Hammering Out... is a series of movie reviews featuring a lively he said/she said discussion between John and Julie. Next up: PITCH PERFECT 2.
JOHN: I love the first Pitch Perfect. It came out in 2012 and if I recall correctly, I named it my third favorite movie of the year, after Skyfall and The Avengers. It kind of caught me by surprise, but it's held up on subsequent viewings. I just re-watched it again for maybe the 6th time this week in preparation for seeing the sequel, and, again, I was struck by how consistently funny, smart, and well-paced it is. I give a lot of credit to Kay Cannon, the screenwriter, the music, and the cast. Anna Kendrick's Beca and Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy were the standouts, sure, and the movie boosted those actresses' star power the most, but the whole cast was stellar. Every major character gets a chance to shine, from the girls (Anna Camp, Brittany Snow) to the guys (Skylar Astin, Adam Devine, Ben Platt) to the announcers (Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins). I like all of those actors and their characters, and I'm invested in their story. Cut to three years later. All the actors are back. Cannon is scripting again. The first film's success means easier access to music licenses. And, Banks is stepping into the director's chair. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. This sequel sounds like a can't-lose proposition. So, why does Pitch Perfect 2 fall so flat?
JULIE: Ugh. This movie was so disappointing. I guess I shouldn't be surprised; it's a sequel. That said, all I kept thinking about during the movie was how I would've made a completely different one.
The movie decides to do the very sequel-y thing and strip the Barden Bellas of their charter. Fat Amy embarrasses herself in front of President Obama and the girls can no longer be an a cappella group. None of this is really all that dire though since A) they're all graduating, so who cares and B) they're given a chance right away to compete at the world a cappella championship and are given the opportunity to earn back their right to exist.
(Hey, maybe this would've been a better movie if the Bellas had to sneak their way into Worlds, if they were kicked out of their campus house, if they had to find different things to do with their lives in the interim -- a la Ghostbusters 2.)
This movie feels very low-stakes. The pacing is horrible. One thing you pointed out yesterday that I found kind of funny was that the guys are all marginalized here. Jesse is barely in the film and both Bumper and Benji are reduced to girl-crazy saps. You said something like maybe this is how girls feel while watching every movie ever.
What say you?
JOHN: First, let me correct you and say that no sequel should ever aspire to the level of a Ghostbusters 2. But, I'd also argue that's an apt comparison in terms of drop-off in quality from the first film. Other similarly sub-par sequels on Pitch Perfect 2's level: The Hangover Part II and American Pie 2. The comparative sequel that I'd really like to talk about though is Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The first Austin Powers was a sleeper hit, but nothing spectacular, in terms of box office. Then it hit home video, and everyone caught on and went gaga for it. Pitch Perfect is the same deal - not a huge hit in theaters, and now the sequel just made more money in its first three days than the original did in its entire run. But, while Austin Powers 2 also was not as good as the first, at least it delivered some value-added elements that are integral to the franchise, such as Mini-Me. That's a stroke of brilliance! Pitch Perfect 2 has none of that. The only value-added element is Haylee Steinfeld as a freshman, "legacy" Bella, and she's terrible. I mean, okay, she's a good enough actress, but she is not a comedic actress, and she flails in scenes that are otherwise supposed to be funny.
And, yes - I think I'm starting to understand what girls go through when watching a lot of guy-centric films, where the ladies are just the supportive spouse relegated to the sidelines. As a big fan of both Jesse and Bumper, I was really disappointed with their treatment in this film. They had nothing to do! Pitch Perfect 2 ruins those characters. Not only that, but they ruin the female ones too. Beca was so likeable in the first movie, and here, she's just kind of given the same arc and she has no real function in the movie. She's not really a leader, and she's no longer the cool rebel, so what is she? Other characters ruined? Higgins and Banks' announcers. You have to walk a fine line with them because they say so many outrageous things, but they cross the line here and err on the side of boorish, mean-spirited offensiveness. Brittany Snow's Chloe gets no good scenes. The only character who stays somewhat consistent with the first film is Fat Amy. Wilson delivers a couple of clever throw-away lines that register as funny, but that's about it.
The music sequences are fine, but perfunctory. The pacing is dreadful. The movie feels 3 hours long, and it meanders. There's an extended sequence in the second half set at a training camp where the girls have to bond amid various "Wipeout" style obstacles. It looks like a fun place to film and I'm sure the actors had a blast, but it's just a montage with almost no jokes. I'm being really harsh on this movie, and I suppose if I saw this one first, I wouldn't be as mad. But, then again, it would be instantly forgotten amid the deluge of other teen flicks and we probably never would have gotten a sequel.
Are we being too harsh? I suppose it delivers what most people want: singing, mash-ups, riff-offs, one-liners, girl power. It does most of what the first film did, it just does it worse. Is that so bad?
JULIE: It is bad. It's really bad. It's so bad, it makes Ghostbusters 2 look good. I don't have much to add to what you've said, other than the movie does add Kegan Michael Key, who's his regular awesome self here, as Beca's music producer boss. He and his nephew/employee, Dax, (oh and the German a cappella team) are the only good things about this movie. Can we just talk about Mad Max again instead?
I'll stick with my Sunday TV ratings here and say that on a scale of current Game of Thrones characters from Gilly to Jon Snow, I give this one a Daario, minus his ass.
JOHN: I'm glad you pointed out the presence of Key in this movie. He's great, and the 3-4 times I laughed were during all of his scenes. Okay, so maybe there is a value-added element, after all. Also, DSM (the German team) totally won the World competition at the end. The Bellas weren't even close. Just sayin'. I'm going to give this one a very disappointing 2.5 stars out of 5. I think many people will leave satisfied. I'm just not one of them. And, if we're supposed to get excited about the franchise continuing on with Hailee Steinfeld at the center? No way. If that's the case, I'm jumping off the Pitch train right now.
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