★ ★ ★ ½
Only a handful of movie sequels have managed to equal or surpass the critical and popular successes of their predecessors, among them blockbusters such as The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, Toy Story 2, and Aliens. There’s a chance that Pitch Perfect 2 could also make that list (albeit waaaaay further down) due to its loyal teen fan base, as director Elizabeth Banks’ sequel about a misfit college a cappella group trying to hit the big time is entertaining despite feeling forced.
Three years after joining the Barden Bellas a cappella group, Beca (Anna Kendrick) has come down with a serious case of senioritis. Although still devoted to her Bella sisters, her attention has turned to life after college; when an up-and-coming music producer (Keegan-Michael Key) offers her an internship, Beca jumps at the chance while keeping it a secret from her pals. Meanwhile, the now-three-time national-champion Bellas are dealing with the fallout from a performance at the Lincoln Center that ended in disaster when Rubenesque group member Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashed parts of her body not meant to be seen by anyone, let alone the President of the United States (the honored guest of the event). As a result, officials decree that the group must disband by year-end, unless they manage to win the World A Cappella Championships in Europe. However, no American team has ever taken home first place in the competition, since, as the politically incorrect commentators (played by John Michael Higgins and director Banks) point out, “The whole world hates us.” Making things even more difficult is their fierce rivalry with the German a cappella group, Das Sound Machine, whose impressive vocals are matched by their all-around techno-fabulousness. It’s now up to the Bellas to preserve the group for future generations by uniting one last time and recapturing the sound that originally made them champions.
Released in 2012, Pitch Perfect came along at just the right time to appeal to tween and teen girls who were suffering from a dearth of movies portraying young women interested in sisterly bonding and old-fashioned romance rather than mean-girl cattiness and random hookups. A big hit in theaters and on home video, the film became a staple at birthdays, sleepovers, and sorority houses across the nation. The premise of an all-female a cappella group was original, and the fact that they beat out the reigning-champion male group was exciting and empowering. Thousands of girls memorized their favorite lines and spent hours practicing “The Cup Song” until they were adept enough to post their own covers on YouTube.
If only the characters in movie sequels could remain as ageless as everyone on The Simpsons, where Bart is eternally ten years old and Maggie never has to give up her binky. Alas, Pitch Perfect 2 is a live-action film that takes place three years after the first one, and so the freshmen are now seniors and the seniors have set off into the real world&dmash;except for former a cappella hotshot Bumper (Adam DeVine), who, depressingly, can’t seem to move on from Barden. The other characters have the opposite problem, as they appear almost perplexed to find themselves still on campus; in particular, Kendrick plays Beca with the distracted demeanor of a teacher mentally blocking out a classroom of rowdy kids on the last day of school. Wilson’s Fat Amy looks perpetually bored, and with the exception of vocal powerhouse and out lesbian Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), the other members of the group are so forgettable that Beca admits to not knowing two of their names after living with them for several years.
But like the original, the success of Pitch Perfect 2 comes down to its impressive performances. While the mid-film showdown might be less intimate and believable than anything in the first movie (The Green Bay Packers singing a cappella? C’mon), and interest in a cappella and beatboxing has cooled in recent years, there is enough musical substance here to hold the attention of the core audience.