I didn’t particularly care what Pitch Perfect 2 was actually about before seeing it, or if it was any good. All I knew is that I enjoyed the first film and — like most other fans, I imagine — wanted to continue those good vibrations. As expected, I found this sequel to be fun, goofy and an overall crowd-pleaser. When it comes to prospective initiates, though, Pitch Perfect 2 might be a tough sell.
The sequel hits many of the same beats as the first, including: the snarky back-and-forth between the best a capella podcasters out there, Gail and John (Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins); the hilarious quips from Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson); and random celebrity talent popping in to say hey. But while the formula is essentially the same this time out, the sporadic lulls and beaten-down gags tend to drown out the catchy covers.
That said, Pitch Perfect virgins don’t have to watch or know anything about the first film to get into the sequel. Here’s a crash course: It’s been three years since the Barden Bellas won their first national title. They’ve won two more since then, but thanks to a major wardrobe malfunction involving Fat Amy and the President of the United States (yes, we see Obama and Michelle for a hot second), they have been suspended from competing in domestic a capella competitions. Their only chance at redemption is winning the World A Capella Championship in Copenhagen. However, there are a few problems: their leader, Beca (Anna Kenrick), has checked out; they lost their musical mojo; their newest addition, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), is a bit too green; and a massive German group, Das Sound Machine, is standing between them and this coveted international title.
Dramatic tension doesn’t exist. We don’t necessarily care how Beca and the gang win out in the end. The movie, instead, focuses on delivering what audiences came for: Fat Amy painfully sledding down stairs; new movie quotes to replace your stale ones left over from Pitch Perfect; and puns, glorious puns. (“I’m not Copen-hating this place.”) Of course, there are also the covers. Pitch Perfect 2 is at its best when there’s singing involved. The opening sequence is one of these moments, a match-up involving Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” flag dancing, and gymnastics so impressive that Flo, the Guatemalan team member, earned her green card with those flips. (John Michael Higgins’ joke, not mine.) Between that scene, a fun Christmas match-up jingle with Snoop Dogg, and the final "Run the World"-led explosion, these were the most exciting, delightful and reinvigorating moments, which were needed with all the stagnant material dragging down the hype. If first-time director Elizabeth Banks kept only these musical moments, the film would still make sense.
Everything else could've been stronger. Much like how the Bellas train to tighten up their voices to create one cohesive and powerful sound, Pitch Perfect 2 should've done the same by cutting down the runtime. Or, at the very least, offered a different shade of humor. The first anti-feminist crack from John, the first gag about Fat Amy’s vagina (#Muffgate) as the cause of all evils, and the first joke about how Flo will probably be shipped back to Guatemala in a crate after graduation were enjoyable in the beginning of the film at the start. But these gags lost their oomph by the third iteration. By the seventh time around, I hoped the screenwriters would deliver new material that never came.
I got it. Flo is an immigrant. Every phrase out of her mouth doesn’t have to be a laugh at that expense. Cynthia (Ester Dean) is going off to get hitched, but can’t stop fondling her fellow Bellas. These jokes get beaten to death. We fell in love with these gals through their own unique struggles to find sisterhood and community, but here, their labels are their identities. It didn’t have to be this way. At the same time, though, many of these grievances can be forgiven in light of the sickening good time had by all. The characters might not stray too far from their stereotypes and the jokes might be repetitive, but you're more than likely to leave the theater downloading the soundtrack on your phone.
Directing the sequel to a beloved movie is a daunting task, but Elizabeth Banks, ultimately, understood the source material. There’s a formula to it, and as long as you accept it for what it is, then you won’t want to aca-axe this film. I just wish Pitch Perfect 2 upped the ante with bigger laughs and bigger tunes, instead of delivering a repeat performance.