3 June 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 Review

Before I start I want to make it clear that I am a fan of the original Pitch Perfect. I feel that it is one of the best comedies released in the past few years and does everything right that films like Bridesmaids did wrong (yes, I'm not a fan of Bridesmaids, I think it is a terrible film). When the sequel was announced, I was worried. I thought that it would fall victim to the same form of sequelitis that hit other comedy sequels like Ghostbusters 2, and I was a bit sceptical of Elizabeth Banks in the directors chair since her previous directorial experience was with one of the segments in Movie 43. However, I did get some hopes again due to 22 Jump Street, which showed how good comedy sequels can be, and Guardians of the Galaxy, since its director, James Gunn, also did a segment in Movie 43, so I thought a good film could come out of it. After watching the film though, I was wrong with my initial assumption. This film is so much worse than I thought it would be. This is one of the most disappointing films I've seen recently and the worst film I've seen this year so far.
The plot concerns the Barden Bellas who, after winning the university a capella tournament 3 years straight, perform at the Kennedy Centre for the President. During the show, there's a wardrobe malfunction involving Fat Amy which results in the Bellas being blacklisted from the a capella world, the only way they can come back is if they win the world championship, something that no American team has done before. From the get-go, this plot is sequelitis incarnate, a successful team are sent to the bottom (the position they were in in the first film) and, like before, have to work their way back to the top. In a smarter film, like 22 Jump Street, these tropes would be used to build character or take apart the tropes associated with comedy sequels. This film doesn't do that, it plays this plot completely straight and it becomes incredibly predictable. The film tries to make up for this with the inclusion of multiple sub-plots, too many of them. You have Beca hiding her internship at a record company from the rest of the Bellas, the relationship between Fat Amy and Bumper, new character Emily trying to get into the Bellas and show her song writing skills, a relationship between Emily and Benji and Chloe needing to accept that she has to leave the Bellas. None of these come across in the narrative in a natural way and it feels like they were included to pad out the length of the film.The worst example of this though comes with Beca worrying about her originality and the harmony of the Bellas being lost. These are things that were never hinted at in the film prior to them being brought up and it felt like an excuse to artificially insert conflict into the film to make the third act more emotionally satisfying and none of it worked.

I could forgive these story problems in the film if it was funny but the sad truth is, I barely laughed during the film, it didn't even pass the Kermode 6 laugh test. Many of the jokes are recycled from the first film, and don't work this time as the surprise factor in the first film is what made these jokes work. Adding on to this is that the jokes are focused more on stereotypes than in the first film. All of the jokes about Amy are fat jokes, a lot of them being repeats from the first film, there are more jokes making fun of a character for being gay and I feel like the whole joke around German rivals, Das Sound Machine, is that they sing w's as v's.  Not even the commentators, played by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins (incidentally, I'm surprised there aren't any mash-ups of YouTube dubbing clips of Higgins' performance as Varrick in Legend of Korra over clips from this film), aren't as funny this time around. The worst jokes however, revolve around one of the new characters, Flo, a migrant to the US from Guatemala. All of the jokes around her focus on her life in Guatemala and the journey she took to go to America and it feels like the film is making fun of the conditions that these people faced as they made the journey which felt incredibly insulting. The only laughs I got in the film were from the record industry sub-plot because of how good a comedic performer Keegan-Michael Key is and the long stretches between these moments really harm the film.

The musical numbers in this film aren't as strong this time around as well. Whilst Elizabeth Banks does direct these scenes well, sequelitis shows itself again. There are a lot more musical numbers this time around, with many of these not serving the plot in any way. Even with the scenes at the world championship, there's no real hint there that the rest of the world hates America, which is what was said to be the reason why America has never won it before. It feels like they decided to go bigger instead of going better and two moments stand out in this. The first is the riff-off scene, in the first film it was one of the highlights showing the rivalry between the different a capella groups and helping to build the characters. Here though, aside from a few moments with Emily, this whole sequence could have been cut out of the film and nothing would have been lost. Plus, some of the jokes in this scene don't translate well outside of America, especially the bits involving the Green Bay Packers. The other part is the song Flashlight, on it's own this is a decent song and Hailee Steinfeld does a great job singing it, it feels like the song was written first and the plot was written around it, rather than the songs fitting the plot like it was in the first film.

If there is a saving grace in the film it's the cast. Anna Kendrick is still as charming as ever here, even though she isn't given that much to do, with this also being the case for Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Ester Dean, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins and Skylar Astin, their characters feel incredibly one-note here compared to the last film, with one trait being used and jokes about them in the first film being repeated ad nauseam. Hailee Steinfeld does a good job with Emily, having a great singing voice and good comic timing, despite not having much of a character to work with. She also has some of the more charming scenes in the film with Ben Platt as Benji, with the chemistry between the two being really sweet and just the right level of awkward, overcoming the writing which makes the pairing of these two really forced. The record company scenes are the highlights of the film due to the aforementioned performance by Keegan-Michael Key, along with Snoop Dogg and Shawn Carter Peterson. However, there are still problems in the cast. Firstly, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen and Flula Borg play the most stereotypical evil Germans since Cool Runnings, with all their jokes feeling really outdated and their delivery not being that strong. The main problems in the cast though come with Rebel Wilson and Adam DeVine. In the first film, Wilson was the comedic highlight but here, they overexposed the character and the stuff that feels like Wilson was improvising just isn't as funny as the first film, often coming across as annoying or making fun of the overweight. DeVine meanwhile has no reason for being here. He comes back in this film with no explanation or even mention of what happened with John Mayer (which is the reason his character left the Treblemakers in the first film) and the pairing of him with Wilson comes across as forced and, by the end of it, it feels like the entire relationship sub-plot was just to add another bloody musical number into the film. I could live with this if the chemistry between Wilson and DeVine was good but it's not, it feels really forced and unnatural, with this helping to sink the film even further.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed by Pitch Perfect 2. Aside from the likable cast, some funny moments in the internship sub-plot and some decent musical numbers, the whole thing felt like a cheap, lazy rehash of the first film, with many scenes being copied from the first film with no care over how to integrate them into this film, to make a quick buck without any attention being paid to the quality of the film. Worse still, a lot of the jokes this time around felt really offensive, taking cheap shots at groups that really didn't deserve it. This film could have been so much better but it ultimately joins the crop of films suffering from a severe case of sequelitis.

My Rating: 1.5/5

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