British stop-motion institution Aardman Animation may be best known for Wallace & Gromit but arguably its masterpiece was 2000’s Chicken Run, an inventive homage to The Great Escape with a brood of plucky chickens attempting to flee their farm. A sequel nearly a quarter of a century later is an unexpected opportunity to return to beloved characters but risks undermining the original’s pristine reputation. Dawn of the Nugget has been a serious endeavour, not only because of the time investment inherent in stop-motion but because a tragic warehouse fire in 2005 destroyed most of Aardman’s original models, meaning everything had to be built from scratch using the Chicken Run art book as a primary reference. Director Sam Fell has the requisite pedigree, having helmed Laika’s stop-motion ParaNorman as well as Aardman’s brief foray into digital animation, Flushed Away. Chicken Run was notably female-centric, and that remains the case here as Ginger and Rocky’s daughter follows in her mother’s daring footsteps. Criticisms about significant cast changes are misplaced given the passage of time and the quality remains high, with characters taking priority over the famous names — Thandiwe Newton, Zachary Levi, Bella Ramsey — behind them. Sadly the broader canvas of the sequel is less compelling than the original’s creative take on farm life, coupled with weaker humour and an entirely predictable third act. Harry Gregson-Williams returns, unfortunately without John Powell, to supply an energetic soundtrack that expands its homage into classic spy action movies. Dawn of the Nugget is a sufficiently enjoyable romp in an underappreciated art form but despite its increase in scope, when each element feels inferior to its predecessor, it is hard not to view this newer, lesser version as redundant.
Beckett’s order may as well have been Disney’s diktat. No one was asking for a Han Solo origin story and, with the beloved character already so well fleshed out by the original trilogy, it is hard to see this as much more than a cash grab. When directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were ousted from the project, it seemed the writing was on the wall. Ron Howard stepped in and opted to reshoot three quarters of the film, the requisite for a solo credit. Although the result is actually better than I had feared — with a competently told and occasionally rousing heist tale — like JJ Abrams, Howard plays entirely safe within Star Wars universe. Solo moves at pace so that, as with Rogue One, little time is spent fleshing out the characters, and the only performances that stand out are Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and Donald Glover’s young Lando (an origin story that would have been far more appealing). The film’s strongest element may be John Powell’s score, which plays liberally with a theme by John Williams. Ultimately Solo‘s bland result is another strong argument for seeking out new stories to tell in this expansive universe rather than rehashing the past ad infinitum.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.
“We all like a bit of the good life — some the money, some the drugs, others the sex game, the glamour, or the fame. But a RocknRolla, oh, he’s different. Why? Because a real RocknRolla wants the fucking lot.”
RocknRolla feels more like a tribute to (or parody of) old school Guy Ritchie films than a genuine Guy Ritchie film. It features the trademark rapidfire banter, convoluted plot and East End gangster action, but they fail to form a cohesive whole, seeming more like a response to his critics. There are some standout kinetically shot action sequences and a few fun edits, but this does little to restore Ritchie’s directorial credibility. The film cockily touts its own sequel but there is little wonder that it has never emerged.