Sequels are hard at the best of times. Sequels to cult favourites are even harder. Anchorman tried and missed the mark. The Hangover had two shots at it, falling short on both occasions. Now, Ben Stiller is having his own foray into these dangerous waters with the long-awaited sequel to 2001’s Zoolander. And though fans of the original won’t come away completely disappointed, it’s hard to see Zoolander 2 receiving the same long-term adoration as the really, really, really, ridiculously funny original did.
We re-join the two greatest male supermodels in the world, Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson), fifteen years on from the original. We discover that the building that housed the Derek Zoolander Centre for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too collapsed in the intervening years, and that the emotional and physical scars from the accident have driven them both into hiding, with neither having been seen in public for more than a decade.
After all these years away, it is an invitation to return to the runway and re-ignite their careers from leading fashion mogul Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) that draws the pair back to the spotlight. However, Derek and Hansel are soon intercepted by Interpol agent Valentina (Penélope Cruz), who enlists them to help solve the murders of a series of pop stars, who all took a selfie of themselves sporting Zoolander’s signature looks moments before they died. And that’s just scratching the surface of a convoluted, ridiculous plot, which gives way to a conspiracy of (literally) biblical proportions.
To be fair, an outlandish story in a Zoolander film is not necessarily a bad thing. The plot of the first film was absolutely ludicrous but worked because of its role in the film’s wider criticism and satire of the fashion industry.
Here though, the eccentricities seems pointless, stringing along the audience with a bizarre, often-nonsensical plot that is absurd for the sake of being absurd. Add to that a shoehorned in romance angle and an unnecessary sub-plot about Derek’s reconciliation with his estranged son (Cyrus Arnold), amongst a slew of other storylines, and, plot-wise, the film feels a bit bloated.
However, no one’s going to a Zoolander film for the story. They’re going for the laughs, and, luckily, there are a lot. Unsurprisingly, as he was in the first film, Will Ferrell is an absolute scene-stealer, reprising his role as evil fashion kingpin Jacobim Mugatu. Ferrell is even funnier than he was in the original, most notably when he verbally garrottes the biggest names in fashion to tremendous effect.
Sadly, Stiller and Wilson don’t get the same chance to shine. In the original, the characters were stupid, but the humour was often clever and subversive. This time, the jokes that these two spout are often as dumb as they are. And while that can be done well, here the cheap sexual innuendos and jokes about their age often feel contrived and incongruous with the established tone.
Another feature of this film is the abundance of celebrity cameos. Some fall painfully flat (Katy Perry and Neil deGrasse Tyson in particular), but some are spot on and hilarious. Though the best ones are too good to spoil, stars like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber end up making the most of very limited screen time, proving to be unexpectedly excellent additions to the Zoolander family. Yes, that Justin Bieber. I know. I was surprised too.
There are a plethora of references and throwbacks to the original that will satisfy devotees, though many will miss the features that made the first film such a favourite, even today. The quirkiness, the infinitely-quotable one-liners and the overall wit have all been traded in for something that will undoubtedly take in many times more than its predecessor, but simply won’t inspire the same calls for a Zoolander 3 as the original did for this film.