In 2012, the world was treated to a rather fun little musical comedy by the name of Pitch Perfect. While it perhaps didn’t live up to it’s title, it was certainly better than it looked and brought acapella music groups back from obscurity in a big way. Now, almost three years later, the Barden Bellas with a bigger budget, some increased confidence, and a new director in the form of actress Elizabeth Banks. Normally sequels to surprise hits fall a least a little bit short, will this one have any of the same trebbles (I had to, I’m sorry).
We begin with the Bellas in a bit of a pinch, after a disastrous arial stunt by Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) leads to an embarrassing scene in front of President Obama. Disgraced and alienated from competing at the college level, the group is forced to compete in an international competition against an arrogant and almost supernaturally talented German team. Yes, it’s basically Rocky 4 if people boxed with their mouths. Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick) starts to fear what life has in store for her after her impending graduation, and the team finds itself in the form of Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who might ultimately be a little better at writing original songs than singing covers.
Pitch Perfect 2 establishes itself as a greatly amped up version of it’s predecessor from moment one. It’s humor broader, it’s musical numbers bigger, and it’s characters a little thinner. This certainly removes a little of the emotional authenticity that was there before, but fortunately Banks and company make up for it big time in the humor department. I found myself constantly laughing here, frankly way more than I expected.
A great deal of this humor comes from the new well acquainted cast. Not only are Kendrick, Wilson, and the rest of the gang infectiously charming with wonderful comedic timing, but there’s a greater sense of camaraderie and friendship this time around. Since the characters are having so much fun, we’re having fun right along with them. Sure, there is a tiny bit of conflict within the group, but the film nicely sidesteps some fairly contrived troupes by having these characters talk issues out, and work through them. These people actually seem like friends, and as such, I not only found myself caring about them, but feeling like I was a part of the group when they rib and jab at each other. The only real weakness in the group is Steinfeld’s Emily, who is a touch too bland and ‘goody-goody gee wizz’ to really make an impression, surprising considering the fire Stienfeld has brought to other roles.
With that said, Banks does ride a fine line of absurd humor that does every so often get out of hand. For every wonderfully loopy musical number or perfectly placed insult, there’s an overcooked supporting character who will often beat their one joke into the ground. This ranges from certain members of the Bellas who are just there to say weird things, to John Michael Higgins’ commentator character saying just about every sexist, racist, and otherwise blunt word he can think of. All of these characters (Higgins in particular) are hysterical in small doses, but Banks hurts them all with the old “more is more” approach, that will leave certain audience members with a bad taste in their mouth, as the mean spirited stuff does throw off some of the momentum this sweet little film has otherwise.
One thing that is amped up in wonderful fashion is the music. The numbers here are punchy, use a nice mix of different styles, and are nicely sung by all. We really get a sense of the styles of the different teams here, particularly in a wonderful riff off sequence that manages to both recapture the magic of a key sequence in the original, while adding new touches, some of which are absolutely hysterical. There’s also one or two songs here that are allowed to just get flat out Broadway level silly, which is always welcome. I won’t lie, I’ve been listening to this soundtrack since I saw the movie on Thursday, and I’ll probably pop it on a few more times in the days to come.
Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t trying to do anything groundbreaking. It’s light on plot, and is mostly concerned with being a funny summer movie, and as that, it completely succeeds. As a matter of fact, in the process of not trying to be overly complicated, it nicely avoids a couple of standard sequel traps, and in some ways is a great deal more fun to watch than the original, even if it is not necessarily a better movie. Weirdly enough, some elements of the story function as something of a swan song for these characters, and that’s a shame, because I’ll certainly miss them when they’re gone.