Is 15 years enough time for something to come back in style? That’s what star/director/co-writer Ben Stiller is counting on with Zoolander 2, a return to his satirical take on the fashion industry. In the years since its release, Zoolander has become a cult classic, with lines and scenes from the film becoming popular memes. That lengthy period between the original film and its sequel, though, can only make expectations higher. So is Zoolander 2 a smash, or is it out of fashion?
Mere days after the end of the previous film, Derek Zoolander’s Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good collapsed, in the process killing wife Matilda (Christine Taylor), injuring fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson), and leaving Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) in an environment where he’s ultimately taken away by social services. Ashamed, Zoolander goes into hiding. But when Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig), the newest big name in fashion, requests that Zoolander model in her latest show in Rome, he sees it as a chance to possibly win his son back.
It turns out, though, that the fashion industry has moved far away from Zoolander’s style, towards a hipster style epitomized by Alexanya’s chief designer, Don Atari (Kyle Mooney). Zoolander feels aimless until a pair of encounters change his perspective. First, he’s brought in by Valentina (Penelope Cruz), an agent for Interpol’s Global Fashion Police, to help track down a killer who’s been taking out pop stars. He then discovers that Derek Jr. is also in Rome, but Zoolander’s son shares more in common with his deceased mother than his father.
To its credit, Zoolander 2 has a lot more plot than its predecessor. The subplot with Valentina adds a spy element to the film in lieu of the sleeper agent aspect of Zoolander. It also takes advantage of the original film’s popularity by upping the amount of celebrity cameos, with plenty of unexpected stars popping up (Kiefer Sutherland’s mini role proves the most entertaining, just for sheer absurdity).
Still, the film falls victim to some of the same traps that harm most comedy sequels. More than pretty much any genre, it’s hard to craft a good comedy sequel. If an original comedy is a hit, part of its success is usually because of the film offering something original and surprising, to a degree. With sequels, there has to be a balance of continuity and originality. And while Zoolander 2 does have a more substantial plot, it also recycles many of the original’s catchphrases, scenes, and notable cameos; each time, these callbacks lack the freshness that made the originals memorable.
The film also suffers from how it handles the return of Zoolander’s nemesis, Jacobi Mugatu (Will Ferrell). His return isn’t a surprise, since Ferrell’s been featured prominently in the film’s promotional materials. But it’s Mugatu’s presence that really propels the film, and he only shows up roughly two-thirds of the way into the film. A lot of the film prior to his appearance is chaotic; Mugatu’s presence brings the film into more focus, while still making the film funnier.
Make no mistake: Zoolander 2 is funny. That’s ultimately what matters. Fans of the original should find plenty to enjoy, while those who hated the first one should probably skip it. If your opinion Zoolander is somewhere in-between, like mine is, you may want to give it a shot. For what it’s worth, while I think Zoolander is a slightly better film, I laughed more with Zoolander 2.