Depending on the genre, it’s easy to make a sequel from a successful first entry. All you have to do for an action movie, for example, is do exactly what made the first one so fun and make the action bigger, louder and more explosive. It’s a formula that has worked hundreds of times for action movies, from “Rambo” to “The Avengers,” but it hasn’t always translated well to other genres.
While “Pitch Perfect” was indeed a surprisingly fun, funny, toe tapping good time, how do you take a cappella to the next level? The answer is that you can’t, at least you can’t as evidenced by “Pitch Perfect 2.” It’s still entertaining and worth seeing, but the magic captured in the first film is mostly gone this time, as the musical numbers have to do all the heavy lifting while the story around them stumbles along.
We meet the girls back at Barden University a few years after the events of the first film. Barden Bella members have come and gone, but the core group remains the same, including Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and Chloe (Brittany Snow). Also joining the group as a “legacy” member, thanks to her mom who used to be a Barden Bella herself, is newcomer Emily (Hailee Steinfeld).
After an embarrassing performance in front of the President that had Fat Amy exposing herself, the Bellas are suspended from performing in the American a cappella circuit. This, naturally, doesn’t include the upcoming World A Cappella Championship in Copenhagen, which they decide to take part in. However, an American team has never won it, so it is agreed upon that if they can pull off the seemingly impossible task, their suspension will be lifted.
It’s a contrived set-up, one that even the most passive viewers will realize makes no sense. An embarrassing mistake during a performance, even one as surprising as the one that happened to the Bellas, would never result in such a harsh punishment, but it’s indicative of the narrative as a whole. None of the plot turns do much to elicit responses, as they feel like they’re merely going through the motions instead of crafting something viewers can latch onto. Even its narrative conflict, the backbone of any story as anyone who has taken storytelling 101 will tell you, accomplishes nothing, as it’s barely brought up and resolved before any actual conflict happens.
This is something the first film didn’t suffer from, primarily because it had room to work with its characters. Beca was a loner in the original, someone who was perpetually unhappy and didn’t even really know why. It took a ragtag a cappella group to show her that and, as the film went on, she had emotional breakthroughs that brought her arc around to a satisfying conclusion. The closest “Pitch Perfect 2” comes to that is in the budding romance between Fat Amy and Bumper (Adam DeVine), but it’s somewhat amusing at best and completely unnecessary at worst. To put it simply, from a character or narrative viewpoint, there’s nothing truly at stake.
It has other problems, like shameful product placement for things like Volkswagen and Pantene Pro-V, but luckily, “Pitch Perfect 2” retains the musical verve that made the first film so great. Like its predecessor, it cleverly mashes up old and new tunes into something that sounds fresh, that gives certain songs most haven’t heard in many years new life. To top it off, the film introduces a completely original song, deviating from the very nature of a cappella, and it’s arguably the best song in the whole thing. If you’re on the fence leading up to the conclusion of the film, the song that caps it off will sway you to recommendation.
It did for me, at least. It’s a good thing too, because nearly every other facet of the film pales in comparison to the original. It’s more mildly humorous than flat out funny and it lacks the style and intelligence that made its predecessor so special. It’s worth seeing, but in its attempt to emulate those things, “Pitch Perfect 2” shows its weakness.