Sequels are difficult things. Will the sequel retain the pace, spirit or charm of the original? Will it be sufficiently different from its predecessor to justify its existence? Will the characters and storyline of the first be meaningfully developed in the second film?
The writer and director of Watership Down 2: Rab-bot’s Revenge has clearly pondered these questions. He has clearly lain awake at night, staring at the ceiling, deeply interrogating his motives and vision for the film. Evidently he has sat at his desk, head cradled in his hands, searching within himself for the answers.
And then, the writer and director of Watership Down 2: Rab-bot’s Revenge has clearly thrown all of these questions into the bin (a metaphorical bin, not an actual bin as might be made of plastic, or steel, or wicker-work) and made the film anyway. I didn’t get the number 18 bus into town, where I didn’t pass through the foyer of the large multi-screen cinema, past the large posters bearing the sad, pallid, haystack face of Robert Pattison, past the popcorn (sweet and salty), overpriced bags of Jelly Babies and medium drinks. I didn’t purchase my ticket, didn’t enter the darkened auditorium, and didn’t see this film. Here is my review.
“General Woundwort was never seen again. But it was certainly true, as Groundsel said, that no one ever found his body, so it may perhaps be that after all, that extraordinary rabbit really did wander away to live his fierce life somewhere else and to defy the elil [enemies] as resourcefully as ever” (Richard Adams, Watership Down (London: Penguin, 1974), p. 477).
So reads the Epilogue to Watership Down, and so ends the first film. No one ever found Woundwort’s body. But what if his body had been found? Such is the premise of Watership Down 2: Rab-bot’s Revenge.
Woundwort’s injured body is discovered by a renegade veterinarian who takes him back to the laboratory and, through many hours of labour, painstakingly rebuilds him. So much the better to defeat the elil, the veterinarian rebuilds him as stronger, faster, more fearsome than before. He creates a cyber-rabbit. A rab-bot, as the title punningly states. This rabbit has legs of steel, lasers for eyes and craps grenades.
Woundwort returns to the now-thriving and co-operative Watership-Efrafan warren. He looks about with disgust and disdain at the cheerful scene. A young buck lops by, happy in the warmth of the sun and the verdant grass. Woundwort powers up his lasers. Pew! Pew! Within seconds, the young rabbit is a small heap of smouldering carbon. Woundwort moves on towards one of the many entrances to the warren. He positions himself strategically, and fires a couple of grenades into the opening. Holy cow! Soil and the corpses of dead rabbits fly up into the air.
The film continues in this vein, and is by all accounts a worthwhile action flick if somewhat lacking in depth and profundity. The animation, being CGI, is more polished than the original, and lacking some of its wistful charm. However, the kick-ass SFX more than make up the difference. You want explosions? You got explosions. After all, isn’t shit being blown up what any movie-goer asks for in a film? Indeed, the original starts to look inferior for its sheer lack of red-hearted, smoke-billowing detonations. Sure, the plotline of Watership Down 2: Rab-bot’s Revenge is a little weak in places, and by that we mean it is entirely non-existent, but this takes the very essence of the original and boils it right down to the bare bones. It doesn’t sugar coat it, nor (thank God) include any instances of the Brillo-haired Art Garfunkel singing ‘Bright Eyes’. This is a film about survival and about having balls. Balls made of reinforced concrete. Balls you could cut diamonds with. It doesn’t pull any punches. It defies the inevitable wrath of the animal rights activists, some of whom have already delayed the film’s release by beating the writer and director to a pulp outside his home (an ironic event, given that the writer and director is in fact a chimpanzee – see image above).
All in all, this is wholesome family entertainment, and sure to be a hit with the kids and grandma alike. I give it conkers out of ten.