Pitch Perfect, with its story of competitive underdogs fighting to overcome challenges with charm and sass, is pure formula, but its surprising success during and particularly after its theatrical run is a credit to formula at its best. So while it’s almost inevitable that the film would spawn a sequel, Pitch Perfect 2 has to find a way to push past what audiences saw in the first film without falling into the formula of so many comedy sequels.
That Pitch Perfect 2 seems aware that it needs to show growth is admirable enough, but the ways the film works to serve multiple needs as both a sequel and a film that could, in turn, spawn more films is all the more impressive for how successful it accomplishes those goals. Pitch Perfect 2 works as a continuation of the Barton Bellas audiences loved in the first film, while also going bigger (like most sequels should) and giving the team a fresh start. The latter is the first goal accomplished: thanks to an aerial mishap from Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) during an important performance for President Obama, the Bellas find themselves as underdogs again after three years of success under the leadership of Beca (Anna Kendrick). Outside of a freshman eager to enter the fold (Hailee Steinfeld), the group has to rely on its core membership – a group that’s ready to graduate, with the exception of the perpetually failing Chloe (Brittany Snow).
Beca, go-getter that she is, knows about the looming presence of graduation, and is eager to start an internship with a record producer that ends up distracting her from working with the Bellas. The Bellas, though, need all the help they can get, because their one shot at redemption lies in winning a world championship a cappella challenge. Their primary competition is a group of intense Germans whose precise performances and fierce leadership leave the Bellas scrambling to find a way to compete.
It’s a lot of ground to cover, and it’s a bit more complicated than the relatively straight-through storyline of Pitch Perfect. The film does get bumpy at times, but under the care of Elizabeth Banks, who graduates from producer and in-story commentator to first-time director here, the film delivers in its big moments. Thanks to a script by 30 Rock‘s Kay Cannon, who also wrote the original film’s screenplay, the comedy works, especially with some nice running gags placed throughout the film. One delight: Beca’s inability to verbally combat the taunting leader of the Germans, who manages to stun Beca into sapphic curiosity.
Pitch Perfect 2 also deserves credit for addressing some of the first film’s occasional overreaches with regards to a cappella: the reliance on covers and mashups, the choreography, and the general intensity applied to a collegiate competition are all questioned by characters, rather than doubled down upon. Where the film does double down is on the female focus; more than in the first film, the men are all on the sidelines, typically serving as either brief romantic fodder (Skylar Astin included) or comic relief (with Keegan-Michael Key providing the best example as Beca’s boss). If the final product doesn’t work quite as smoothly as its predecessor, Pitch Perfect 2 deserves credit for creating something different enough to stay fresh, while also giving its loyal fans more of what they loved about the first film.