Saturday, 13 February 2016

Movie Review: Zoolander 2 (2016)



Viking horns that make Loki look subtle, the final answer to “Was it really Adam and Steve?”, Tyson somehow outdoing his feud with B.o.B in terms of meme-worthiness and a climax so ridiculous that not even the film is sure whether to follow through with it or not… yeah, this is a strange sit, one that kind of defies my usual attempts as pseudo-profundity. This is Zoolander 2.

The plot: 15 years after successfully foiling the plans of fashion icon Mugatu (Will Ferrell), Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) have both left the world of modelling behind them. However, when pop stars start turning up dead and sporting Zoolander’s signature look Blue Steel, Interpol Fashion Division agent Melanie (Penélope Cruz) recruits him and Hansel to help her track down the killer responsible. All signs lead to a plot by current biggest name in fashion Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig), and it seems that Mugatu may not be locked in as tightly as once thought.

Probably the biggest fear that can come out of seeing older characters on the big screen after so much time is that they will fail to recapture the energy of their past. Thankfully, at least for our returning cast, that is so not the case. Stiller is fantastic in the title role, playing dumb while never devolving into straight caricature, and while Wilson seems a little rusty, his chemistry with Stiller is still top-notch. Ferrell gets to have a lot of fun playing the psycho, and yet easily the most intelligent person in the entire film, and it is definitely great seeing him in a role that fits him. It helps to scrub last year’s migraine from my slate. Beyond that, we have Cruz as an okay female lead, nothing too spectacular, Wiig is… I don’t even know what, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s funny. Thankfully, despite what the marketing may imply, Mugatu is still the big bad to be dealt with here. Kyle Mooney as the uber-hipster fashion guru Don Atari just barely skates on the edge of annoying but still funny, allowing the obvious hipster bashing to still ring through. Beyond that, much like the first film, we have quite a few celebrity cameos. Now, given my statements when discussing the Entourage movie, I should probably be irritated by just how many of them there are here. Well, given how not only are these cameos varied beyond just “hey, it’s that one guy just standing there in the scene” and… actually, I’m not going to even hint at the context for these ones because it is truly bizarre where and why they pop up.

For those of my readers who don’t follow The Tonight Show With Stephen Colbert, I’m just going to leave this link here because, quite frankly, it should explain the director’s mindset far better than I ever could. [X number of minutes later] Okay, tl;dw, Stiller originally intended to have Laura Bush, former First Lady herself, in this film as part of this weird running gag of an orgy group that Hansel is with. One of the two large orgy groups in the film. That alone should prepare you for what is contained within this film, but just in case it hasn’t sunk in, allow me to make it clear: This film is absolutely insane. I can’t even begin to articulate how batshit this film gets, and yet I’m not even sure if I want to. Here’s the thing: Quite a few reasonably funny gags are ruined by the trailer, like the Justin Bieber reveal and Mugatu disrobing. Honestly, one of the biggest draws with this film is going in as blind as possible because that sudden shock of realizing “Wow, this is actually happening” helps with a lot of the film’s comedy. All of a sudden, the distressing low critical approval rating makes sense: This is the kind of film that requires a certain appreciation for sheer nonsense to enjoy, kind of like Machete Kills from back in 2013. Then again, the original Zoolander didn’t go over so well with critics at the time either, so this isn’t exactly a surprise.

This is the second year in a row where one of the fairly newer releases of the year has been a revival of an older cult comedy film. Luckily, Stiller had the right approach when it comes to bringing back probably his best remembered film and role: Where does this character, and the Zoolander universe as a whole, fit into today’s world? As we get a catch-up on what happened to Zoolander, Hansel and Mugatu in the 15 year interim, we also get a decent helping of what brand of satire we’re going to get here. Much like Stiller in While We’re Young, this has a deep-seated issue with the current hipster epidemic. Unlike Stiller in While We’re Young, there’s no holding back or even the slightest hint of  \personal culpability to be found here: He wants to torch these irony-abusing, history-distorting, insta-memeing rodents for all their worth. The satire gets very on the nose, like with the main fashion guru being called Don Atari, no doubt a word the character knows is old but doesn’t realize the significance of, and Cumberbatch as the ambiguous All that, if I’m being honest, is probably the tamest of the celebrity appearances in this film. However, that’s the world of Zoolander: It’s a dumb world where fashion has an entire mythology built around it, something only barely hinted at with the reveal of Magnum in the original.

It seems like Stiller had a little too much fun making Walter Mitty, as this film goes even further into the stylized realm that that film occupied. Not only has Stiller gotten a real taste for action scenes, as can be seen with the Bieber sequence in the trailer, he has also developed a real sense of world-building when it comes to this patently absurd creation of his. From the bizarrely scenic shots of ‘Miami’ and ‘New Jersey’ to the dark and moody interiors like the jail where Mugatu is kept, the visuals somehow manage to keep up with the manic energy of the story and its characters. This is probably helped by having DOP Daniel Mindel on hand, whose work I know most of the world has seen considering this guy works very closely with J.J. Abrams, including on The Force Awakens. Really, I think that’s what makes this film work out in the end: The fact that it takes place in a world that feels fully consistent with itself. I mean, even with how madcap things get, this still doesn’t feel too dissimilar from the first film’s planning to assassinate a world leader through brainwashed model. Hell, even when Mugatu once again tries to break down the walls of the film’s reality and say that, you know, everything that is going on is more than a little ridiculous, it doesn’t take for very long.

All in all… I got nothing. Seriously, this is one of those films that you have to see to believe because the heights of nonsensically astounding this reaches is staggering. I mean, the acting is still good, the jokes are (mostly) well delivered and the overall story, while somehow outdoing Godlike Productions in its lunacy, manages to keep a weird form of internal continuity with not only itself but also the original film. I can safely say that this most certainly wasn’t the film I expected, but it is most certainly a film that I wanted; I just didn’t realize it until it was before me. Please, ignore the appallingly low ratings it’s been given; if you liked Zoolander, definitely check this one out. This ranks higher than Goosebumps because, on sheer joy, this film somehow managed to do even better. However, since this film’s success is based on how pants-on-head it ultimately is, it doesn’t hold up next to the genuine heart-squeezing of Room.

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