Back in 2012 Pitch Perfect sort of took the movie world by storm (making $113 million on a $17 million budget) with its mix of female friendship, quirky characters and, of course, wonderfully upbeat A capella singing arrangements. Now Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and the rest of the Barden Bellas are back for another go at setting the box office alight.
Following on from an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction involving Fat Amy (Wilson) at a special birthday event for the President that humiliates not only the group but the wider A Capella singing world, the Barden Bellas are suspended. However, due to a loophole they’re still allowed to perform at the world championships and so they set out to be the first American team to win the international competition, with the might of the European group Das Sound Machine standing in their way. Meanwhile, Beca (Kendrick) has to choose between her loyalty to the group and her career as she interns at a music studio.
The first movie had a sort of natural, effortless quality to it that made you feel totally at ease. It also had a real element of surprise, not just in making the singing style very cool – via a combination of great voices and clever melding of well-known songs from past and present – but because it presented a fairly traditional and somewhat generic plot and constantly threw us curve balls along the road. Even the inevitable final showdown had stuff we really didn’t expect.
It’s a shame, then, that the same can’t be said for Pitch Perfect 2. Now it still provides much of the same sort of endearing female camaraderie and level of musical craftsmanship that made the first one so fun. But that aforementioned element of surprise is sorely lacking this time around and it plays more like a game of sequel one-upmanship than it does a fully justified follow-up with anything new particularly to say or do beyond just making the musical performances bigger in scope. The choice of songs aren’t as memorable this time around either, certainly nothing to rival the use of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” or Ace of Base’s “The Sign” that made the first one so great.
From the opening number featuring an embarrassing moment – last time it was one of them being sick on stage, this time it’s a particularly mortifying wardrobe malfunction – to the categorized rif-off to the unavoidable big finale, there’s a feeling of just re-treading old ground just with a bigger budget, a sort of lackadaisical “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach that stops it from being the special sequel it could, and should, have been.
That being said, on a technical level those musical performances are very well done indeed with the all-important production design better than ever. This is not so much evident in the performances of the Bellas, who retain their charming DIY style, but rather in the introduction of the dreaded Das Sound Machine (headed by the brilliant cast Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Flura Borg), a Kraftwerk-esque European group whose polished performing style and pristine appearance becomes an amusing source of intimidation – and in Beca’s (Kendrick) case, weird sexual confusion – for our singing heroes.
Most of the core Bellas remain the same, with the exception of Aubrey (Anna Camp) who has graduated and only appears in one key segment of the film half way through and Emily Junk (True Grit Oscar-nominee Hailee Steinfeld), a college freshman who joins the group after proving her worth. It might seem like the latter has just been added purely for the sake of shaking things up a bit – and there is a bit of that going on – but they quite nicely tie her into the story because she is the daughter of a legendary Bella from decades past (played by the wonderful Katey Segal).
Much in the same way as the Despicable Me sequel did with their fan-favourite characters the Minions, this expands the role of Fat Amy by giving her a love subplot with former Bella opponent Bumper (Adam DeVine) leading to a very funny solo number which is a definite film highlight. Once again Wilson embraces the role with all she’s got and provides much of the film’s funniest moments, along with the strange low-voiced Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and the still-hilarious commentary by John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks, the latter of whom also makes her directorial debut here.
Pitch Perfect 2 can be labelled as somewhat of a disappointment, purely because it lacks the first film’s certain X factor magical quality and follows a path that’s far more predictable this time around. However, there’s still plenty to enjoy here particularly for die-hard fans of the last film who, let’s face it, are going to be making up much of the audience. The much-loved characters are back doing what they do best and the fun that the cast clearly had making it really come across on-screen. It’s a bigger, flashier film than its predecessor, that’s for sure, although it just goes to show that isn’t always the best thing.
Pitch Perfect 2 is released on May 15th.