Review: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
When talking about children’s television series that have been spun off into big screen adventures, it should be noted that the first Spongebob Squarepants film was a rousing success. It was fast paced, consistently funny, slyly subversive, subtly naughty, and engaging for both kids and adults. It was unquestionably successful, so the almost decade long wait between cinematic installments feels like a missed opportunity. It’s even more disappointing because the delayed follow-up – Sponge Out of Water – is merely a passable disappointment that will please less discriminating kiddies, but not much of anyone else.
After years of trying to steal the formula for the beloved Krabby Patty burgers from The Krusty Krab, not-so-genius Plankton is a hair away from succeeding in his evil schemes and leading his craphole feedbag (The Chum Bucket) out of infamy and insolvency. But just as it seems like Spongebob is about to succeed in thwarting Plankton, the secret formula disappears into thin air, stolen by a hirsute pirate (Antonio Banderas) from the surface who has stolen and rewritten the storybook that controls the lives of the citizens of Spongebob’s world. Plankton and Spongebob are forced to team up after Bikini Bottom devolves into Mad Max styled post-Apocalyptic chaos, building a time machine to try and set things right and meeting an extraterrestrial dolphin (voiced by Jemaine Clement) that will give them the ability to go to the surface and reclaim the formula.
If it weren’t for Spongebob’s infectiously sunny disposition, a wealth of goodwill towards the material, and some admittedly hilarious gags (including a pretty great reference to The Shining, some spot on line deliveries from the voice cast, and Banderas being a great sport), this would have been disastrous. The biggest problem is that whoever made this film isn’t trying to make Spongebob. They are trying to make The Avengers. Not a particularly FUNNY take on The Avengers, but a straight up take on The Avengers that will eventually turn the Bikini Bottom crew into superheroes because that’s what’s cool with the kids these days. It’s made by people who seemingly have little faith in these characters to still be relevant, so it delivers an unnecessarily bloated and overstuffed mess of a plot.
Why does every film need to include some sort of world building mythology these days? More importantly, why the heck does Spongebob need it? Since the turn of the century Spongebob has been doing just fine on television with no tweaks to the formula. The first film was successful because it just made the gags that made the show endearing bigger and better. This film’s idea of bigger and better means adding things that are completely superfluous in an attempt to raise the stakes.
The biggest disappointment – and one that severely makes me not want to recommend the film – is the film’s climactic showdown in the real world between the now buff, super-powered bunch of friends from under the sea and the evil pirate with a crazy, rocket pirate ship on wheels. On a technical level, it looks fine. But whoever made the script forgot that the show and first film got by based on jokes and humour. And for the climax, all of that stops. There isn’t a single joke. It’s all colourful action set pieces. And it’s boring. And it drags. And most importantly, it stops feeling like Spongebob. It feels like a lame version of The Avengers that no one asked for that only gets more groan inducing the longer it goes on.
There are great ideas in this sequel, and I can admit to laughing heartily a handful of times (that dolphin is outstanding), but if this were even a few episodes of the show strung together, I’d probably call them some of the weakest to fall within the brand. Ultimately, I guess I recommend it to people with kids that are fans, but if you’re an adult fan, just know you probably won’t be getting much out of this one.