Friday, 22 May 2015

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)



Since I’ve already given my spiel about Rebel Wilson in my review of the first film, I’m going to just cut the crap and get right to it: This is Pitch Perfect 2.

The plot: After a wardrobe malfunction at a performance for the President, Bec (Anna Kendrick), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and the rest of the Borden Bellas have been disgraced and suspended from competing in the college-level a cappella circuit. In order to regain their honour, they instead compete at the international level at the World Championships in Copenhagen against the German team Das Sound Machine, led by Pieter (Flula Borg) and Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen).

Honestly, even though the first film left me hyped for this thing, there were a number of things that were niggling at me about it. For one, while Kay Cannon returns as screenwriter, direction has been handed over to Elizabeth Banks… and her last effort as director was as part of the cinematic blackmail offense that was Movie 43, with the segment about Chloe Grace-Moretz getting her first period and all the men having no idea what to do about it. Still, 43 didn’t stop James Gunn from being awesome with Guardians Of The Galaxy, so I can let that past. Secondly, there's the first few moments of the film with Banks and John Michael Higgins as returning colour commentators Gail and John; to put it simply, John sounds like his prior misogyny has been ramped up Lou Dorchen style. However, while it does get annoying at some points, his interactions with Gail work rather well and make for a nice Dallas-Juanita dynamic. Obscure game references for the win. The third and final thing that got to me, and by far the one I was most worried about, is what has happened to the state of pop music in between films. Namely, that 2013 and 2014 have been among some of the worse years for popular music in the last few decades: Dance (A$$), Wiggle, Whistle, fucking Anaconda; it’s been a serious rough patch. Now, while this film maintains the previous installment’s knack for great song selections for the a cappella arrangements, there are a few wack songs that sneak through the cracks; I don’t care how ironically you use it over a pillow fight, Jason Derulo’s Trumpets needs to be eradicated with extreme prejudice. Or just eradicate Derulo himself; that works too.

While we’re on the subject of the soundtrack though, this is definitely good but it’s missing the punch of what came before. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they kind of screwed up with the Das Sound Machine sequences; and by that, I mean they seriously stand out leagues beyond what the Bellas pull off. It’s a weird sensation rooting for the obvious bad guys, but when that rendition of Muse’s Uprising starts up, I suddenly found myself not giving two shits about what happens to Beca and the rest of the girls. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but seriously Das Sound Machine create a very big threat for our protagonists and continue with series tradition with opponents that actually stand a chance of beating them; between that and their World Final performance, they make for tough competition. The Bellas here are no slouches though, managing to turn the meme-heavy headache of Wrecking Ball into something that’s worth listening (even if they use it for some cheap laughs at Rebel’s expense in more ways than one) as well as actually making me notice the Cups song this time around. Yeah, there was a reason I left that out of my last review: Because it wasn’t all that memorable against everything else that was shown (and sung) on screen. This time, though, they use it to decent emotional effect as a bonding song for the girls. We also get a re-hash of the riff-off here, this time accompanied by Reggie Watts and the Green Bay Packers (yeah, I don’t get it either), and they immediately get points for using the category ‘songs about butts’ and not singing Anaconda. They may lose them again by starting with Sisqo’s ode to thongs, but it’s a gesture that’s still appreciated.

So, with the music still being good, do we get the same problem with the weak writing? Well, aside from a bit too much re-hashing beyond the riff-off scene, this film manages to balance out the painfully awkward moments with really funny lines a lot better than the first one. Another one of my worries going into this is that, given how much Fat Amy walked away the break-out character, the film would focus a lot more heavily on her to everyone else’s detriment. That kind of happens, but it ultimately only results in her getting more one-liners, a lot of which are really damn good and almost feel like she’s doing some good-natured riffing on the film she’s in, an idea that actually works in her hands. On the more serious notes, this film makes a good decision and follow Step Up’s example of having each film showcase a different aspect of the art form: The first film was about bringing fresh ideas to the table, whereas this one is about bringing original ideas to the table; this is greatly helped by the choice to showcase IRL a cappella groups like Pentatonix and Penn Masala at the World Championships.

Thankfully, none of the mains are Flanderized like John Smith was and stick to their largely singular jokes: Lilly is a low-talker and hilariously creepy; Cynthia-Rose identifies as a lesbian before anything else; Stacie is highly sexualized and Beca is still a technically sound music producer. The only one who seems to have gone through any major changes is Chloe, who seems to have absorbed Aubrey’s obsession with making the group win; not quite to the same extent as her, but within that same ballpark. Among the newcomers, we get Hailee Steinfeld as Emily Junk-Hardon (and yes, it’s pronounced exactly like you think it is *sigh*) who… is good, but it would help if it didn’t sound like she was trying to do a Sia Furler impression the whole time, and no, Sia co-writing Flashlight isn’t a good enough excuse; Chrissie Fit as Flo, whose schtick is jokes about being an illegal immigrant that just stop the film dead for a few moments at a time; Borg and Sørensen as the deliciously evil antagonists, who manage to deliver some nice burns to the Bellas; Keegan-Michael Key as Beca’s boss, who makes for an intimidating boss who isn’t obnoxiously mean to everyone, save for the one hipster that works for him that is his whipping boy but that at least made for some really good lines; and Snoop Dogg as himself. And in case there’s any doubt, him singing Winter Wonderland is nothing short of amazing to watch unfold; good to see him being charming and lame again, as opposed to boring and lame like he was back in his Snoop Lion days.

All in all, this film does a minor swap with the production elements, in that the music is a bit weaker while the innards are a bit stronger. The a cappella segments are still great, and Das Sound Machine are just fantastic on stage, but a lot of me misses the awesome mash-up soundtrack and the song choices aren’t quite as good; meanwhile, the funny moments work a lot better, with Fat Amy getting most of the better one-liners, and the annoying moments are far more infrequent. At the end of the day, this may not be as good as the original overall and might be a bit samey, but this is still a pretty good film and I definitely recommend it to fans of the original… although, given how many sold-out screenings of this thing that there have been, chances are most of you already have. It’s better than Paper Planes, as this has just as much charm but can be enjoyed with far less cynicism, but I can’t help it, The SpongeBob Movie left me in a far better state of glee than this did… Actually, I’d seriously hate it if this left me in a state like I had just watched Glee; another positive!

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