Mary Poppins Returns is good fun when it remembers to have Mary Poppins on screen
There is a lot to enjoy with this 54 years-later sequel, but there is also one major problem.
Emily Blunt is a goddamned treasure!
What other actress can believably go from kick-ass soldier in Sicario to terrified pregnant mother in A Quiet Place to charming up a storm in Mary Poppins Returns?
It makes a certain kind of sense that Meryl Streep pops up here (for a single, completely out-of-place scene, almost as if she was bored on a day off), as Blunt very much feels like the current generation's answer to Streep's "I can do anything" levels of capability.
Blunt drops the too-sweet approach that Julie Andrews brought to the character back in 1964, updating her attitude to a sharper, spikier, much funnier personality that is more in line with the snarky assistant she portrayed in The Devil Wears Prada.
She goes all-in on the song-and-dance sequences, all the while maintaining a hilarious stiff upper lip in the face of family heartache, as the 20 years since her last visit have been hard on the now-grown-up Banks children (Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer), as well as the next generation, and Poppins is here to help them all in her own unique way.
It is all familiar territory, with a bare-bones plot (Colin Firth is an evil bank manager and he wants their house, because... bank managers are automatically evil?) that is just about to strong enough to pin some random musical numbers on to, with local lamp-lighter (Lin-Manuel Miranda) on hand to assist and get overly involved in these strangers' lives.
The problem is, Mary Poppins Returns has no idea who the movie is supposed to be about.
Clip via Walt Disney Studios
Is it about the kids? Maybe, but they seem far less proactive in the plot, more just bystanders to Blunt and Miranda singing about book covers.
Quick side note: the songs are incredibly unmemorable.
Considering that Disney are the best in the game at this - Frozen, Enchanted, Moana, The Muppets, all had terrifc numbers - and also the presence of Pulitzer Prize-winning Manuel for his musical Hamilton, it is shocking how none of these songs stick around in the mind afterwards.
Is it about Poppins herself? You'd think so, but the movie seems to completely forget about her for half of the songs and gives her no real character arc.
Is it about the now-adult Banks children? For a little while, until the plot doesn't give them enough to do, and continuously moves back to...
The lamp-lighter? Miranda is on a major charm offensive here, using the movie as his big Hollywood break, but again, his character is all show and no depth.
He gets several musical numbers all to himself, almost as if director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into The Woods) knew that he should give this super-talented performer more screen time, regardless of whether the plot needed him or not.
At the end, the whole thing feels like a big warm hug, practically devoid of cynicism, and everyone on screen is giving it everything they've got.
Blunt, especially, deserves every plaudit she receives, adding another feather to an already over-plumaged hat. But anyone hoping this long-delayed sequel might hold a candle to the five-time Oscar-winning original will be left disappointed.
Mary Poppins Returns lands in Irish cinemas from Friday 21 December.