How many great comedy sequels have there been? It’s hard to think of many. Were any of them better than the original? Despite our lengthy tradition of long-running comedy series on TV, that just doesn’t seem to work in cinema. What’s worse, if you do try to make a comedy sequel, you run the risk of diminishing the specialness of the first film or making such a dud people have to pretend it doesn’t exist, like Ghostbusters 2. It’s just really hard to tell the same joke twice or more. Nine years after the first Anchorman, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are back to try just that.
Set in 1980, Anchorman 2 picks up where we left off, with Ron (Will Ferrell) and Veronica (Christina Applegate) having become co-hosts on a nightly news show in New York City. Through a series of mishaps, bafoonery, and brazen stubbornness, Ron ends up joining his old team of Champ (David Koechner), Brian (Paul Rudd), and Brick (Steve Carell) at the nation’s first 24-hour news network. As the landscape of television news reporting is radically changed, it is these four morons that end up shaping what’s important and not in this new America. And also a bunch of extremely wacky hijinks happen.
The biggest problem any sequel faces is bringing back enough of what made the first movie work while doing enough new stuff to keep it from getting stale. It’s super easy to look back and get reductive about what made the first movie successful, and reduce it down to key elements. Characters become a collection of specific attributes instead of people. Catchphrases emerge. Certain beats have to be hit again. I mean, look at The Hangover sequels. Success ruined any chance of those being good – they tried too hard to do the first one again.
And you can see that happening in Anchorman 2. The jazz flute, Baxter the dog talking to animals, something inappropriate making it through the teleprompter, all the familiar wells are drawn from. Similarly, the cartoonish main characters of the first movie are dialed up to even further levels of absurdity. Brick, already incredibly stupid in the first movie, is no longer a jab at TV weathermen and now like an alien trying to assimilate into human society. But you know what? It’s funny.
Not just Brick’s weirdness; Ron’s bizarre way of talking, Champ’s repressed homosexuality, Brian’s sleaziness… This is still an amusing world to be in. McKay and Ferrell came up with a bunch of amusing scenarios to put their characters into, an the cast is talented enough to make it work. I was laughing throughout the movie, no more than at a particular sequence at the end the belongs in the high halls of comedy legend. My brother said that scene alone is worth the price of admission, I don’t disagree.
What’s a shame is that the new stuff they actually did try mostly falls flat. Ron’s cable news show is a thinly veiled critique of the media that is neither particularly insightful or ever especially clever. A romantic subplot between Ron and his boss, played by Meagan Good, gives the writers an opportunity to deal with both Ron not being the one with power in a relationship, and the issue of interracial relationships. But it doesn’t really go anywhere except toward awkward racist jokes. This discomfort humor clashes with the goofiness that makes the rest of the movie fun and is just kind of a bummer.
But I liked Anchorman 2 about as much as I could hope I would. And I’m optimistic about it too; it took a few viewings before I began to really love the first movie. If I already like Anchorman 2 this much now, just imagine how funny I’ll think it is down the road. Now that’s exciting. You stay classy, Internet.