It’s hard to trap lightning in a bottle twice, but Hollywood tries to do it all the time. If a movie that isn’t expected to do very well, or maybe doesn’t have a whole lot of juice behind it, and it ends up doing gangbusters, that there is called a “Holy Crap, Money!” situation. This is sort of what happened with 2012’s Pitch Perfect, which was made on a budget of only $17 million and went on to gross over $114 million worldwide. People loved that movie’s weirdness, the characters’ sense of togetherness and friendship, and, above all, the high quality a cappella singing, which made this fella who sang in multiple choirs from 1997 until 2005 reminisce about the good ol’ days. Inevitably, the success and fan base meant that a second film would be attempted, and while it’s still fun, it’s different, and not all of the magic could be replicated.
Elizabeth Banks produced the first Pitch Perfect and called it her baby; she’s directing this time in Pitch Perfect 2 and brings with it a lot more of the sensibility of some of the comedies she’s made in the past with people like Judd Apatow and David Wain. Meaning, it’s a little more bizarre, a lot less plausible, and weirdly a lot less fun, musically speaking. It’s also far less focused this time around, but that’s mostly because there are about twelve more storylines to follow than before. Not all the characters come back and the ones that do aren’t all served as well as they might be.
The movie begins with the Barden Bellas, now the defending world champs for multiple years in a row, performing for the President of the United States (yes, the real one) while Banks and John Michael Higgins again provide color commentary to no one in particular. The idea now is that the Bellas have become too big for their britches, losing a lot of their harmony for the flash and spectacle of a stage show that there’s no way in the world a tiny college famous for a cappella singing would be able to afford. After a highly embarrassing moment with Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), the Bellas are disgraced and kicked out of the singing circuit, forced to cede their American tour of auto shows and stuff to Das Sound Machine, the 30-person powerhouse from Germany, led by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and internet superstar Flula Borg. The Bellas are able to enter the world competition in order be reinstated, but no American team has ever won.
Chloe (Brittany Snow) has somehow stayed at school for three extra years because she’s afraid to graduate and is now incredibly high-strung because she’s worried the Bellas will lose everything they’ve worked for. Beca (Anna Kendrick) isn’t too worried because she has an internship she hasn’t told anyone about with a record producer (Keegan-Michael Key) who wants her to express herself. Meanwhile, the daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) of a “Legacy” Bella (Katey Sagal) joins the group as a Freshman (through some loophole) and she’s written a new song, but that won’t be important until later.
See what I mean about a whole lot going on? There’s definitely a plenty of funny in the film, specifically from Key, but it neither gels the way the first one did, nor are the themes quite as universal (no pun intended). The only musical sequence that was really great involved what is basically a retread of the Sing-Off in the abandoned pool in the first movie. Here, the Bellas, Treblemakers, old guys from the first movie (with new members added), Das Sound Machine, and a surprise fifth group compete in another Sing-Off in a very rich guy’s weird dungeon-type thing for a cappella lovers.
While this isn’t a bad movie by any means, and will probably still delight most of the audience, I felt like it didn’t quite have the spark of freshness that made the first Pitch Perfect so much fun. Enjoyable, but not aca-mazing.