Pitch Perfect was an unexpected joy. Launching off the success of Glee, it turned the teen comedy genre on its head with its cast of likeable, goofy characters and clever balance of camp and cool. Can lightning be caught in a bottle twice?
Plot-wise, this sequel is lacking. Set three years after the first film, the Bellas of Barden University are riding high on success, until a disastrous (read: hilarious) performance (in front of Barack Obama no less) means they are suspended from the a capella circuit. The only way to lift the suspension is if they can win the international competition in Copenhagen against German rivals Das Sound Machine, a feat no American group has ever achieved.
Screenwriter Kay Cannon has simultaneously stripped back the narrative to the most popular elements, whilst also making it bigger and bolder. For instance, the relationship between Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Jesse (Skylar Astin) is largely diminished, as are the roles of the other a capella groups, whilst screen time is boosted for Kendrick, Rebel Wilson (returning as Fat Amy) and Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as competition commentators (Banks did direct the film after all). There are even similar plot points in terms of character development and, of course, another riff off. Meanwhile the stakes are raised by blowing the competition worldwide, though this is largely to accommodate some slightly prejudiced jokes that occasionally push the humour beyond its already outlandish and amusingly sassy limits.
As such, the sequel doesn't quite have the same oddball comedic charm of the first film. That's partly due to raised expectations and a weaker script, but now more than ever the success of the film rests on the shoulders of Rebel Wilson. She, of course, has some hysterically funny moments and one-liners, but it's at the expense of the rest of the cast who are somewhat left out in the dark. As a pair, though, Kendrick and Wilson are unstoppable.
Musically, the film is just as varied as before, reflecting the contrasting sounds of each group: from the boyband cheese of the Treblemakers, to the machine-like rock of Das Sound Machine, and the feminist pop of the Bellas. All of this comes in the usual impressive and inventive mash-ups and medleys, particularly in the riff off. However, the premise of the film is original music as written by Bella newcomer Emily (Hailee Steinfeld). In reality, that means a saccharine song from Jessie J to serve as the film's anthem. Still, at least there's a cameo from the Pentatonix.
More than ever, though, Pitch Perfect is about sisterhood. The men are very much sidelined as the girls (namely Kendrick, Wilson and Banks) take the fore. No doubt the film is geared towards a female audience and should be praised for its female cast and crew, but it feels limited as a result and less universally relatable. This is a fun and amusing musical romp that's just not as consistently aca-awesome as its predecessor.
Watch: Pitch Perfect 2 is out now.