Film reviews: 'Ralph Breaks The Internet warms the cockles of our hearts then breaks them in tiny pieces'
This week's film reviews:
Ralph Breaks The Internet (PG, 112 mins) ****
When it comes to a sequel, go bigger or go home.
Rich Moore and Phil Johnston's imaginative and deeply satisfying follow-up to the 2013 feel-good computer animation Wreck-It Ralph achieves the former without straying far from the latter by propelling its coin-operated arcade game characters into the mind-boggling realms of the World Wide Web.
Ralph Breaks The Internet expands its bewildering array of visual targets to include social media behemoths, video sharing portals and online shopping brands plus those irritating advertising pop-ups which multiply like a virulent fungus.
The naivete of candy-coloured characters in their new home is mined for a steady stream of laughs. "We know where to go if we need a pair of goggles," chirps Ralph (voiced by John C Reilly) as he misreads the name of one search engine and an inaugural visit to an auction website leads to Ralph and best friend Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) merrily bidding against one another.
Ralph Breaks The Internet warms the cockles of our hearts then breaks them in tiny pieces with a sob-inducing finale that cleverly nods to the 1980s arcade classic Donkey Kong.
A wealth of visual gags demands a second viewing and a protracted interlude in the Oh My Disney! fan site, populated by a bevy of animated princesses and characters from the Marvel and Star Wars stables, is a self-referential hoot.
Reilly and Silverman beautifully convey the central friendship through various trials and tribulations. We emerge from the cinema with similarly broad grins and tear-glistened cheeks.
Surviving Christmas with the Relatives, 15, 101 mins ****
At Christmas, families frequently reunite after months apart to celebrate the tidings of the season and gleefully get on each's other nerves over stuffing balls and pigs in blankets.
Sibling rivalry flares during three chaotic days in writer-director James Dearden's gently paced comedy drama.
Miranda (Gemma Whelan) and her husband Dan (Julian Ovenden) are trying to forge a better life for their children away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
They are renovating the ramshackle country house owned by Miranda's parents, which has always hosted the family's Christmas get-togethers.
Honouring this tradition, Miranda and Dan welcome Miranda's sister Lyla (Joely Richardson), a fading Hollywood star in the dying throes of a bad marriage to her alcoholic agent, Trent (Michael Landes).
The sisters clash, reopening old wounds in the company of other relatives including uncle John (James Fox) and aunt Peggy (Patricia Hodge).
Meanwhile, Miranda and Dan's son Harry (Jonas Moore) wrestles with drug addiction and the growing emotional distance from his loved ones.
Creed II 12A, 130 mins ***
Deep-rooted nostalgia for Rocky fails to deliver a knockout blow in the eighth instalment of the long-running series, which punched well above its weight class in 1977 by winning three Academy Awards including best picture and best director.
Inside the ring, the film is on sure footing and there are familiar bursts of adrenaline for us as well as the characters as they dig deep to overcome dizzying blows and achieve glorious destinies.
Away from the fisticuffs, Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone's wistful script raises its gloves to earlier films, most explicitly Rocky IV, in which Soviet brawler Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) delivered a fatal blow to Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and then faced Rocky Balboa (Stallone).
More than 30 years after that epic showdown and in search of redemption, Ivan trains his only son Viktor (real-life German boxer Florian Munteanu), moulding him into a fearsome contender for the heavyweight championship belt in the possession of Rocky's protege, Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan).
"That kid was raised in hate," Rocky warns Adonis, who arrogantly believes he can overcome Drago Jnr without the backing of his mentor and corner man.
Syrupy romantic interludes between Adonis and fiancee Bianca (Tessa Thompson) struggle to up the emotional stakes as the film slugs its way into an unnecessary third hour.