When March of the Penguins was released in theaters in 2005, it took the world by storm. Its captivating method of capturing and creating a story out of raw footage of these beloved creatures in the wild was immediately embraced by the masses, becoming the second-most successful documentary ever released in North America. Thirteen years later, French documentary director Luc Jacquet decided to try to work his magic for a second time, and unfortunately for him and his team, the sequel fails to pull itself out of the shadow of its predecessor.
Making a sequel to any kind of film is a daunting task, but creating a sequel to a documentary about a very specific topic is even more challenging. At no fault to the filmmakers, March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step is incapable of setting itself apart from the first film because of the specificity of its premise. Both films are centered around the journeys of Antarctic penguins through both the mating process of the adults and the growing process of the babies, and the plotlines of each are nearly identical. In a vacuum, each of these films is a very good individual documentary about penguins (even though the original is much better), but as a sequel, March of the Penguins 2 does not expound upon the original premise very much. The biggest, and really only glaring problem with this film is that there is no reason for it to exist in the first place.
This entire production just seems like a money-making scheme to profit off the popularity of the original. This newer version is essentially a carbon copy of the original with a slightly better shot composition from a better camera, and a couple scenes where a few brief lines of dialogue about global warming were clearly added to push some sort of political discussion into the film without actually showing any effects of global warming in Antarctica at all. These scenes feel forced, don’t add anything to the experience, and are too few and far between to be considered a theme. They’re just filler. Everything else, including the plot, narration, and writing, is basically the exact same thing as the original film. While this is clearly a good formula for making a documentary about Antarctic penguins, what is the point of making a sequel if it’s just going to be the same thing as the first movie? These filmmakers may have been better off picking a different animal or even penguins from a different part of the world to at least avoid making the same movie twice.
In terms of technical ability, this film is masterfully shot and edited, just like March of the Penguins. Some of the individual images are absolutely jaw-dropping. There are countless close-up shots of penguins jumping out of the water in slow motion or transferring their eggs from parent to parent. Morgan Freeman reclaims his role as God, or more specifically the narrator of this film, and as per usual is an absolute pleasure to listen to. Unfortunately, while his voice is as soothing as humanly possible, the dialogue written for him is often times so bad that it teeters on the edge of corny and cliché. Because of this, there are a few moments that are meant to be funny that instead become quite awkward and hard to listen to.
On a brighter note, both the sound design and the score are as close to perfect as they could get. Capturing the sounds of the penguins walking around would be nearly impossible from the distance the scenes were likely filmed, so those sounds had to be crafted in a studio. The team behind those sounds seriously created some incredibly realistic sounds for the film, and there isn’t a single penguin step that sounds fake. On the other hand, the score, which was composed by Cyrille Aufort, is just as good, and complements the scenes as they appear on screen almost perfectly. Many times, the editing actually aligns events occurring in each scene with the score, which adds a fun and interactive element to watching the film.
So from a technical standpoint, this film is nearly flawless, but it is unfortunately held back by its lack of originality. For those who haven’t seen the original March of the Penguins or don’t remember it, by all means watch this film. It is a masterful documentary that clearly had a lot of effort put into it, but will likely seem redundant for those who may have already seen its predecessor.
Featured Image by Hulu