavy with special effects was “Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein,” and he seemed a bit out of his league with that one. Perhaps we should not be impressed as this movie has a budget of at least $100 million, not counting advertisement costs, but the key thing here is the effects succeed in being an extension of the characters instead of just dwarfing them completely. Then again, that giant creature the Frost Giants unleash on Thor immediately had Liam Neeson screaming in my head, “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!!”

As Thor, Chris Hemsworth, who played Captain Kirk’s father in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” owns the role right from the first moment he walks onscreen. Hemsworth clearly revels in portraying the great power Thor possesses, and he is a gentleman when the situation calls for it. Seeing him as a fish out of water on Earth also makes for some splendid moments which are slyly comic. I’m also glad to see Thor is not just another character who doesn’t want to be “the one,” conflicted about the things he is destined to do. With Hemsworth, you know from the get go he is fully aware he’s “the one” and owns this knowledge to where you feel his impatience in wanting to prove it to the universe. Instead of a whiny Anakin Skywalker, Hemsworth gives us a powerful warrior worth cheering for, and one who eventually learns from his mistakes.

As scientist Jane Foster, Natalie Portman’s casting in the role seems like a no brainer. We know from her off screen life that she is a remarkably intelligent human being, so she doesn’t have to prove to us how believable she can be as a scientist. She sparks instant chemistry with Hemsworth (damn those six pack abs!!!), and that shy smile of hers kills me every single time.

Then there’s the great Sir Anthony Hopkins whose portrayal of Asgard’s king and father to Thor, Odin, is nothing short of gallant. This is especially the case with the opening narration which he recites with such depth to where he makes all other actors who’ve done it before him sound like they were sleepwalking their way through it. While many may think this is one of those roles Hopkins did for an easy paycheck, it’s really one of the best performances he’s given in a while.

Tom Hiddleston plays Loki, Thor’s brother and the movie’s main villain. What I liked about Hiddleston is how he does so much more than give us the usual one-dimensional bad guy. Just like Joaquin Phoenix’s character from “Gladiator,” Loki feels slighted by his father as he prefers another man over him, and he becomes desperately eager to prove himself in any way he can. But of course, he ends up doing it in the worst way possible. Hiddleston makes Loki into a character who is more spiteful than hateful, and this makes his eventual fate seem all the more tragic in retrospect.

There are other strong performances throughout this blockbuster affair to enjoy as well. Rene Russo, where have you been? Idris Elba makes a memorable Heimdall, and it never seems like a small part with him playing it. Kat Dennings steals a few scenes as Darcy Lewis, Jane’s co-worker whose science is more political than astronomical. And Stellan Skarsgård remains a dependable actor as always playing scientist Erik Selvig, a character who ends up playing an important role in “The Avengers.”

Having said all this, “Thor” did feel like it could have been a little more exciting. It doesn’t quite have the same invigorating sweep as some of Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations like “Hamlet” or “Henry V,” and it takes longer to get to the action than it should. It’s not quite as entertaining as “Iron Man,” but I would definitely rank it above “The Incredible Hulk.”

Regardless, there is still much to like about “Thor,” and Branagh has done the best job anyone could have in bringing this particular comic book hero to the big screen in such a respectful fashion. It also benefits from excellent casting, especially Hemsworth who looks like he came out of the womb looking like a warrior with a mighty hammer in his hand. This is one of the few times where “getting hammered” will sound more like a threat than an embarrassing state of drunkenness.

* * * out of * * * *

‘The Mountain Between Us’ Thrives on the Performances of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba

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Watching the trailer for “The Mountain Between Us” got me to thinking about other movies about people surviving a horrific plane crash like “Alive,” “Cast Away,” “The Edge” and “The Grey.” You watch these characters struggle to survive in an environment they couldn’t be less prepared to deal with, and they always prove to be compelling as you wonder what you would do in a similar situation. Even movies like “The Blue Lagoon” and “Swept Away” come to mind as both are about a man and a woman trapped together on a deserted island, and it made me wonder what kind of motion picture “The Mountain Between Us” would end up being. Could it be another story of human beings trapped in a harsh environment which tests their limits of survival, or is it one where two strangers to fall in love in a time and place they otherwise would not?

After watching “The Mountain Between Us,” which is based on the novel by Charles Martin, I can confirm it is a combination of both kinds as it deals with a man and woman stuck in an intensely frigid environment after their charter plane crashes in the High Uintas Wilderness, and it is only a matter of time before they fall for one another even as they do their best to keep their mind on survival and making it back to civilization. What results is nothing new as this is territory has been covered countless times from one decade to the next, and yet it is still a very compelling motion picture regardless of the familiar elements.

The main reason this film works as well as it does is because of its main stars, Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. They both are always working at the top of their game no matter what project they appear in, and they work incredibly well off of one another in each scene they share with one another. But more importantly, they are able to render their characters as relatable and down to earth people in ways their individual stardom might otherwise not allow. Winslet and Elba are among the most recognizable movie stars working right now, and this never compromises their work here in my opinion.

Alex Martin (Winslet) is a photojournalist desperate to get back home in time for her wedding to Mark (Dermot Mulroney), and Dr. Ben Bass (Elba) is a neurosurgeon eager to get back to patients in desperate need of his assistance. Their flights end up getting cancelled due to a severe weather front approaching them, and yet their desperation overrides the need for safety. Alex, seeing Ben and she have the same problem, join together to enlist the services of Walter (Beau Bridges), a friendly pilot who agrees to fly them to another airport before the weather gets really bad. But as fate would have it, Walter suffers a stroke in mid-flight, and their plane ends up crashing in the frigid wilderness.

I have to give director Hany Abu-Assad credit for his handling of the plane crash sequence. Somehow, he manages to have his camera moving all around the plane’s interior from the back where Winslet and Elba are seated to the front where Bridges is at the controls, and it all looks like it was done in a single shot. Steven Spielberg shot a similar scene in “War of the Worlds” in which his camera went inside and outside of a van as Tom Cruise navigates it through the debris-laden New Jersey highway, but Abu-Assad instead keeps things relegated to the action inside the plane.

Indeed, plane crashes in movies tend to be more frightening when you are made to feel you are inside the airplane to where the director doesn’t bother with many, or any, exterior shots. Considering how Winslet, Elba and Bridges are also in a plane prone to mechanical failure more often than not makes this crash sequence all the more terrifying and brutal. Plane crashes are common in movies, but this one reminded me of the kind which work best on the silver screen.

Alex and Ben are trapped in the icy mountains of Utah and have suffered painful injuries which force them to stay in one place to recuperate and wait for rescue. Their only other companion is Walter’s dog who is quick to warm up, figuratively speaking, to Winslet, but not to Elba. Eventually, they are forced to realize their hopes of rescue are dwindling with each day, and despite their differing opinions on whether they should stay or go, they realize they need one another to make it through the harsh wilderness which surrounds them as it represents their only chance for survival. As the story goes on, we see the obstacles they face are not just physical, but psychological as well.

I liked how Alex and Ben hint at the many disaster pictures they have watched after their plane makes an unexpected and violent stop. Ben is good at fixing up wounds and stabilizing a broken leg, and Alex keeps reminding him about the rule of threes: you can survive 3 minutes without air or in icy water, you can survive 3 hours without shelter in a harsh environment, you can survive 3 days without water, and you can survive 3 weeks without food. These rules remain strong in our minds as they face deadly animals and icy temperatures their insulated clothing can only handle so much of.

There were a couple of questions, however, which I couldn’t help but ask while “The Mountain Between Us.” Why was Ben so slow to create an S.O.S. sign outside of the wreckage for approaching planes to see? This would have been the first thing I would have done. Also, these two still look quite well-groomed for people who are in no position to bathe themselves while being lost for weeks at a time. After watching “The Revenant” in which Leonardo DiCaprio and ends up sleeping in a dead horse’s carcass to keep from freezing to death, I couldn’t help but think this movie could have used more in the way of realism. Compared to that Oscar-winning film, Winslet and Elba look to have a bit easier.

Regardless, I still found “The Mountain Between Us” to be very compelling film as Winslet and Elba inhabit their characters with a fearlessness as they are forced to expose one another’s vulnerabilities as their survival comes to depend on knowing more about who they are. Winslet, in particular, has an amazing moment where she tells Elba about a refugee girl she once befriended. The way Winslet plays this scene is incredible as she is able to paint for us a vivid experience of the things Alex experienced to where no cinematic flashback is needed to further illustrate what she has been through. love it when filmmakers trust their actors to where they can deliver moments so fully to where we have all the information we need.

And yes, their characters do eventually fall for one another, but thankfully “The Mountain Between Us” never becomes a romantic tale of the cringe-inducing variety like “The Blue Lagoon” or “Swept Away” (and by that, I mean Guy Ritchie’s god-awful remake). The moment where they first kiss is wonderfully acted as I expected one or both of them to say “we shouldn’t” or something equally silly, but Winslet and Elba still manage to say so much more than words can to where dialogue is not necessary.

Regardless of the flaws inherent in “The Mountain Between Us,” its these two remarkable actors who keep us hooked to where their familiar storyline felt fresher than it would have in the hands of others. While familiarity can breed contempt, and this isn’t the first time we have seen Winslet plunge into icy waters, it never takes away from the story’s power or the terrific performances of its leads. Long before we arrive at the movie’s climax, we come to realize the title not only refers to physical obstacles these characters are forced to face, but the emotional ones as well. Considering how we all build emotional walls over the years, tearing them down can be as hard as climbing a mountain, and I don’t mean Mount Everest.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Prometheus’ is Great and I Don’t Care What You Say

Prometheus movie poster

How sweet it is to have Ridley Scott return to sci-fi genre 30 years after giving us “Blade Runner.” His “Prometheus” is a stunning movie to watch and once again reminds us of what a stylistic perfectionist he is. While it is said to be a prequel to “Alien,” it is really separate from the 1979 classic as it deals with a different set of themes and ideas. While the original “Alien” dealt with corporate greed in trying to use the creature as a weapon, “Prometheus” is far more fascinated with the origins of humanity.

Noomi Rapace, Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo,” stars as Elizabeth Shaw, an archaeologist who, along with her boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), discovers a star map in several unconnected ancient cultures on Earth. They come to interpret the map as an invitation from those who created humanity to discover the origins of life on a distant planet. A few years later they are on board the spaceship Prometheus which takes them and several engineers to that location.

When they land on the planet LV-223, not LV-426 from the first two “Alien” movies, they discover a species which appears to be extinct along with a monolithic statue of a humanoid head. In the structure they explore, they also find a large number of metal cylinders which soon start leaking black fluid. Soon after, everything goes wrong and the characters discover how their need to learn about humanity’s creators was a very big mistake.

The smartest thing Scott did with this particular prequel was to not make it the kind which ties up all the loose ends to the original movie that comes after it. This has been a big problem with prequels like “The Thing” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” as they get so concerned about getting the details right to where any suspense or drama gets completely drained, making for a far less effective movie going experience. “Prometheus,” however, takes place several decades before “Alien,” so the filmmakers don’t have to worry about this too much.

“Prometheus” uses the element of mystery to great effect as several characters appear to have ulterior motives they work to hide from others. Charlize Theron is especially effective as Weyland Corporation employee Meredith Vickers. Hiding discreetly in the shadows and coming off with a tough as nails attitude, she clearly has her own agenda as you would expect any member of this or any other, corporation to have.

The movie’s most fascinating character, as well as its most enigmatic, is David, an android designed to be indistinguishable from humans played by Michael Fassbender. We first see him looking over the ship while the rest of the crew is in hypersleep, and he models his behavior on Peter O’Toole’s performance from “Lawrence of Arabia.”

David is like Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in that he is more human than the humans he works with. But the words of the Borg Queen from “Star Trek: First Contact” of how Data is “an imperfect being created by an imperfect being” kept echoing in my head as we see David gaining an ego to where he is fully aware of how superior he is to humans. With this ego comes a wealth of insecurities like envy and jealousy which wipe away the façade his infinitely polite behavior hides.

Idris Elba co-stars as the captain of Prometheus, Janek, who serves as the movie’s most realistic character. Sci-fi movies need a down to earth character like this because in the midst of all the technical mumbo jumbo, someone has to come out and say, “What the hell is going on?” Elba, so good on the BBC series “Luther,” is a strong addition to this cast even though I found his American accent a little weird at times. Couldn’t he have made Janek British like him? Anyway, he gives what may be seen as this movie’s most underrated performance.

But while much of the acting praise may go to Fassbender, I have to single out Rapace who gives a very strong performance as Elizabeth Shaw. Just watch her in the scene where another character yells right in her face that he wants to go back to the ship. Rapace doesn’t budge or blink at this raw anger, and she is as riveting in this movie as she is in that one scene.

Rapace also has the movie’s most unnerving scene as, upon finding that she has a “foreign organism” inside her body, gets into a robotic surgery device to have it removed. It’s a brilliantly icky scene which shakes up the audience in the same way watching Anthony Hopkins cut off a piece of Ray Liotta’s brain in “Hannibal” did. Rapace sells the scene completely and has you pinned in your seat as she goes through the kind of surgical procedure we’d rather be sedated through. On top of this, she does a practically flawless British accent which is more than I can say for many actors in American movies.

Among the other excellent performances comes from Sean Harris who plays the unhinged geologist Fitfield who never lets his mohawk hairdo upstage him, Guy Pearce who is almost unrecognizable under pounds of makeup as the CEO with a god complex Peter Weyland, Logan Marshall-Green as archeologist Charlie Holloway who goes to extremes in his work for better and for worse, and Rafe Spall as the all too friendly botanist Milburn.

“Prometheus” asks a lot of profound questions about who created us and why those same beings chose to abandon planet Earth. It deliberately doesn’t answer all of those questions, but while many consider this one of the movie’s biggest problems, I think it’s one of its many strengths. To answer all those questions would have weakened this movie tremendously and, as I said earlier, the element of mystery plays a strong part in its overall success.

There’s no real satisfying way to answer all the questions “Prometheus” presents as we have enough trouble answering them on our own. I think the movie’s main focus is on the struggle of faith as Rapace’s character thrives on it, and she spends the story seeing it severely tested. The lack of answers ends up reinforcing the faith she has in those who created human beings, and this keeps her faith from being killed off completely.

Scott gives us a visually sumptuous motion picture with extraordinary visuals and special effects which feel wonderfully unique to everything else out there. With cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, frequent music composer Marc Streitenfeld, editor Pietro Scalia, and writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, Scott gives this movie the look and feel the only he can pull off, and it all makes his eagerly awaited return to the sci-fi genre he so brilliantly transcended with “Alien” and “Blade Runner” all the more welcome.

While “Alien” was a masterful combination of the sci-fi and horror genres, “Prometheus” is more sci-fi than horror. “Prometheus” has its thrilling moments, but Scott is not out to scare the shit out of us the way he did back in 1979. He is more cerebral with this film, and it makes you eager to see a sequel to it sooner rather than later. I don’t care what anybody says, “Prometheus” was very much worth the wait and, despite whatever flaws it may have, it had me enthralled from beginning to end.

Actually, one thing you could say about the movie is how it may give ammunition to creationists who claim human life came about through the efforts of a supernatural being. Then again, the very last scene of “Prometheus,” before the end credits roll, features a somewhat familiar-looking creature making an appearance you can’t quite see coming. With that, you can safely say the filmmakers do firmly believe in the theory of evolution.

* * * * out of * * * *

Finding Dory

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Finding Dory” is a movie which put a big smile on my face as I watched it. In some ways this shouldn’t be a surprise as Pixar made it, and they continue to wow us time and time again, but this one really hits hard on an emotional level as well. This sequel to “Finding Nemo” allows a supporting character to take center stage this time around, and it is a character with a disability we find ourselves laughing and sympathizing with as she struggles to reconnect with a part of her past she tragically lost a long time ago.

A year has passed since clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) swam all the way to Australia to rescue his son Nemo (Alexander Gould in the original, Hayden Rolence here) and befriended Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a Pacific regal blue tang with short-term memory loss, in the process. All three are back at the Great Barrier Reef leading a non-adventurous life, but Dory starts to remember things about her parents and how she was accidentally separated from them. When she suddenly remembers the place she came from, the Jewel of Morro Bay, California, she becomes infinitely determined to travel there and hopefully reunite with her parents.

While “Finding Nemo” was a long day’s journey into Australia, it doesn’t take long for Dory, Marlin and Nemo to arrive in California. However, Dory’s mission gets derailed when she is “rescued” by volunteers from the nearby Marine Life Institute. She is placed in the Quarantine section, and it is up to Marlin and Nemo to rescue her from the institute before it’s too late.

Now the story for “Finding Dory” isn’t much different from “Finding Nemo,” and as a result the freshness of the original is missing here. But this sequel is in many ways as good as the original as director Andrew Stanton, along with co-director Angus MacLane, gives as much focus to the story and characters as he does to the visual spectacle. And with Pixar, you can always count on them to outdo what they gave us before visually. The Marine Life Institute is displayed in such an amazing way to where you feel like you are looking at a real aquarium, and the main centerpiece is just incredibly rendered.

But seriously, what makes “Finding Dory” work so well above all else is the voice acting. This cast makes you root and care for these characters in a way the filmmakers could never have accomplished on their own. This is especially the case with Ellen DeGeneres who makes Dory such an endearingly lovable character, and she makes us feel for her to the point of tears. DeGeneres really deserved an Oscar for her work on the first movie, and the same goes with the sequel. Dory’s short-term memory loss was a joke of sorts, but now it’s a mental impairment she is desperate to overcome so she can find her parents. It’s a heartrending journey you can’t help but be sucked into, and one which feels genuine in its emotions and never manipulative.

And there’s no forgetting Albert Brooks who combines his comedic genius with a strong dose of vulnerability in his portrayal of Marlin. While this lovable clownfish looks like he hasn’t changed much from the last time we saw him, he is still full of heart and somehow rises to the challenges thrown at him when a dear friend is abducted. Brooks has always been a kick in every movie he appears in, and this one is no exception.

Many new characters are introduced in “Finding Dory” such as the near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), California sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) who are very territorial about the rock they hang out on, and the beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell). But the one who stands out most is Hank, an ill-tempered East Pacific red octopus voiced by Ed O’Neill. The “Married with Children” and “Modern Family” actor makes Hank a lovably gruff and infinitely clever character who would rather stay in the aquarium than go back into the ocean, and O’Neill leaves no trace of Al Bundy in his performance. There’s also a wonderful and genuinely emotional scene where Hank lets his guard down as he says goodbye to Dory, and O’Neill gives Hank a wonderful vulnerability which makes that moment stay with you long after the movie is over.

“Finding Dory” doesn’t reach the cinematic heights that “Inside Out” did, but it is still a wonderfully entertaining adventure you would be foolish to miss on the big screen. Pixar once again enthralls us with their mastery of animation, story and characters, and they are also blessed with another beautiful film score by Thomas Newman. While part of me wants to see Pixar do more original movies and less sequels, it was great fun to see these characters just keep swimming from one side of the ocean to the next. And in a time where blockbuster movies come at us from all directions, it’s nice to see one that really leaves a smile on your face.

As always, be sure to stay through the end credits.

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

* * * ½ out of * * * *