Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Tale of Two Sequels




The summer of 2015 saw the release of two sequels to films not many people expected to be huge hits, and which couldn't possibly be more different from each other: the a capella comedy Pitch Perfect and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Channing Tatum male stripper flick Magic Mike. It's strange that there was a time when people were worried about these films being successful, especially since both had low budgets and positive word of mouth to go along with the fact that they were both actually great movies, in their own way.

Pitch Perfect is a perfect specimen of an 00s teen comedy - endlessly quotable with a cast of breakout characters/actors, and memorable scene after memorable scene after memorable scene. Plus, a performance element that allows for a pretty stellar soundtrack (and surprise Billboard hit!). Magic Mike, meanwhile, succeeds largely because when you say "Channing Tatum stripper movie", even with the appended "directed by Steven Soderbergh", you would never in a million years think of anything that resembles what the movie actually is: Smart, sophisticated, and relatively low-key, with revelatory performances from Tatum and Matthew McConnaughey.

So I guess it makes perfect sense that their sequels are, respectively, a pale photocopy of the original and a complete and total surprise in how it flips the script on the original.

Does anyone know what film set the template that Pitch Perfect 2 follows? You know, the plot in which our heroes get thrust onto an international stage where they get too big for their britches and are beat down by hardcore European perfection before rallying using good old-fashioned American pluck and ingenuity. It's a well-worn sequel plot by now, and this isn't a particularly good version of it: Due to the arcane a capella competition rules, the Barden Bellas are stripped of their championship promotional tour after a Fat Amy-led wardrobe malfunction happened on a national stage in front of the President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama. The tour is filled by the reigning World Champions, a German group named Das Sound Machine. But the Bellas are still able to perform at the World Championships, and if they win, they aren't disgraced former champions anymore. Or something.
Elizabeth Banks directs Pitch Perfect 2 after having produced the first one, and Kay Cannon is back on scripting duties - if you can even call it that. This sequel is slavishly devoted to the original, right down to the placement of plot/character beats and specific jokes. And when brazenly calling for comparison in that way, it comes up severely lacking. BUT, individual moments do land - Rebel Wilson and Hana Mae Lee are still hilarious, the riff-off is still absurdly clever fun, and a mid-film group sing-along to "When I'm Gone" (in the place of the first film's "Party in the USA") is very affecting. But the original Pitch Perfect was a film that was so much fun it practically demanded several viewings. While it's clear that everyone involved in making Pitch Perfect 2 had lots of fun doing so, I can't say that I had much of any fun watching it. Still, the Bellas sound amazing singing Jessie J's "Flashlight", so I guess it was all worth it?

Magic Mike XXL, on the other hand, is a shockingly great sequel in that it makes me want not only another sequel, but a prequel as well. Most of the "Cock-Rockin' Kings of Tampa" were mere sketches in the original Magic Mike, but here they all come into view in ways both small and large that make me want to know more. And that's before we get to the HOT AS FUCK dancing. And Jada Pinkett-Smith as the world's greatest hype (wo)man. And Andie McDowell's one scene wonder. And Matt Bomer singing D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" (SWOON).
Magically, XXL feels totally of a piece with the original film despite being completely different in tone and overall feel. Nothing here is as brilliant as the sequence in Magic Mike where Cody Horn's Brooke first watches Mike in his element, but well, not many films do. And the sequel more than makes up for it in sheer entertainment value. I certainly laughed much more during this than I ever did in the original. That said, though, when it comes to the sex, Magic Mike XXL was perhaps a misleading title. The film is certainly bigger, but whereas the first film proudly put all the goods out on display, in this one there is a marked decrease in the amount of bare ass. There's much more of a focus on strippers as "male entertainers" that empower women in some way, which feels a bit inauthentic, at least to these characters as we knew them in the first film. But then, the growth of these characters is a big part of the film, and they have always been slightly (self-)delusional about their position within their profession. So why am I complaining? Well, because Magic Mike XXL is good enough where I have to nitpick in order to come up with any criticism.

7 comments:

  1. Great post! I kind of feel like the original Magic Mike was a better movie, but I had much more fun watching XXL at the cinema!
    - Allie

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    1. So true. Well, I mean, I watched XXL at home, but thank GOD I did, because I would have been SO inappropriate in the theater LOL.

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  2. PP2 is a complete photocopy. You're right about that. And certainly of a lesser quality. To make matters worse, I didn't exactly love the first. It was pretty good, but I didn't think it was worthy of everyone going gaga over it.

    MMXXL is not even the same genre as it's predecessor and it's better for it. It just embraces the craziness of their world and runs with it. The first is the better "film," but XXL is the more fun "movie."

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    1. Aw, it sucks you didn't like Pitch Perfect - I don't think it's a GREAT movie, but I enjoyed it a ton.

      You are so on point on the difference between Magic Mike and its sequel as being the difference between a film and a movie.

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  3. I had no desire to see Magic Mike but now, I am giving it a 2nd thought. I still have no desire to see Pitch perfect

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  4. I wasn't a fan of Pitch Perfect 2; I didn't think the sequel was needed. Magic Mike XXL was an entertaining movie.

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  5. I've just installed iStripper, so I can watch the hottest virtual strippers on my desktop.

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