Directed by Elizabeth Banks
Starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Hailee Steinfeld, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Adam DeVine, Anna Camp, Hana Mae Lee, Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean, Katey Sagal, Chrissie Fit, Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Flula Borg, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks
Three-times national collegiate acapella champions the Barden Bellas are disgraced after a wardrobe malfunction in front of Barack Obama’s archive footage, and subsequently replaced on their victory tour by German champions Das Sound Machine. Banned from entering competitions or auditioning new members, the Bellas only shot at redemption is the world acapella championships, to which they are automatically entered as national champions.
Joined by legacy Emily Junk (Steinfeld), but with tension rising between veterans Beca (Kendrick), Chloe (Snow) and Fat Amy (Wilson) over the relevance of the Bellas to their post-university lives, the Bellas pull out all the stops to defeat Das Sound Machine in the world championships. After their attempt to match the flashy, precision showmanship of DSM results in disaster, the group attend a retreat managed by ex-Bella Audrey (Camp) to try to rediscover their sound before hitting the contest in Copenhagen.
What’s wrong with it?
The film deliberately hits the same beats as the original Pitch Perfect, but there’s something about the raised stakes that makes it much harder to embrace the conceit that acapella is all that. It gets weirdest in the riff off, which here is a ludicrously enigmatic event, run by a wealthy oddball, and featuring the Bellas, campus rivals the Treblemakers, a team put together by the first movie’s quasi-antagonist Bumper (DeVine), DSM, and the Green Bay Packers. I’m actually not entirely sure I didn’t dream the whole thing.
As you can see above, the cast is huge, with the bulk of the original film’s Bellas reappearing – minus Audrey, until the scenes at the retreat – plus Guatemalan refugee Flo (Fit) and Emily. The film hangs a shade on the issue of the group’s side when even minor Bellas Jessica and Ashley appear not to be able to tell which of them is which, but self-awareness doesn’t magically remove the issue.
Das Sound Machine’s black pleather and precision drills play to some pretty unflattering stereotypes, which wouldn’t be so bad if their leaders, Komissar (Sørensen) and Kramer (Borg) weren’t such unmitigated, arrogant asses.
Rebel Wilson’s schtick is a little overused. She’s actually a good actress, but the humour of watching her fall over palls quickly, it turns out.
Since the competition in this film is provided by DSM, returning Treblemakers Jessie (Astin), Benji (Platt) and Bumper have very little to do other than be there and to be the love interest for Beca, Emily and Fat Amy. Men who think that women already have plenty of roles in movies should take note, because essentially this is what most of those roles look like.
What’s right with it?
The cast are the same quirky, likeable, troubled bunch from Pitch Perfect, and as detached from reality as their world of high-profile world acapella championships is, it’s fun to be back.
There are some amazing acapella performances in the movie.
I’m so over the slapstick, but the verbal back and forth remains strong.
How bad is it really?
Pitch Perfect 2 does what so many of its kind do, and that is to come out of a sleeper hit, aiming to be bigger, flashier and louder, when not being big, flashy and loud was the whole appeal of original. I think it also should have stuck to its guns more. If you’re making a movie about undergraduate acapella groups, you can make jokes about how silly it all is, but when you scale up to a world championship, you kind of need to double down and pretend that the entire world cares.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Once again, the highlight of the film is the deliriously inappropriate commentary team, especially whenever Gail Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberger (Banks) is faced with another of John Smith’s (Higgins) ludicrously offensive and ill-informed comments.
“This could be the most significant conflict between America and Germany in history!”
“Crack a book, John.”
What’s up with…?
- The victory tour? Do national collegiate acapella champions – technically international, since the ICCA is open to teams from anywhere in the world, much like the World Series – really get victory tours and Presidential performances?
- Why does the disbarring of the Bellas hand the tour to the German champions, instead of say the runners up? Are there rules in place to ensure maximum drama in such situations?
- The riff-off? The whole bit where the Bellas are invited to a mystery contest, where they riff for a $42,000 gift card against the Green Bay Packers was real, right?
Production values – Perhaps the greatest accolade I can offer for this film in the technical stakes is that it is a cinematic musical in which the singing and dialogue both come out at a good volume on TV. That’s a long way from nothing. 5
Dialogue and performances – The strength of the film is in its performances, in the musical numbers as much as in the witty dialogue. 5
Plot and execution – As fun as the story is, it never quite overcomes the gravity of its own ridiculousness, and the occasional lampshade just brought it home that it’s making a mountain out of a molehill. 10
Randomness – Once you get past that slightly wild premise, the film still throws a few sharp lefts, such as the corporate retreat with its net-traps, and Fat Amy’s sudden ability to project across half a lake and a road while summoning a diegetic accompaniment. 10
Waste of potential – The increased stakes detract from rather than enhancing this sequel, but it still provides solid entertainment. 7