Zoolander 2 (2016) – Movie Review
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: John Hamburg, Ben Stiller, Nick Stoller & Justin Theroux
Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penélope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig
Music: Theodore Shapiro
Release Date: February 12th 2016
In the career of Ben Stiller, he’s portrayed many larger-than life characters in successful comedy movies like Gaylord Focker in ‘Meet the Parents‘, Ted Stroehmann in ‘There’s Something About Mary‘, White Goodman in ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story‘ and Tugg Speedman in ‘Tropic Thunder‘, just to name a few. However, one of those characters isn’t as well known; Derek Zoolander from the 2001 comedy ‘Zoolander‘. Why didn’t this character start a successful franchise? Did audiences not understand the concept of fashion-satire? Was it at the wrong time as the movie came out shortly after the events of 9/11? I personally think the answer is a lot simpler than that;
The movie wasn’t that good.
‘Zoolander‘, while far from a bad movie and has a couple of laughs, has a scatter-shot tone, weak characters and couldn’t strike the right balance between being a satire of the fashion industry and also be a spy/mystery film. But since nostalgia is selling in Hollywood, comedians are looking for any movie to make a sequel for regardless of how much or how little fans are clamouring for it. The original movie wasn’t a box-office hit when it came out but I’m sure it had a fan-base that have been begging for 15 years for the continuation of Derek Zoolander’s story. However, after seeing it, I’m sure those people now their lives full of deep regret.
It’s 15 years after the events of ‘Zoolander‘ and a mysterious organisation is assassinating many musical celebrities. But their dying messages lead straight to former male-model Derek Zoolander (Stiller) who has been living as a recluse after the death of his wife and social services taking away his son. Derek and his friend Hansel (Wilson) are reunited and are tasked by Interpol a.k.a. the “fashion police” and agent Valentina (Cruz) to get to the bottom of these murders, while Derek and Hansel also prove that they’re still hot right now.
‘Zoolander 2‘ leaves a bad taste in your mouth within minutes of starting, especially if you’re a fan of the first movie, with a five-minute, laugh-free, exposition-dump getting audiences up to speed on what’s happened over the past 15 years. Instead of doing what a good sequel should (i.e. continuing the story, taking the established status quo from the ending of the previous film and building upon it), the 15-year montage does everything it can to negate everything that happened at the end of the first movie so ‘Zoolander 2‘ can be a lazy re-tread of the first. One of these plot-points is killing off Matilda, off-screen JUST so they can re-do the “Zoolander falling in love with someone who’s been hurt by the fashion industry” sub-plot from the first movie again.
All new additions to the franchise arrive dressed up, but have nowhere to go. Looking at the promotional material you’d think that Kristen Wiig is the new villain as fashion-designer Alexanya Atoz, but she’s essentially background decoration to Will Ferrell’s Mugatu and has zero influence on the actual story. Same goes for Hansel who is just along for the ride because…he was in the first movie and Owen Wilson needed a pay-cheque, I guess? In fact, near the end of the movie Hansel says out of nowhere that he wishes he knew who his dad was and I was sat there thinking “Wait, THAT was your arc this whole time?”. These are just two examples amongst hundreds of ‘Zoolander 2‘s unwillingness to actually attempt anything new and coast on the “success” of the past movie which wasn’t even that good 15 years ago.
One reason why the first ‘Zoolander‘ never fully came together was Derek Zoolander himself as a character; he’s just not interesting and is wholly inconsistent. When you have a character as stupid as Zoolander but with as much responsibility as him, it’s hard to find him funny or endearing. When Zoolander has to save the world, or be responsible for people’s well-being, it’s hard to find him funny when his behaviour is actively damaging. I mean, for crying out loud, the movie opens with him killing his wife! And yeah, I know that they tack on a reason at the very end for why it wasn’t his fault but it contradicts everything we’ve been told previously so even that lame attempt at redemption doesn’t work. And only Mugato in the “Zoolander-Universe” seems to be aware of Derek’s sheer stupidity, so this isn’t like ‘If Looks Could Kill‘ where the joke IS the fact that a stupid person has to save the day, because as far as the movie is concerned, Derek is the right person for the job.
Oh, there is another person who calls Derek out on his stupidity; his son, Derek Jr. But Derek Sr. rejects him initially because he’s smart and is fat. Fuck off, ‘Zoolander 2‘. And I’m not saying that because I’m offended as a smart, fan man. Everyone knows that I’m not smart.
This has always been the issue with the “Zoolander” series. It wants to be a farcical comedy while also having a serious spy narrative with real-world stakes but it just can’t find the balance and in the end neither elements wind up feeling satisfying. But at least the plot made sense in ‘Zoolander‘. In ‘Zoolander 2‘, we have plot-holes at every turn, contradictions are abound, Mugatu’s actual plan doesn’t make one iota of sense if you actually think about it and then there are twists at the end of the movie that just raise further questions. In fact, the villains have no reason to even get Zoolander and Hansel involved in the first place! They’re the only people who would try and stop their vaguely defined, contradictory plan so why even get them involved? And what was Billy Zane’s role in all of this!?
Speaking of Billy Zane, god the cameos in this movie are obnoxious as hell. ‘Zoolander 2‘ feels like an excuse for Ben Stiller to show off how many friends he has, as opposed to actually contributing towards the laughs. Sometimes the celebrity showing up IS the joke. Katy Perry randomly showing up on a rooftop…THAT’S the whole joke, Christina Hendricks randomly showing up next to Hansel…THAT’S the joke. Susan Boyle exists. THAT’S the joke. And the movie has cameos back to back. It’s an continuous stream of ego-stroking seemingly without end and what’s strange is that Ben Stiller movies have done cameos really well in the past. Tobey Maquire in ‘Tropic Thunder‘ is a worthwhile cameo. Heck, even the first ‘Zoolander‘s David Bowie cameo trumps every single celebrity combined in ‘Zoolander 2‘. It comes across so desperate and actually makes you feel sorry for everyone involved.
One cameo has Fred Armisen’s head poorly CGI’d onto the head of a 10 year-old. What the fuck is the joke!? And couldn’t you at least have applied competent CGI to the effect?
Are there laughs to be had in ‘Zoolander 2‘? Yes, there are a couple like Benedict Cumberbatch as an agender model (though if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen all of his gags) but there aren’t nearly enough to justify a ticket purchase. In fact, there was a 60 minute time-span during my viewing of ‘Zoolander 2‘ where I didn’t even crack a smile. Even ‘Zoolander‘ managed to pass the “six laugh test“. ‘Zoolander 2‘ failed in spectacular fashion. The biggest issue is that ‘Zoolander 2‘ feels like a comedy that could be relevant. The “selfie-generation”, social media and the objectively terrible fashion industry is ripe for exploiting for the sake of laughs and satire but ‘Zoolander 2‘ has absolutely nothing to say about it. You’d think that a movie with four screenwriters (FOUR!?) would be able to find something relevant to poke fun at, but instead they’d rather repeat a formula that didn’t particularly grab audiences 15 years ago.
Performance-wise, Ben Stiller has one expression throughout the film; curious/confused. Derek Zoolander is a character with phenomenally low range and Stiller’s performance plays to that. Owen Wilson whispers his way through the film as everyone else wonders what on earth he’s even doing here, Penélope Cruz is a one-note, disinterested love interest, Kristen Wiig shows up game for absolutely anything and unrecognisable but the movie gives her nothing to do, Will Ferrell is funny but feels like he’s only here so the screenwriters didn’t have to write a new villain and most of the celebrities look embarrassed to be here.
Ben Stiller isn’t a bad director, but ‘Zoolander 2‘ is a visually flat movie. Even though it tries to cross genres by being a comedy, an action movie, an espionage movie etc. Stiller doesn’t feel up to the task at embracing the stylistic choices that come with those genres. The movie has one tone all the way through and that’s one of the reasons its 102 minute run-time feels like an eternity. Also, here’s a drinking game for you; take a drink every time the camera does a dramatic zoom on a single actor. My god, it’s used so much in this movie that it fails to have meaning in-context.
Clearly a lot of work has gone into the production design with elaborate costumes, big, colourful sets, lots of stunts and locales and I do applaud the production team for their efforts it’s just too bad that it’s all in aid of a movie with no structure or actual ambition. I just look at the intricate sets found inside Mogatu’s headquarters and I just wonder how many children could be taught to read good and do other stuff good with that money if it didn’t go towards ‘Zoolander 2‘. The music is generic, but gets the job done and unlike Stiller’s directing style does manage to change genres appropriately.
I’ll admit that while I wasn’t a fan of ‘Zoolander‘ I at least saw its appeal and got some big laughs out of it. But with ‘Zoolander 2‘ I can’t imagine fans having a fun time with this lazy, uninspired re-hash. ‘Zoolander 2‘ doesn’t work on any level; it doesn’t build upon the ending of the first movie, most of its characters are dressed up but have nowhere to go, its plot is phenomenally convoluted and doesn’t make sense, there are only about 2 or 3 jokes in the 102 minute film and the torrent of unwarranted cameos just can’t help but grind down your spirit. Over the past few months I’ve been having a slight crisis of conscious as a critic because I’ve not been giving out many negative reviews. “Have I grown too soft?”, “Have I forgotten what a bad movie looks like?” I’d ask myself. In that way, I’m grateful to ‘Zoolander 2‘ for showing me full well what a bad movie looks like.
Thank you Derek Zoolander. Thank you for teaching me to hate again.
I give ‘Zoolander 2‘ half a star out of 5.
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Posted: 17th Feb 16