Review: March of the Penguins 2 – L’empereur (2017)

March of the Penguins 2 – L’empereur (2017)

Directed by: Luc Jacquet | 81 minutes | documentary | Original Narrator: Lambert Wilson | Dutch narrator: Thomas Acda

In 2005 the French director Luc Jaquet enriched the film world with the particularly beautiful epic ‘March of the Penguins’. The documentary gave us a nice insight into the icy, Antarctic environment of the largest penguin species in the world, the stately and majestic emperor penguin. The top documentary was quite rightly awarded an Oscar and drew full cinemas worldwide. Moreover, the structure and the chosen narrative made ‘March of the Penguins’ more than an ordinary documentary; the film feels like a feature film with feathered protagonists, complete with moments of romance and intense drama.

For ‘March of the Penguins 2’, Jaquet once again headed to the South Pole, this time armed with a host of state-of-the-art equipment such as drones, special underwater cameras and ultra-HD cameras. The results are impressive. Surprising camera angles, extremely detailed close-ups of fluffy penguin babies, spectacular underwater footage of adult birds blasting through the underwater landscape like winged torpedoes and phenomenal panoramas of the hostile and desolate-looking Antarctic icy desert; these are just a few examples of the cinematographic delights that Jaquet and his team serve us.

The subject and chosen storyline largely correspond to those of the first part. Again, the emphasis is on the challenging and exhausting journey the penguins must undertake from the sea to reach their shared breeding site. The whole is this time in a somewhat more fragmented form – complete with flashbacks – so that the story gets more momentum. Just like in the first film, the penguins shown quickly become real characters, main characters with whom the animal lovers among us will quickly develop an empathetic bond.

Even the most critical visual critic can hardly find fault with the visual presentation of ‘March of the Penguins 2’. Still, the film thrives on the power of repetition. There is (too) much overlap with the original, so that the film sometimes takes on the character of a disguised remake and loses its urgency. This impression is reinforced by the fact that in recent years more beautiful productions about penguins (think of the three-part BBC series ‘Penguins: Spy in the Huddle’) have appeared. The narrators Lambert Wilson (English version) and Thomas Acda (Dutch) of this second part also lag behind Morgan Freeman and Urbanus, the duo that still provided the voice-overs in the original.

The end result is a film that visually belongs to the absolute outside category, but often feels like a repetition of moves. That in itself is not entirely illogical, because emperor penguins are simply not animals with an incredibly wide spectrum of different behaviors. It’s also a bit of a shame that Jaquet ignores the problem of penguin populations declining due to climate change. That could have given the film even more relevance. Still, anyone who enjoyed the first part can also blindly add ‘March of the Penguins 2’ to their list of movies to watch.

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