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ALEX MUREDDA: Angry Birds 2: A more diverse voice cast, some pretty colours, but not much else

The sequel lands far too long after the original to sustain any kind of momentum for the series, or win any new converts

The angry birds make peace with their enemies and dive bomb toxic masculinity in The Angry Birds Movie 2, Thurop Van Orman’s tedious but fitfully engaging second instalment to the aging mobile phone game property.

The sequel lands far too long after the original — whose plot is neatly summarized and dismissed in a joke early on, for anyone who’s worried they can’t remember it — to sustain any kind of momentum for the series, win any new converts, or develop the first film’s allegory about the horrors of gentrification. The upshot is that it has little to show for itself besides a more diversified and lively voice cast and some pretty colours in the pastel range that at least make it stand out from the grey palette dominating most contemporary blockbusters.

This time out, the avian residents of Bird Island have largely set aside their differences from their porcine neighbours on Pig Island, with whom there is a begrudging ceasefire after the latter’s failed invasion in the previous film. That truce, brokered by Pig leader Leonard (voiced by Bill Hader, who seems to have phoned in his significantly reduced role from the set of Barry), puts his former nemesis, the pariah-turned-hero Red (Jason Sudeikis), in an awkward position, since his newly prominent role in the bird hierarchy was forged in times of war.

Luckily for him, both sides soon have to unite against Zeta (Leslie Jones), the exiled leader of Eagle Island, who, tired of her frosty digs, decides to terrorize both communities so that they will evacuate their property and leave her with a much warmer personal resort for her and her daughter (Tiffany Haddish). The real enemy, though, is Red’s inability to share the spotlight with old buddies Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride), as well as a new addition, Chuck’s whip-smart younger sister Silver (Rachel Bloom), who has the brains to lead this operation and strike Red’s fancy (though he won’t admit it), but not the respect a relatively average male captain like Red more easily commands.

Though the film trades the angry populist politics of its predecessor for a mushier and less convincing liberal centre, softly cajoling any dads who might have accompanied their children not to speak over their women coworkers, it relies too heavily on us having a stake in Red’s sad backstory to work. Sudeikis arguably commits too well to the bit, making Red’s paranoia and chauvinism so authentically off-putting that most kids won’t much care whether this 40-something-sounding crank learns his lesson about humility.

His middle-aged sourness also makes the occasional flashbacks to Red’s depressing school days feel outright weird. It doesn’t help that Bloom taps a much more convincingly childlike note as his flirty frenemy. Maybe the age discrepancy is the point, but Red and Silver are no Bogart and Bacall.

Whatever reverence the first film might have had for the franchise that spawned it is also lost here. References to the game mechanics come in the form of a couple familiar music cues and some half-hearted visual gags about mortified birds slingshotting themselves into solitude when they feel embarrassed. What does make a cringeworthy return is the first film’s obnoxious soundtrack, with nearly every major comic or dramatic beat tied to a literal song choice that Gen-X parents will remember and their children will recognize as vaguely vintage — from Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” to the Dawson’s Creek theme song.

As with the first Angry Birds Movie, though, it’s not all bad. A parallel side plot featuring a trio of diminutive hatchlings — one of whom is voiced by The Florida Project’s young star Brooklynn Prince — on a quest to find a trio of misplaced eggs has some pops of colour and some inventive screwball comedy. So does a genuinely odd set piece involving the birds smuggling their way past Eagle Island security in an uncanny eagle costume, whose jerky movements recall (seriously) the stubborn machines from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. And the supporting voice cast do their level best to make up for the otherwise flat characters — especially Jones, who makes Zeta a camp diva villain in the Ursula mould, but more sympathetic. In a film that’s otherwise derivative by design, her motivation — not world domination or Eagle supremacy but the curdled self-care ethos of “I’m putting myself first, because I worked hard for it, and I deserve it” — feels refreshingly original.

2 stars

— Angry Birds 2 opens in select cities Aug. 13 and across the country Aug. 16

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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