WRITTEN REVIEW – Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Pitch Perfect 2
Directed by: Elizabeth Banks
Written by: Kay Cannon
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Hailee Steinfeld & Skylar Astin
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh & The Underdogs
Certificate: 12A
Release Date: May 15th 2015

When you think of movies in 2012, what do you think of? Do you think of critically acclaimed comic book films such as ‘Marvel Avengers: Assemble‘, ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘ or ‘Dredd‘? James Bond’s 50th anniversary with ‘Skyfall‘?  The beginning of ‘The Hunger Games‘? Or pants horror films like ‘Paranormal Activity 4‘ and ‘The Lorax‘? Personally, I think of the sleeper hits. Films that no one thought would be any good and actually wound up becoming classics in their own right. Films like ‘Chronicle‘, ‘The Grey‘, ‘21 Jump Street‘ and, the most unexpected of all, ‘Pitch Perfect‘.

A female-centric comedy focused on a cappella music? Seriously? Well, the movie was actually pretty darn awesome, made a splash at the box-office and has a dedicated fan following who have been eagerly anticipating this sequel. While most of the cast from the first movie have returned, the director is AWOL with Jason Moore working on his upcoming film ‘Sisters‘ (as well as being on Marvel’s Shortlist for the next Spider-Man movie) and not returning. Instead, Elizabeth Banks, a producer on the first movie, is making her directorial debut with ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘. Can this musical comedy sequel hit the same high notes with a brand new conductor?
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Taking place a couple of years after the first movie, the Barden Bellas have continued to excel in regional championships under the leadership of Beca (Kendrick), to the point where they have been invited to perform a set in front of President Obama for his birthday. However, a wardrobe malfunction incident involving Fat Amy (Wilson) causes the Bellas to become a laughing stock and their University severs all ties with them. In order to stay as a group, the Bellas make a deal that if they can be the first American team to win the upcoming world championships then they’ll be reinstated, which would involve them having to defeat the dominating German team, “Das Sound Machine”.

While the above synopsis is the main thrust of the narrative for the Bellas as a group, there are quite a lot of sub-plots going on for separate characters, which is all as well because when you get right down to the nuts and bolts, ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ is the same movie as the first one. If you chart out the plot trajectory, the pacing and the twists and turns, the movie is mechanically the same. It starts with an embarrassing incident which puts the Bellas at rock bottom, they have to confront the opposing team of a-holes, there’s a riff-off, the team get into a physical fight, have a low-key sing session to find their voice and then the finals.
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Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising the movie. But when watching it, it’s hard to ignore the fact that it sticks to the conventions of the first one a bit too much. That means fans of the first film might find the 115 run-time a little bit excessive because this is familiar terrority. However, ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ is able to overcome this issue because while it’s using more or less the exact same pieces and components, it’s a different puzzle.

Pitch Perfect 2‘ is a brilliant sequel to ‘Pitch Perfect‘ in a thematic sense because it evolves the themes and concepts of the first film. Control-freak Aubrey (Anna Camp, whose character has graduated and no longer with the Bellas in this sequel) was determined to stick with the old-ways and with tradition in the first movie. But with Beca’s help, they were able to stand out and use re-mixes to accentuate the strengths of their diverse group of singers and turn them into a winning team. However, this sequel is a lot smarter than relying on its old tropes and mixes things up in a more mature way which makes this film a great double feature to the first.
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You see, after spending a few years on the top, relying on remixes and their talent to win tournaments, the Bellas have become complacent and have lost their spark. As bad as their humiliating wardrobe malfunction is at the beginning of the movie (dubbed #MuffGate by the media), maybe it’s the shot in the arm that they needed  in order to realise that they need to find their voice again if they’re going to earn their place at the top. But with many of the Bella members about to graduate and leave University to go into the real world they’ll need to blaze their own trail and this is what ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ is all about – personified by the new member of the team, Emily Junk (Steinfeld).

Emily Junk is a “legacy” student, as her mother was once a Bella, and her dream is to sing her own original music and incorporate it into the Bella’s performances. On the flipside, Beca, who finds herself becoming distant from the Bellas as she is working as an intern at a record label, is trying to impress her boss with her remixes. But as good as her remixes are, her reliance on other people’s work means that she’s not expressing what SHE has to say as an artist. And that sums up the arc of the Bella’s in ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ very nicely.
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But, of course, with this movie being a comedy, it helps that there are a helluva lot of laughs to be had. One of the appeals of this franchise is that none of the main characters are right in the head. Even the “straight-woman” in the cast, Beca, is a compulsive hipster, which is why accusations of racism against the film (in that there isn’t single coloured woman who is well adjusted in the movie) are pretty dumb in context, because NONE of the characters in this film are well adjusted. But these are still incredibly entertaining characters with great, quotable banter with each other as well as genuine chemistry. It really feels like these people are friends and the comradery shines through.

It’s a very unique and diverse cast of females, and in order to compete on the world stage (a.k.a. adulthood) they need to forge their own path – this is demonstrated when they catch a glimpse of what Das Sound Machine have in store for the competition and try to copy that approach with a giant stage-production replete with props and pyrotechnics, before discovering that it’s not compatible with them as a group. ‘Pitch Perfect‘ and ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ are great mainstream examples of story-telling through metaphor and it’s this type of approach that has caused this franchise to resonate with fans despite its unorthodox premise.
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Pitch Perfect 2‘ is more of an ensemble film that the first, as Beca and her boyfriend Jesse are more in the background allowing supporting characters like Chloe, Fat Amy, Benji (the close-up magician, played by Ben Platt) and also Bumper to come more to the foreground. With new additions like Emily, new team-member Flo as well as Das Sound Machine, it means that other Bella team members get pushed into the background, most noticeably Stacie and Lilly. But to be fair, Stacie’s schtick as a nymphomaniac and Lilly’s quiet, morbid outbursts are starting to show their age so it might be for the best.

Also, the aforementioned Flo is a strange new addition as she doesn’t contribute much to the team dynamic, which isn’t that much of a problem because the cast is so big anyway. But her only joke is that she’s an immigrant who might be deported. It’s a one-note joke, it’s not particularly funny and it feels very played-out by the halfway point. It’s one of the few attempts at humour in ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ that falls flat on its face. Also, while Bumper’s love-story with Fat Amy is incredibly funny, it’s kinda strange considering his departure from the last movie that he’s back in the franchise without a single explanation and no one bringing up the fact that he ditched the Treble Makers group.
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Whether it’s a cameo from Snoop Dogg, the genuinely funny chemistry that the a cappella commentators have played by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins, the musical montages and the outrageous characters, ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ stands as one of the most memorable movies of 2015 (so far) in terms of set-piece moments. The franchise’s hyper-reality approach allows it to push the boat out for extended, outlandish slapstick sequences that had my screening roaring with laughter. But the movie never forgets to make us care about this group of misfit women and it’s this grounded attitude that allows ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ to become just as good as the first movie.

It’s hard to tell if Elizabeth Banks has done a better directing job than Jason Moore from the first film as this sequel is an expanded instalment with a bigger budget as opposed to creating something new from scratch. But she clearly knows this franchise well and acquits herself to this very unique franchise and she does a great job highlighting the big stage productions that take place in the film which are also very well edited (both visually and audibly). With the bigger toybox to play in and the expanded cast and larger scope it feels like a justified sequel and I’ll be interested in knowing where they go next with this franchise.
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As for the song sequences, while the final performance doesn’t quite top the finale of ‘Pitch Perfect‘, it stands out on an emotional and character level which nicely sums up this sequel. Though, just like the last movie, the riff-off sequence is an awesome and inventive highlight and I wish these films did more with that concept and incorporated a couple more of them as opposed to just the once in the 2nd act.

But, regardless, ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ is a worthy sequel which builds on the foundation of the original. It’s a confident movie with the talent to put its money where its mouth is to create something that’s just as good as the first, even if mechanically it’s basically the same film. But the new additions such as Elizabeth Banks and Hailee Steinfeld fit this franchise like a glove and the ending creates an interesting foundation for another sequel should Universal Pictures want to do another. But, in conclusion, ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ is a strong, hilarious sequel but it’ll only appeal to those who are already on board with the franchise and understand the meaning of “aca-scuse me?”.

I give ‘Pitch Perfect 2‘ 4 stars out of 5.

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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 24th May 15