Film Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (★★★)

pitch_perfect_two_ver3I’ll admit it…I was one of the few not to be particularly charmed by Pitch Perfect. It wasn’t bad, sure, but nothing special at all. Pitch Perfect 2, however, somehow managed to win me over. Far from perfect (no pun intended), this sequel manages to make the music even catchier, even if the comedy is all over the map here. Still, it’s put together rather nicely, which is a credit to Elizabeth Banks, who makes her directorial debut in addition to returning in a supporting role. The film is still anchored by the performance of Anna Kendrick as well as that of Rebel Wilson, though newcomer to the franchise Hailee Steinfeld makes a mark as well. That’s what works here, the interactions between all of the actresses. Frankly though, up until the finale, it wasn’t going to be enough to get a recommendation out of me. Then, the climax arrived and I smiled enough that it’s getting my thumb up, as it were. If you’re a fan of Pitch Perfect, I’m sure that Pitch Perfect 2 will be just as satisfying, if not more so. For me, this was a slightly better mixture, making for an enjoyable enough viewing experience. If there’s a third film in this now franchise, I won’t dread it like I might have otherwise. Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t amazing, but it’s a nice change of pace as we begin the summer movie season. Believe me, you can do a whole lot worse than this film here in the middle of May.

Taking place three years after the first one, the Barden Bellas have been on top, that is until a wardrobe malfunction at the worst possible time makes them a national laughingstock and basically destroys its reputation. Being more or less persona non grata on the collegiate level, they can’t defend their crown, so it’s on to the World Championships instead, where the German team Das Sound Machine seems unbeatable. For some of the Bellas like leader of the pack Chloe (Brittany Snow), Stacie (Alexis Knapp), Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), Flo (Chrissie Fit), Jessica (Kelley Jakle), and of course Fat Amy (Wilson), that’s all that matters, but Becca (Kendrick) is trying to make her way at a recording studio as an intern and has her attention split right down the middle. Unable to recruit new members, all seems lost, though a loophole allows them to let in Emily (Steinfeld), a legacy due to her mother Katherine (Katey Sagal) being a legendary former Bella. The usual hijinks ensue, along with some very solid a cappella singing. It all leads up to a finale that’s pretty effective, if I do say so myself.

1416508461_pitch-perfect-2-zoomA few unnamed cameos aside (don’t worry, I won’t spoil them), the best part of this cast continues to be Anna Kendrick, who really invests in this character in a way that not everyone else would have. She imbues the part with realistic awkwardness and sarcasm, making for perhaps the only truly three dimensional character in the cast. Newcomer to the franchise Hailee Steinfeld comes the closest, so if she’s perhaps set to take over the Bellas in future sequels, there won’t be a big drop off. Kendrick is very good here, but Steinfeld is no slouch herself. Rebel Wilson goes back and forth between amusing and annoying, but I liked her better here than last time out, so there’s that. The aforementioned other Bellas Ester Dean, Chrisie Fit, Kelley Jakle, Alexis Knapp, and Hana Mae Lee all are used as punchlines, though Brittany Snow gets to take a step up and play the part that Anna Camp basically played last time. The cast also includes Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as commentators, along with a scene stealing Keegan-Michael Key, a mostly wasted Katey Sagal, an underused Skylar Astin, plus Flula Borg, Adam DeVine, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Ben Platt, Shelley Regner, and more. In the end though, Kendrick is still the one who leaves a mark.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise here is how well Elizabeth Banks directs the whole thing. It’s smoothly shot, unafraid of big crowds and highly choreographed sequences, and displays a ton of confidence. I’d go so far as to say that this film is better directed than the first one. Jason Moore didn’t do a bad job with Pitch Perfect, but Banks is one of the reasons why Pitch Perfect 2 succeeds. Kay Cannon again wrote the screenplay, so that leads to a fairly similar feel to things, which could be a positive to you, but was a slight negative in my eyes. Again, without Banks, it’s possible that I wouldn’t have gone the extra half star here. Also, if you’re looking for the next “Cups”, you’ll have it in spades with “Flashlight”, trust me there.

Overall, Pitch Perfect 2 is disposal popcorn entertainment, a sort of blockbuster counterpoint to Avengers: Age of Ultron. They’re both flawed, mainly enjoyable due to spending more time with characters, feature a director wrangling a huge cast as well as some impressive set pieces, and leave you a little bit curious what will happen next to your heroes (or in this case, heroines). If you liked the first one, this will undoubtedly be up your alley. If you didn’t dig on it, then perhaps my move from the dark side could be a precursor of what’s to come for you. Regardless, Pitch Perfect 2 has a great sound and represents a solid time at the movies.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!