When Zoolander 2 was being sold to the public earlier this year there was a heavy emphasis, as was the case with other legacy sequels, on callbacks to the first movie. The idea was, of course, to get people interested in this new movie by promising a return to characters that were familiar and whose reputation has only really grown in the 15 years since the original.
The story involves how Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Luke Wilson) have been out of the fashing came since shortly after the events of the original. A tragedy occurred a few years after that, for which Derek blames himself and Hansel blames Derek. So the two have gone their separate ways, each to a remote location to take themselves out of the fashion game and world in general. But strange invitations lure them back into the thick of things and they not only reconnect as friends but as partners in foiling a scheme by Mugatu (Will Ferrell) to exact revenge and amass ultimate power in fashion.
While this sequel is funny, it falls short of the first movie by a fair margin. And that’s largely because it just doesn’t trust the audience enough to offer anything original. Not only that, but the few original ideas it does have were completely hidden in the marketing campaign that sold it.
The marketing made it clear that there were going to be plenty of cameos from famous beautiful people, from fashion designers to rock stars. And it showed the audience there are a metric ton of callbacks to the first movie, from jokes about Blue Steel to Mugatu throwing his latte on his assistant and lots more. Whatever is actually in the campaign, it’s at best half of the jokes that rely on knowledge of the original in order to actually land. And only some of those *do* actually land as many seem thrown in haphazardly, as if there was a checklist and certain things were just being added to fulfill a quota.
(And for all the references to the first movie there are, it’s a crime they couldn’t find a way to bring David Duchovny back as the conspiracy-minded former hand model. He would have fit in great in the DaVinci Code-like story of this sequel. I mean come on, they couldn’t get him for two days?)
Unfortunately that came at the expense of the few interesting and original elements of the story.
Nowhere in the campaign are we told *why* Zoolander and Hansel are estranged. It’s not a super-great reason and it basically involves fridging Matilda, the reporter from the first movie played by Christine Taylor, who only appears here briefly. That’s done for no other reason than that the story required Derek to be brooding and isolated at the beginning and take him on a journey of taking himself out of that isolation.
Also missing entirely from the campaign was that much of the story involves Zoolander’s son, who was taken from him after the aforementioned tragedy and who Derek tries to reconnect with, only to find out the kid is integral to Mugatu’s plans.
While there are certainly issues with how those and other plot elements are handled within the story, at least they’re somewhat new to this movie. They’re not the most interesting parts of the story – my personal favorite is Hansel’s roving orgy, which both isn’t seen enough and is overplayed – but at least they add something new. Unfortunately both of those come in and out as circumstances dictate, not for any coherent reasons.
It’s not as bad as some of the critics cautioned when it came out. But it’s also not as original as one would hope from the talent involved, who continue to be interesting filmmakers. Like Anchorman 2, it’s a shadow of the original classic, the cinematic equivalent of a county fair concert featuring a classic band where the guitarist is the only remaining original member.