dir: Raja Gosnell
You make sacrifices for the people you love. It’s what decent people do, whether human or smurf. So when you go see a movie called The Smurfs 2, because your daughter has asked you to, you console yourself with the fact that you’re taking one for the team.
Something like this... how do you review it? What purpose would such a review serve? Would it just be a collection of words, in sequences that make some kind of sense, that merely takes up space? Can the world do without it?
These are valid questions, but, let's be honest with each other: If the millions of people posting their thoughts, opinions, idiocies and brilliances to the tubes of the internets evaluated everything they were about to post to the net for importance or universal value, virtually none of us would be sharing ourselves in this fashion, and this internet thing would have died out a long time ago, to be retro replaced with smoke signals, snail-mailed messages etched in vinyl and tin cans, requisite lengths of twine, taking its place.
I know, I know, the world would spontaneously become a utopia anew. This current world, however, is the one we work with; the internet demands words the way Old Testament gods required sacrifices, and I have a compulsion that compels me to write even about the most banal movies you could possibly imagine.
And why? Well, because what else am I going to do, something productive and meaningful with my time and fingers? How else to keep me off the streets at night?
I promised to take my daughter to this movie, and apart from the delight it brought her, my only other payment for having endured the occasion is the fodder I get for another review.
The Smurfs franchise, I imagine. is going to become one of those longstanding film series, like Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise to Midnight films, like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope's Road to... movies, and whatever the hell it is that Tyler Perry is doing in those Madea movies.
Yes, I remember the Smurfs from when I was a kid, but I didn't particularly care for them then, and I care even less for them now. Don't care what place they hold in France's heart. Don't care what allegories or meaning you can draw from their existence or their adventures. As fantastical / pseudo mythical creatures, they're less believable than fairies and less credible than flying unicorns or climate change deniers.
What they actually end up being is little joke-and-treacle factories. This film, and its predecessor, which I've watched as well, and for the same reason of extortion on the part of one's child, do little but serve up tame gags, poor CGI and litres and litres of treacly, smarmy sentiment that drips so gloopily that I felt like I needed to wipe my 3D glasses down every ten minutes.
This is being critical only with the distance of time, because at the time, due to tiredness and the desire not to be a drag on my daughter's happiness, I essentially left my body and floated around in the astral plane as my body laughed at the antics onscreen and shovelled that over-salted popcorn crap into my gaping maw at regular intervals.
That's all you can do, really. They teach you, in certain forms of special forces training, to leave your body when you're being tortured, to be able to create a distance between what your body is experiencing, and how your brain processes that pain. It's kind of like what I was doing here. Allowing your rational mind, your intellect, your hopes and dreams to separate from your eyeballs is about the only rational way to approach a film like this.
I mean, they're Smurfs for crying out loud! Most of the dialogue is a variation on this: "That's smurfing great! Oh, now his smurf is showing! Smurf you, you smurfing mothersmurfer!" and so on. People will point to this film specifically, and films like it, and loftily proclaim it the end of cinema and civilisation to boot. The truth is, most kids films are like this, in fact now with so much money being spent on CGI effects, they're all like this because they only have enough money left over to employ homeless illiterates for their screenplays, whom they pay in meth.
You can see the meth up on the screen, as well, because interspersed between the chaotic and nonsensical action you have these incredible, grinding moments of childhood regret and parental yearning, yearning for a simpler time, and for the approval and acceptance of parents who clearly were never willing or capable of being emotionally available to these meth-addled homeless screenwriters.
If you think I'm mocking the homeless, or the meth addicted, think again. Those people I accept as my brothers and sisters who are doing it horribly hard on the unforgiving streets of our merciless cities. I can hate some of the stuff they do to themselves, each other, and ‘civilians’, but that's not reason enough to demonise them. Hollywood screenwriters, on the other hand, they're the most contemptible scum on the planet, and they should be paying us, not the other way around.
Neil Patrick Harris is one of the few humans in this, and you really wonder how he struggles on in order to appear in these movies (money, yes, I know). We have a wonderful, witty, talented man who's more at home in a sitcom or in a musical, here mostly emoting to empty space, getting into the dumbest conversations with these little blue pieces of merchandising. He also has to go the majority of the movie, as in the last one, being peevish and annoyed, until he realises he needs to be a better blah blah blah it makes the soul ache.
Perversely, the human who comes out of this the best off is probably Hank Azaria, who should already be a national treasure for his decades of duty on The Simpsons. Here he plays the villain, and is beyond a villain, because he's a grotesque troll of a character, like something out of a slower kid's fairy tale written on toilet paper using jam, or like a subhuman member of the Coalition party that’s taken control of the Australian Parliament just recently. Gargamel is a horrible character, but he’s funny. Hank Azaria is funny as this despicable character. Sure he’s evil, and thinks he’s far smarter than he actually is, but that the key character failing of all great villains, be they Walter White from Breaking Bad, Don Draper from Mad Men, Wile E. Coyote from the Roadrunner cartoons, or the last Pope.
Not the current one, he’s dreamy. The one before him, who remembered his days in the Hitler Youth with nostalgic, crotch-tightening fondness.
Hank Azaria blusters and blunders about, and it’s hard not to want him to win, sometimes. I never want to see goodness snuffed out by evil, but he at least isn’t as grating or irritating as the Smurfs themselves are. The cutesy voiced Smurfette, as articulated by that Mensa member and general Renaissance woman Katy Perry, is possibly the single most evil character to appear on any screen this year. Sure, Papa Smurf desperately hopes she won’t turn to the Dark Side, like it seems she’s programmed to do, but that little monster has a heart of stone.
And what to read into her creation story, where she goes from being an evil brunette to a sublime and angelic blonde that every smurf sighs over? Did we learn nothing from all those World War II and Basic Instinct movies? Doesn’t everyone know that blondes are potentially the most evil people of all?
Yes, there are plenty of annoying smurfs in this, but most annoying, other than the obvious Smurfette, is Vanity, whose narcissism is meant to be at the toxic Big Brother-level of self-regard. I found him funny, mostly because he was voiced by wonderful Brit comedian John Oliver, of Daily Show, Community and The Bugle fame. He can make even this dribble sound funny, and I can guess that’s the only reason why they seemed to give him so much flustering dialogue.
Sure, there’s a plot, but who could possibly care about that? I asked my daughter what she thought the plot of the film was, and she said “Going to Paris and having fun. Also, Ferris Wheel!”
No, NO my child. The plot was about accepting that in some cases, your stepfather is the only father you’re going to have, so you better appreciate him, or else you’re doomed to a life of evil, or having your smurf essence drained and used for evil magic.
I think there’s something in that for all of us.
Or maybe none of us?
5 times this film definitely makes you empathise with the villains out of 10
“I’m just smurfing with you.” – I think you’re smurfing with all of us – The Smurfs 2