In the opening scene, The Bellas are performing in front of Obama during his birthday, only for Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) to have a wardrobe malfunction and show her a cappella to the shocked crowd. The group’s reputation is tarnished, and are replaced on their victory tour by their German counterparts, Das Sound Machine. The Governing body (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) have threatened them with an indefinite suspension – unless they win the World Championships, and can secure their reinstatement. Though while Beca is preoccupied with her internship at a record company, newcomer Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) joins the collective to help ensure The Bellas have a future.
Simply by setting up this world and premise, the preceding production had a palpable sense of character development to it, and a linearity, a journey for each of them to go on. However now the story has been set, and the characters have been introduced already, the picture struggles to compel as it once did. Substantial characters from the first movie, such as Beca, or Brittany Snow’s Chloe, or Skylar Astin’s Jesse, have so little to work with this time around, as we learn nothing new about them at all, merely making up the backdrop. That’s partly down to the fact that Fat Amy is given the lion’s share of the best gags and scenes, as a film that revolves predominantly around her – in a somewhat contrived fashion. That’s the issue with some sequels, they know what worked in the first, and thus vie tirelessly to mimic what came before. That being said, Wilson is extremely funny on occasion, though there’s so little variety to her performance, effectively playing the exact same role she undertakes in all productions, with that same comedic style and delivery – which is becoming somewhat tired and less funny with every passing endeavour.
The new characters just don’t breathe enough new life into this sequel either, as we crave somebody new to shake things up. Nonetheless, there are a handful of hilarious moments, dotted around in this title, and though many jokes play up to stereotypes and can be offensive in parts, nobody is safe from ridicule, so it’s fair cop. Though the line between cringe and comedy is a devilishly thin one, and for director Elizabeth Banks, we tend to lean far further into the former than we’d perhaps like. With a cappella there is always that risk it can be awkward or embarrassing, like when a celebrity sings on the sofa of a TV chat show, and though at times it can be captivating and exciting, this struggles to find a balance, and when sentimental, it’s almost unbearable. Some of the sing-offs make for great entertainment however, in particular the basement competition which features an excellent medley of 90’s hip hop tunes. But sadly too many of the other selected tracks in this title are current, and this should be more karaoke, than contemporary. Otherwise this picture runs the risk of feeling severely outdated in years to come. It should be songs we all know and love.
However what lets the filmmakers off the hook, is the tongue-in-cheek approach, and though at times, like when The Bellas are trying to ‘discover their new sound’ it’s horrible, there’s a playful irreverence to this, and a very knowing one too, which certainly helps. This film is subversive in many ways, and refreshingly feminist, and yet still abides by the tropes of the genre, especially the conventions connected to the competition format, as we build towards the big final at the end, complete with comedically inclined commentators. But such is the lack of ingenuity attached to this title, you almost hope that when the final does come, they don’t win and The Bellas are finished – because there’s always that concern it could lead on to a third.