I’ll leap right in. Zoolander 2 was awesome. I truly had one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had at the cinema in a long while watching this movie. Although admittedly, going with your best friend and getting in as a student without even lamely claiming to be, really, really helped. As did my horrendously overpriced Ben and Jerry’s milkshake.
There does, however, seem to be a lot of hate being pushed on this film at the moment on the old internets. People are saying that a sequel was never necessary – and I probably agree that it wasn’t needed, but it is welcomed. Others are saying that the sense of humour is weaker, sillier, than in the first film. Fortunately for me, if it is sillier (and I’m not convinced), it’s just my kind of silly. From the moment Derek Zoolander solemnly declares, “I’m going to retire, withdraw from public life, and become a hermit crab.” I was hooked. Let’s make no mistakes; Zoolander 2 is a very silly film, but if you’re a fan of the first instalment, you should really know what to expect. A lot of the comedy comes from Derek Zoolander’s complete and total idiocy, but there are also moments of complete general absurdity which are also fun.
Others are arguing that the narrative is very convoluted and does not make any logical sense. The first film credits the writing and screenwriting to Drake Sather, Ben Stiller and John Hamberg. The Zoolander 2 writing and screenwriting credits belong to Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamberg (with Drake Sather given joint accreditation for originally developing the character of Derek Zoolander with Stiller). While it is tempting to suggest that Zoolander 2 is a case of too many writers spoiling the script; the first film was written, it seems, in much the same way. In any case, I don’t think a logical and perfectly constucted plot is the main selling point of a film like this. You find yourself buying into a plot the likes of which people accepted readily enough when they were paying to see The Da Vinci Code (2006) – and it holds about as much water. It doesn’t really jump the shark so much as pole-vault it and then soar off into the stratosphere.
Arguably, Zoolander 2 actually surpasses the original in many ways. Everyone’s favourite characters are back (with the exception of Vince Vaughn’s silent role as Derek’s brother, I always enjoyed that…) There’s also a whole new batch of crazy new characters. My particular favourite was Kristen Wiig, who is virtually unrecognisable, both in form and voice, as Alexanya Atoz. I’ve seen the Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond (1996) TV Special enough times to suspect, given a comment which Stiller makes about the character of Mr Atoz, that Alexanya’s second name could be a nerdy reference to the original episode ‘All Our Yesterdays’ on his part. Watching Wiig is always a delight, particularly when she interacts with other talented comic actors. In this case, it’s great to watch her and Will Ferrell (who returns as Mugatu) work together. In Anchorman 2 (2013) she weaves similar magic with Steve Carrell as Brick’s love interest, Chani. There’s also Penelope Cruz as Valentina. Most of the comedy of her performance comes from the enjoyment of watching a good actress play a silly role seriously (which, to be fair, I suspect is harder than it looks).
There’s also an abundance of ridiculous and unexpected cameos, the surprise of who shows up being half the fun, so I’ll say no more. Although it’s tricky – because some of the cameos are so good (and last for so long!) they dominate sections of the film. As usual, cameos from of-the-moment celebrities as well as real life fashionistas mean that this film will unfortunately date quite quickly, as in the way that Zoolander (2001) now feels like a summary of who-was-who-who-wanted-to-be-in-Zoolander in the nineties. Much has also been made of Benedict Cumberbatch’s cameo (I feel I can mention this one as it’s in the trailer and has been discussed in the media) as All, who is presented as a humorous myriad of confusing trans-omni-androgynous traits. People have quickly become enraged that this is a very offensive portrayal of transgender people. The phrase I believe which has been used a lot is “worse than blackface”. It’s important to remember that comedy tries to stay with the times and almost ‘name-check’ societal and fashion trends. To make a film in 2016 and not include a nod to these changes may also have been criticised, and I don’t think you’d find a character in the film who wasn’t a mocking exaggeration. While I feel that I would hate to think that you could point anything out as ‘satire’ and thereby legitimise something deeply wrong, I don’t think that this was the intention of the writers in this case. It’s possible that Derek and Hansel’s reactions to All could have been less stereotypically obsessed with trying to ascertain what kind of sexual apparatus All was equipped with, and it’s also possible that to use a real-life cameo featuring someone who represented this world may have been safer.
This sequel does rely on its audience having seen the original film, in that it’s referenced throughout and relationships from the first film have developed and moved on (I just wish Mugatu and Todd’s simmering semi-abusive relationship climbed to some kind of tempestuous conclusion…) Zoolander 2 starts with an introduction which establishes the events of the original Zoolander in 2001, then fills in the rest of the narrative up to present day (2016). Stiller’s direction should be praised for the fact that, even from this opening, you feel you are watching something epic and exciting. Stiller uses all of the high octane music, the special effects and thrilling shots and the twists and turns you would expect from a Blockbuster action movie, parodying these films which take themselves so seriously.
I, at no point, even thought about thinking about glancing at my watch. I had a big old grin on my face for the duration.
Is there a deeper message burning away at the heart of this film? A sensitive little message about learning to love oneself and others, regardless of your parentage, the scars (internal or external) you may have, or what size you are? I don’t know, probably not.