They’re back, pitches! (Had to get that out of my system). Those fiesty Barden Bellas are ready for an encore of lighter-waving aca-action in Pitch Perfect 2, directed by a familiar face in Elizabeth Banks despite the big, bad, male-dominated Hollywood system. Not surprisingly, Banks directs the hell out of this aca-Bella extravaganza, and while its script lacks the heart these spunky performers boasted in round one, laughs fly with more frequency and are covered in a helluva lot more glitter. And fire. And questionable European fashion senses.
It’s been three years since the Bellas took America by storm, besting their on-campus, all-male rivals, The Treblemakers. Under the leadership of Beca (Anna Kendrick), these lovely ladies became three-time national champions who captured worldwide a capella fame, which leads to the honor of performing for President Obama. In front of the most important man in the country, and millions of television viewers, the Bellas put on quite the spectacle – including a full-frontal wardrobe malfunction suffered by Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). This lands the Bellas in some hot water, which spells the squad’s dismantling unless they can win an international competition (like the World Cup of a capella). Be the best singers in the world and ensure the legacy of your squad lives on forever at Barden University? All in a day’s work for the Bellas.
In the most generic, base-value terms, Pitch Perfect 2 runs the exact sequel route that any movie fan could predict. There’s an introductory conflict (Fat Amy’s vag-flash), a struggle to reclaim their once-popular grove, expected training montages, an internal conflict between two characters for added spice, some more montages (this time about reconnecting as friends) and it’s all finished by an extravagant finale where Americans have to put some cocky Germans in their place – AGAIN.
Kay Cannon’s script escapes any necessary explanations by fast-forwarding the Bellas three years into the future, skipping over a period of victorious reverence, and we’re supposed to accept that characters haven’t evolved in the least bit. Beca is still ambitiously quirky, Chloe (Brittany Snow) still breathes only musical notes, Fat Amy still makes men weak in the knees – the whole gang valiantly returns without change. Even Blonde Bella #1 and Brunette Bella #1! Actually, their names are Jessica and Ashley, which we learn thanks to a hilarious admittance of ignorance by Beca.
This is where Banks and Cannon shine together as a creative team, because Cannon recognizes what people want in a Pitch Perfect sequel, yet Banks doesn’t let the film turn into a chuckle-filled barrage of sing-songy remixes, expected Fat Amy jokes and typical sequel banter. Take Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) for example – her character doesn’t change a lick from Pitch Perfect. Right down to the boxy bangs. Yet every time she opens her mouth, we’re waiting anxiously to hear what borderline psychotic reveal she’ll let slip next, and they ALWAYS kill. Her gag continually lands, and there’s never a time we wish for its removal. The same goes for a continued “relationship” between Fat Amy and Bumper (Adam DeVine), which is another throwback reference still flourishing three years later. If it worked in Pitch Perfect, it’s not trimmed this time around.
But as for the newly introduced material, such as multicultural rival squads and an underground a capella tournament hosted by an obsessed lunatic played by David Cross, Banks hits all the right notes. You can’t help but love Das Sound Machine, led by German rapper/personality Flula Borg (who plays Pieter Krämer) and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (who plays Kommissar), despite their smug Eurotrash personalities. Borg is a dynamite scene-stealer every time he starts busting out heavily accented ’90s jams, spitting hot fire to the tune of Fall Out Boy, but the entire ensemble’s mechanic choreography is a sexually confusing sight to behold. Banks goes bigger, grander and more ambitious in every a capella performance, but nothing beats Das Sound Machine introducing themselves via a militaristic rendition of “Uprising” by Muse. If you see Pitch Perfect 2 for one reason only, make sure it’s for their posh leather unisex skirts and mesh shirts.
And again, EVERYTHING about Pitch Perfect 2 is bigger. Remember how the Bellas previously had an impromptu aca-battle in an empty campus pool? Well, this time the battle takes place at a millionaire’s mansion, where he stages a sing-off competition à la The Warriors with pride, bragging rights and 42K in Dave & Busters cash on the line. A whole slew of cameos step up to the challenge as well, from The Daily Show correspondents to NFL players, and we’re gifted with a franchise-defining moment that captures the emphatic love shown towards beatboxing, creativity, and primo vocal lashings.
Whether Pieter pulls out “The Thong Song” or the Tone Hangers go country, Pitch Perfect 2 outdoes each musical performance through composition and showmanship, but a more broad sense of comedy keeps jokes rolling mid-verse. Some might find this tactic cheap, but a stronger grasp on laughs is what saves Pitch Perfect 2 from succumbing to its own overburdening weight.
Yet amidst all the female bonding and campfire renditions of “Cups (When I’m Gone),” the film doesn’t speak much to the empowering vibe that permeates throughout. Most will cry that Pitch Perfect 2 is just hoo-rah girlpower addressed in obvious ways, mostly through John Michael Higgins’ increasingly narrow-minded co-announcer (now podcaster) character who makes politically incorrect jokes about women in the most primitive male stereotyping. The inapropro level is yanked all the way to 11 as far as Higgins’ leash is concerned, and these moments add little comedic value despite their audacious nature. His unwarranted sexism isn’t cute or cheeky this time – just sorely misplaced.
But you know what? The Bellas are still sweet and sincere enough to drive a story about individuality, independence and total female domination. Some tweaking could have toned down Flo’s (Chrissie Fit) harsh Guatemalan responses to typical white girl problems, as these quips run thin, and Stacie’s (Alexis Knapp) self-consciously slutty sexuality still seems forced, but these girls come together as a diverse group that rivals bro-out movie gangs of the same ilk.
While even A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night speaks more to a woman’s struggle for equality, Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t going to get the credit it deserves in this department. Did you notice how boyfriend Jesse (Skylar Astin), the magic-obsessed Benji (Ben Platt), and Bumper are minor, supportive characters? There’s no split time between Treblemakers or any other acapella groups minus a few Das Sound Machine face-offs – this is all about the Bellas’ senior year jitters and saying goodbye to a capella, so Hailee Steinfeld’s rookie can introduce a whole new set of Bellas come Pitch Perfect 3 (c’mon, you know it’s coming).
Pitch Perfect 2 is a melodic blast from start to finish, which brings a much glitzier view of the world’s a capella scene to light (well, a cinematic version of much more ordinary competitions, I’d assume). The performances are more visually entrancing (flashy pyrotechnics, vibrant costumes, etc.), choreography dazzles, and the song selection drives pivotal emotional moments in ways that dialogue can’t match – it’s the sequel we expect. But more importantly, it’s the sequel we WANT. The Bellas are back, here to remind us that girls rule the world with a mighty, prideful roar.