Rating: (2.5 stars)
There’s a new movie that teaches valuable lessons about teamwork and forgiveness. It boasts a plot and action premised on the foundational principles of mathematics. And it encourages girls to study science.
Did I mention that it’s based on a smartphone gaming app?
So “The Angry Birds Movie 2” is not great cinema. But the animated sequel — inspired by the popular Angry Birds games, available on mobile devices and other platforms — goes above and beyond what is to be expected from such things.
Once again, the story takes us to Bird Island, the setting of the original 2016 film and an avian paradise inhabited by flightless birds who, as in the game, travel via a slingshot that hurls them to their destination. Our hero is hot-tempered Red (voice of Jason Sudeikis) — no longer an outcast, having saved his home from an invasion of green pigs in the first film. Pigs who were plotting to steal the birds’ eggs, carry them back to Pig Island, and eat their young.
Stay with me now.
This time, the pigs’ leader, Leonard (Bill Hader), wants a truce. Pig Island, you see, is under attack from nearby Eagle Island, where Zeta (Leslie Jones), a purple bird of prey, has been antagonizing the pigs with a barrage of weaponized ice balls. She’s coming for Bird Island next.
Can Red and his feathered friends join forces with their former enemy to defeat a common foe?
At this point, “Angry Birds” becomes, in a sense, a cartoon version of “The Seven Samurai,” as Red and Leonard start putting together a team of warriors, including such familiar faces from the last film as the fast-moving Chuck (Josh Gad), along with new characters such as Rachel Bloom’s Silver, a quirky scientist. There’s also a faint evocation of a prepubescent Bond movie, with the villain holed up in the sort of icy lair common to 007’s nemeses.
Fueled by a combination of anger and self-doubt, Red may have the drive to carry out an assault on Eagle Island, but he doesn’t have the smarts. That’s where Silver comes in, looking at Zeta’s forbidding island fortress and superweapon and considering her strategic options as a physics problem to be solved.
In some ways, “The Angry Birds Movie 2” is standard kiddie fare, following a well-worn action-movie formula, and relying on uninspired needle-drops that include soundtrack staples David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and the now-ubiquitous 1980s instrumental “Axel F,” from “Beverly Hills Cop.”
Yet from its distinctive character design to its ambitious world-building, what might otherwise have been only a mildly diverting product tie-in is proof that video-game movies — just like video games — require a certain level of invention and novelty to keep players (and audiences) interested. Give credit where credit is due: Few movies are so math-centric as this one. The original gameplay, after all, required figuring out the optimal angle of attack — by slingshot, of course — depending on a complex calculus marrying geometry with the laws of physics. Laws that are briefly suspended when a trio of hatchlings ascend into space (cue Bowie).
Chalk that one up to childlike wonder.
Adults, however, may also be amused, to a point, thanks to some vivid voice work. If the sardonic tone of Sudeikis’s Red is merely generic, Jones’s larger-than-life vocal performance makes Zeta outrageous beyond her florid plumage.
Thurop Van Orman, a cartoonist, writer and voice actor known for the beloved — and frequently psychedelic — Cartoon Network shows “Adventure Time” and “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack” — makes his feature directorial debut here. “The Angry Birds Movie 2” never soars to the loopy, delirious heights of those shows, but it has a little of their anarchic energy.
The first “Angry Birds” movie was, arguably, a story of mistrust. In this new and improved sequel, the message is more encouraging: If we could only put aside our differences, we might save the world. That’s not a bad moral, delivered not by slingshot, but means that are just clever enough to keep you playing along.
PG. At area theaters. Contains rude humor, cartoon violence and mild mature themes. 96 minutes.