It use to be a given that a sequel would be inferior to the original movie. It was simply a way to cash in a second time on the original’s success. Then Francis Ford Coppola did The Godfather Part 2 and a few years later George Lucas released The Empire Strikes Back. Since then, sequels have at least been higher in quality and some have eclipsed the original – most recently The Dark Knight. But there is still a quiver of fear when you slip into your chair at the theater that you’ll walk out disappointed.
I’d delayed seeing Pitch Perfect 2 for that reason. The original was a surprising success that blended outrageous comedy with a classic underdog story, with top-flight a cappella music thrown in for good measure. It was worth watching the movie on demand or on DVD with the captions on just to catch all the throw-away lines that Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) whispered, such as “I ate my twin in the womb.” Not your usual movie dialogue. Finally I screwed up my courage and went to see 2, and I’m glad I did.
The movie starts three years after the original. The Barden Bellas have ruled the a cappella universe throughout that time, three-peating as national champions. Now Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), and the rest are seniors and plan to finish their college years in the same fashion. Chloe (Brittany Snow) has flunked Russian literature for three years just to stay a Bella. But then a wardrobe malfunction during a national event gets them banned from competition in the US and unable to recruit new Bellas. They find one possible way to redemption: win the World A Cappella championships.
There’s added motivation when the tour they had planned to make is given to the past World champions, Das Sound Machine, a Teutonic group fronted by blond superwoman Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorenson). In addition, Beca has scored an internship with a music producer (played by Keegan-Michael Key) that might be her ticket to becoming a producer herself. Stepping into the group is Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), the daughter of legendary Bella Catherine Junk (Katey Sagal). As a legacy, she can join despite the dean’s prohibition against recruiting. But can the Bellas find their mojo again and triumph on the world stage?
Almost all the characters from the original movie are back, including Jesse (Skylar Austin) and Benji (Ben Platt) from the Treblemakers. Bumper (Adam DeVine) has returned from his time with John Mayer and has fallen to the point of working for campus security and singing with the Tone Hangers, the quartet who’d caused the melee midway through the first movie. And of course there’s the national commentators played by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins saying the most inappropriate things with the biggest of smiles.
The movie has upped the ante on most fronts. It doesn’t have the balance for all the characters that the original did. Instead most of the focus is on Beca, Fat Amy, and Emily. It’s a wise choice that gives the movie more focus, though the others do have their moments. A new member of the Bellas, Flo (Chrissie Fit), gives a fresh infusion of outrageousness, and there’s plenty of surprises, such as an a capella group formed by members of a certain pro sports team. The featured song for the Bellas this time, “Flashlight,” was written by award-winning artists Sam Smith and Sia, among others.
It all works as well if not better than the original. Much credit must be given to Elizabeth Banks. She’s had a successful if not stellar career as an actress; her most notable role is Effie in The Hunger Games series, but in the past 15 years she’s garnered 70 movie and TV credits. She’d branched out with the first Pitch Perfect when she produced the movie as well as played her role. This time she also takes over as director and she does it with polish and panache.
If you haven’t seen the original, get on Netflix and watch it, then get out to a theater to see Pitch Perfect 2. Your funny bone will thank you.