Zoolander 2 aims to be bigger and crazier than its predecessor, but amounts to a serviceable (though less memorable) comedy sequel.
Zoolander 2 picks up in real time following the events of its predecessor, with dim-witted ex-super model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) having retreated from the public eye in disgrace, after the learning center that he helped found (aka. The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too) collapses as a result of its ill-conceived construction - killing Derek's beloved Matilda (Christine Taylor), permanently "maiming" Derek's onetime competitor-turned friend Hansel McDonald (Owen Wilson), and leading to Derek losing custody of his son. However, Derek gets a chance to make things right and show he can be a good parent to Derek Jr. when he's offered a gig to model for fashion maestro Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) at an event in Rome, along with Hansel.
Soon, though, Derek and Hansel realize they're pawns in a much bigger scheme, when Interpol agent Melanie Valentina (Penélope Cruz) reveals to the duo that someone's been killing off music pop stars around the world - all of whom performed one of Derek's trademark looks right before they died - and that their deaths may well be connected to not only Alexanya, but also Derek and Hansel's old enemy: Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell). But can Derek and Hansel recover their modeling mojo in time to figure out what's going on - and save the day, once again?
Zoolander 2 is hitting theaters well over a decade after its predecessor arrived in 2001, on its way to becoming a cult comedy hit. However, the Zoolander sequel - which, like on the original film, Stiller co-wrote, directed, and stars in - has been in development for several years, at least as far back as 2008. While Zoolander 2 benefits from the experience that Stiller has gained as a director since he made the first installment (having worked on such movies as Tropic Thunder and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), it's also a comedy sequel that, in many ways, feel like it could have just as easily been released back in the early/mid-2000s as today - which, depending on which way you look at it, is a good and bad thing.
Whereas the first Zoolander satirized fashion industry trends of its time through often absurd humor, Zoolander 2 is more invested in playing around in the bizarre Zoolander universe and serving up wacky comedy for its own sake. Zoolander 2 provides its fair share of easy laughs as a result, but at the same time the movie lacks a cohesive satirical through-line - and save for a handful of references to modern culture (Netflix, hipsters, Selfie Sticks), this sequel feels as much like a relic of the past as its two main characters, in terms of its comedy targets. Stiller, along with Zoolander co-writer John Hamburg, Tropic Thunder co-writer Justin Theroux, and Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement), by and large stick to serving up call-backs to the original Zealander as well as the expected helping of non-sequitur jokes and gags. That is for the best too, as whenever Zoolander 2 does poke fun at contemporary issues, the results tend to fall flat (see the somewhat-infamous scene with Benedict Cumberbatch as androgynous model "All" that was featured in the movie's trailers).
Zoolander 2 also riffs on international action movies and globe-trotting secret agent thrillers with its own (kooky) storyline and filmmaking style alike - starting with the opening sequence, which plays out as a tongue in cheek chase scene that's right out of a Mission: Impossible movie. However, on the whole, the visual approach used here by Stiller and his cinematographer Daniel Mindel (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is only partially successful at parodying the popular aesthetics and techniques that are used by action movies nowadays; in fact, Zoolander 2 looks and feels more like one of the parody films from Tropic Thunder than anything else. Zoolander 2 is more polished than its predecessor (in terms of how it's shot and edited), yet the stylistic flourishes that Stiller and his production team use here also feel outdated - as though they too were lifted from a genre satire that would've been made some 5-10 years ago (again, see Tropic Thunder). That's all the more disappointing when you consider the recent targets that Zoolander 2 could've spoofed instead (superhero movies, reboots/remakes, and so forth).
Stiller and Wilson slide easily back into their Derek Zoolander and Hansel McDonald personas (respectively) in Zoolander 2 - though, like the sequel in general, the pair don't so much breathe fresh life into their characters as they reprise their respective shticks well enough to earn a passing grade. The same goes for Will Ferrell as Mugatu, who is equally over the top and maniacal here as he was in the first Zoolander; meaning, the mileage you get out of his performance depends on how much you liked Farrell's shenanigans the previous time around (the same is true for Stiller and Wilson). Penélope Cruz, by comparison, gets less screen time than her costars, yet makes the most of it by playing every absurd line of dialogue and ridiculous task she's given while strictly maintaining a straight face. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's Kristen Wiig as Alexanya Atoz, in a performance that (similar to everyone else in the movie) aims to mock the world of high-fashion experts... but is also just weirdness for its own sake.
Outside of Kyle Mooney (Saturday Night Live) as obnoxious hipster fashion expert Don Atari and Cyrus Arnold (a relative unknown) as Derek Zoolander, Jr., Zoolander 2 doesn't feature so much a supporting cast as it does a seemingly endless parade of cameos - be they from players in the first Zoolander or various celebrities (actors, pop music stars, fashion icons). Certain cameos in Zoolander 2 are funnier than others (and the best one is presented as part of a larger running joke involving Hansel's fears of fatherhood), but often the humor comes from the sheer randomness of the people who show up - and a number of the brief appearances come and go so quickly that there's not really any time to make a real joke... beyond the joke inherent in the idea of a particular celebrity appearing in Zoolander 2, that is.
Zoolander 2 aims to be bigger and crazier than its predecessor, but amounts to a serviceable (though less memorable) comedy sequel. The original Zoolander is very much a cult comedy classic, but it does boast a number of frequently-quoted lines and strikes a tone that's distinctly its own - neither of which holds true for the sequel, unfortunately. While Zoolander 2 ranks higher on the scale of belated comedy sequels than something like Dumb and Dumber To, it has some of the same problems as that film - and in other ways, feels like a step back for Stiller as a filmmaker, as though this is a project that he should've made in between the first Zoolander and Tropic Thunder. Those hoping Zoolander 2 matches or exceeds the original film in terms of quality will likely be disappointed; however, if all you want is to spend more time in the zany and unhinged world of Derek Zoolander, then his sequel might get the job done.
Zoolander 2 is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 102 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, a scene of exaggerated violence, and brief strong language.
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