1. Pitch Perfect 2 is a total bummer, and it takes a while to figure out why. The 2012 original was such a pleasant, charming surprise, smart and clever and warm-hearted, but also pleasantly geeky; a cappella groups are not the centerpiece of the collegiate experience in the world we live in, but Pitch Perfect convinced you we’d be better off if they were. The film was basic and simple and straightforward and not just fun, but strangely inspirational: Afterward, you felt as though you could accomplish all things through sisterhood, pluck, and a positive attitude. (It helps, too, if you can beat-box along to ‘80s pop songs.) It was a bizarro fantasyland universe you couldn’t help but prefer to our own.
2. That good cheer is oddly curdled this time. Everything you like from the first film is back ... just not quite the same. The Barden Bellas are still around—some of whom looking they’re in their fourth or fifth senior year—but they’re a little simpler, a little less surprising, a little more familiar. Part of the fun of the first film was that some of these women were legitimate weirdos; there was a nice message about learning to accept everyone’s eccentricities while still finding a way to make something amazing together. Here, those feel a lot less like eccentricities and more like stilted, flailing “quirks” that separate our heroes from actual human beings. The jokes grew out of the people in the first film; here, there are just a ton of gags shot in every direction, with no anchor of a story and no genuine attempt to ground the characters and make them likable. I wanted to hug just about everyone in the first film. Here, I sort of just wanted them all to go away.
3. Here’s a good example of where this all goes wrong. Last time, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) was a shit-kicking force of nature, someone who didn’t care a whit about what anyone else thought. (Remember, her nickname is self-applied, “So twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.”) Here, I’m sad to say, she’s required simply to be fat and loud. Wilson is still a gifted comedian—I love the way her eyes can be blithely indifferent and completely cookoo at the same time—but now she’s the butt of the jokes, not their engine. The movie begins with the Bellas getting kicked out of their a cappella charter (or something) because Fat Amy splits her pants during a performance at Lincoln Center and ends up giving the whole audience, including President Obama, an extended gape at her vagina. This whole situation, the driving incident of the plot, is mocked incessantly thereafter, but you never see Fat Amy turn that fiasco to her advantage like the woman we met in the first film. She, and everyone else, is just a caricature now. Pitch Perfect 2 is cruder than the original, and not in a good way: It lacks a certain grace, a light step, that used to make the jokes land. It feels clunky, clumsy, and hurried.
4. The plot this time involves the Bellas facing off against a German team that answers the question, “Can you apply stereotypes of German efficiency and coldness to any possible life pursuit, even a cappella?” (You can. Sort of.) But the movie just sort of drunkenly stumbles toward that conclusion, occasionally checking in on haphazard plotlines: Anna Kendrick’s Beca trying to find a music-producer job; a new Bella played by Hailee Steinfeld trying to find her voice; and a nonsensical, unfunny non-sequitur featuring David Cross as some some of rich a cappella patron who stages competitions in his basement with the Green Bay Packers. Your director is Elizabeth Banks, a talented comedic actress who shepherded the first film as a producer, but shows no real talent behind the camera, particularly when it comes to pacing: You can almost see the movie forget plot lines and circle back to catch up with them later. It must have been a huge pain to edit. There is not a sense of a firm hand in control here.
5. I’m sorry it has taken this long to get to the songs. They’re good, generally, if a little more on-the-nose than last time; even the soundtrack feels more streamlined and mass-audience-minded than the first film, and that one had nothing but pop songs. (Ever want to see an a cappella version of that ”LIGHT A MUP” song? Here’s your chance!) The songs feel obligatory and shoehorned in, rather than emerging organically as before. Even Banks and John Michael Higgins, as the world’s only a capella broadcasters, wear out their welcome—their rapport starts to feel less amusingly clueless and more aggressive and obnoxious. This isn’t the sort of sequel that’s such a disaster it makes you retroactively dislike the first film, a la The Hangover: The original is still a perfect little undamaged pop object. But Pitch Perfect 2 takes everything you liked about that film and makes it about 74 percent worse, and then gives you about 20 percent more of it. This is how you do a sequel wrong.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.
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