Most sequels actively seek the safest path, regurgitating what worked for their money-making predecessors to offer audiences more of the same because they are deathly afraid of rocking the boat. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues lacks that fear. Throwing caution to the wind, it makes room for a Minotaur, a steamy interracial romance, and the ghost of Civil War stalwart Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. Director Adam McKay and his astute leading man Will Ferrell don’t obliterate the blueprint that helped make Anchorman a cult sensation. But they aren’t beholden to it, either. If they reach into their comedic bag and pull out something they deem funny, it goes into The Legend Continues… and the sequel’s that much better because of its delicately-balanced unpredictability.
How random is this Anchorman sequel? The Ron Burgundy reunion basically begins with our hero (Ferrell) at rock bottom, emceeing dolphin shows at San Diego’s Sea World while drunk on Scotch, his beverage of choice. It concludes with Burgundy swimming out to sea to embrace Doby, the great white shark he rescued and raised (bottle-fed, mind you) during a difficult emotional time. In between these aquatic milestones, Anchorman fans are treated to a parade of scatterbrained yet hysterical punchlines inspired by the exaggerated myth of Ron Burgundy and his legendary news team.
The men of Anchorman face a new challenge in McKay’s sequel, which finally reaches theaters nearly a decade after the first comedy locked audiences in its glass case of emotion. Ron, in particular, is in a tough spot. His wife and fellow anchor, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), receives a promotion to a nightly news desk. The gig threatens their marriage, until Ron’s offered his own opportunity at GNN, a pioneering channel that’s attempting to become America’s first 24-hour news network.
With New York City in his sights, Burgundy reunites the news team: closeted-gay sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner); conceited on-air reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd); and imbecilic weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) – the only member of the crew to receive a side plot, this one involving a kooky love interest played winningly by Kristen Wiig. Once established in Manhattan, Burgundy locks horns with a gorgeous rival anchor (James Marsden), struggles to connect with his headstrong female boss (Meagan Good), and occasionally interacts with Walter Burgundy (Judah Nelson), the son he barely knows.
Ferrell traditionally does not do sequels. Anchorman 2 illustrates why he should. Familiarity with and affection for Burgundy’s inflated ego allows McKay to hit the ground running with The Legend Continues. The absence of that usual 20-minute learning curve for an original Ferrell character means laughs connect immediately. Of course Brick would stage his own funeral, and Champ would risk his reputation selling… well, something that isn’t chicken from his signature fried chicken restaurants. These jokes hit their marks because we understand the absurd universe McKay and Ferrell created. Legend gives them more room in which to play.
Having lived in these cartoonish creations for the duration of one movie also means that virtually everyone involved comprehends how long they can stay inside a joke, and when it’s time to cut and run. Newcomers integrate themselves seamlessly, mainly because they have been hired to bring specific qualities to the table. Marsden is an incredibly handsome and charismatic foil who instinctively makes other men in the same room jealous and defensive. Harrison Ford exudes his gruff, annoyed demeanor to play veteran newscaster Mack Harken. And who else would you cast besides Greg Kinnear to play a smarmy, ponytail-sporting cheeseball, muscling in on Burgundy’s woman?
The workhorse, though, is Ferrell, who relishes the opportunity to slip back into Burgundy’s period duds so that he might test normally complicated waters for comedy, sampling sexist and racist jokes that get a pass because of the character’s perceived ignorance. It helps that Anchorman 2 doesn’t have a mean bone in its body, exploiting stereotypes and lambasting the state of modern journalism by jabbing its finger into hard truths. The anything-goes attitude employed by McKay does lose steam over the film’s 119-minute run time, particularly when – against all predictions -- Anchorman 2 tries on the format of a medical-ailment soap-opera weeper. But the sequel’s batting average is ridiculously solid, staying consistently funny from start to finish.
Should the legend continue beyond The Legend Continues? That’s hard to say. The Anchorman sequel delivers more than enough laughs to justify its existence. Waiting until they actually had something to say with this character was the wisest decision McKay and Ferrell could have made. More Anchorman sequels could be funny. At the same time, it’s very easy to see how rapidly the joke could age, much like yesterday’s news cycle. For now, the headlines should trumpet the triumphant return of Ron Burgundy, because Anchorman 2 is reason to celebrate.