Comedy sequels ain’t easy. Like hearing the same joke twice, it just won’t be quite as funny the second time, no matter how amusing the telling. Only a handful of examples manage to match or top their originals, but those are the exceptions, not the rule. That’s certainly true of ‘Zoolander 2’, a sequel that arrives 15 years late out of nostalgia more than any need to be told.
The movie’s pleasures come from seeing the old band reunited, not from incredible new ideas or gags. It has some giggles, sure. Plenty of them. And also some lulls. It’s like ‘Anchorman 2’. Sometimes, fans need to be careful what they wish for, or at least they need to wish realistically.
The movie opens with Justin Bieber getting machine-gunned to the ground, a delightful sight that we should all thank Ben Stiller for. Before death, Bieber posts a selfie pulling a Zoolander face, which prompts Interpol’s top fashion spy (Penélope Cruz) to seek out the long lost supermodel.
It’s been a tough 16 years for Zoolander (Ben Stiller, natch), who lives in an isolated cabin mourning his dead wife and the sons who were snatched away by the government that considered him an unfit parent (fair assessment). Meanwhile, Hansel (Owen Wilson) has been in hiding in the desert since scarring his face. Both are summoned to a special fashion event in Rome hosted by plastic surgery-scarred weirdo Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig, dependably hilarious). Could it all be a plot organized by the dastardly Mugatu (Will Ferrell)? That should be a mystery, but the reality of movie marketing means that Ferrell’s mug has been plastered all over the posters and trailers, so we already know the answer.
The weird thing about ‘Zoolander’ is that the fashion industry parody was already a little out of date when it hit screens in 2001. Stiller had created the character in the mid-1990s, so it already felt like a relic. Now, it’s particularly surreal to see the character revived complete with endless ’80s pop culture references even though we’re already in an era when people are feeling nostalgic about ’80s nostalgia. There are gags about targets like tiny flip phones, and Stiller (along with his team of screenwriters) at least knows how weirdly out of fashion (zing!) most of these references are and make that a joke in itself. As a director, Stiller shows once again that he’s a surprisingly accomplished visual stylist. He gives the movie a certain blockbuster sheen that feels genuinely cinematic and at least elevates ‘Zoolander 2’ above most contemporary Hollywood comedies on a technical level.
It’s fun to see Stiller and Wilson together again. They’re a fantastic comedy duo who frequently headline projects unworthy of their talents. At least the dumb-dumb absurdity of this gratuitous sequel gives them material they can really bite into between the clunkers. Wiig is absolutely hysterical as a fashion queen with a stretched face to match her stretched vowels. Ferrell steals scenes with the type of WTF insanity only he can deliver.
The rest of the cast are a parade of cameos, like Fred Armisen’s head CGIed onto a young boy’s body, Benedict Cumberbatch as a non-gender-specific model (cue some icky genital jokes), or Kyle Mooney from ‘SNL’ as an uber-hipster model. Truthfully, it’s a hit-or-miss affair with the rotating team of famous faces. In particular, so many fashion icons and ironically appropriated celebrities (Billy Zane, baby!) are trotted out that it becomes exhausting. The last ‘Zoolander’ might have scored some big chuckles out of famous faces popping up under surreal circumstances, but this one leans into cameos in favor of plots points and jokes. It gets tedious fast. Admittedly, a few of them are glorious, especially the hysterical use of Kiefer Sutherland and Neil deGrasse Tyson. But at a certain point, it’s hard not to feel bored by the cameo parade and wish Stiller would just tell a story instead.
‘Zoolander 2’ doesn’t come close to matching the stupid-smart heights of the original. However, that’s something you could have assumed before even seeing it. Despite interest from nostalgic folks wanting to see Blue Steel again, there was no real need for this sequel and clearly Stiller didn’t have another ‘Zoolander’ story he was desperate to tell. However, as a victory lap for a gang of talented famous folks who never expected their little comedy to remain beloved 15 years later, there’s some fun to be had.
It’s all about expectations. If you’re expecting anything to match the bowel-loosening hilarity of the gasoline fight, look elsewhere. If you merely want to see the ‘Zoolander’ gang do another round of amusingly stupid gags surrounded by all their famous friends, then you’ll be just fine. Honestly, it’s ‘Anchorman 2’ all over again. If you were deeply disappointed by that, stay home and just watch the first ‘Zoolander’ again. But if that sequel tickled your nostalgic centers just enough to be worth the ticket price, get ready for more of the same.