It’s not hard to see why the first Pitch Perfect was such a box office success, even if it wasn’t an exemplarily great film. The timing was right for someone to jump onto the Glee-inspired musical film bandwagon, so Universal Studios produced a note-by-note formula piece in the vein of Bring It On and was lucky enough to actually have some decent comedic talent to back it up. It didn’t do anything special, but it got the job done and filled a niche that was lacking in the blockbuster film industry, so pop music fans flocked to the picture and fell in love. So, of course, a sequel was ordered and the results are about as you would expect.
When making a sequel to such a straight formula piece and keeping the same cast of characters, there are two ways to approach the new plot: rehash the formula once more or focus on character development at the expense of a central plot theme. The second option is ultimately the better one, as it prevents the film from feeling pointless in the shadow of its predecessor, and thankfully Pitch Perfect 2 decides to take this route. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is interning to try to become a successful music producer, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is trying to juggle a secret romantic life with her acapella obligations, and the rest of the singing group tries to come to terms with their impending college graduation and inevitable splitting up as a competitive team. There is a world competition that looms as the obligatory musical climax, but that mostly exists in the background and only serves as an excuse for the ladies to keep singing.
And as for the singing itself, the performances become a pretty decent metacommentary on the state of musical performance as a competitive art. A common criticism of the first film was that it exhibited an overreliance on choreography and showmanship when the centerpiece was supposed to be the vocal performances. The sequel takes those critiques head on, turning the group’s collective arc into one of moving beyond pure spectacle and coming together to find their true unifying voice, abandoning the acapella staple of cover-based performance and realizing the potential of original music. In a way, this comes as a statement that this sequel wasn’t intended to be pure fan service, but actually has a purposeful message about the real world state of musical performance, and it’s a nice touch.
And, of course, as before, the comedic performances are still pretty fun. Some characters are still as one note as before (I’m thinking of the lesbian and nymphomaniac caricatures), but Fat Amy’s one liners are still ridiculous as they are awkward, and Beca’s inexplicable attraction to a domineering German competitor is delightfully satisfying. As with the first film, though, the prize must go to John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks as the competition announcers, who spew seemingly improvised commentary with expert chemistry that only makes me wish that they were a larger focus in the narrative.
All in all, fans of the franchise will love this film, and while it still doesn’t reach any heights of transcendent greatness, Pitch Perfect 2 is a solid example of how to move past pure formula in order to keep a sequel fresh and interesting. I just wouldn’t expect it to draft any new recruits to the cult of acapella.