Editor’s Notes: Zoolander 2 is currently out in wide theatrical release.
While decades-later sequels to beloved (or cult classic) comedies grow more frequent, our expectations become lower and lower with each passing release. The initial novelty of reprised roles and resurfaced inside jokes wore thin in 2014 when Dumb and Dumber To incited either underwhelmed or volatile reactions from audiences. Now, these films have to bring something unique to the table, something genuinely impressive and funny for reasons that don’t rely on their first installments. Espionage plot aside, the first Zoolander was concerned primarily with being satirical and clever, especially in making jabs at the conventions and behaviors of early 2000’s personalities. So, with this in mind, Zoolander 2 actually had a reason to come about, as the public it once made fun of has changed pretty drastically since 2001. So, it could either squander that opportunity, and fail like history foretold, or harness it, satisfying the masses and its cult fanbase alike.
To describe Zoolander 2 as weird is entirely accurate because somehow, all these years later, it tries to do even more crazy stuff than its predecessor.
This time around, we find supermodel Derek Zoolander grieving from the collapse of his newly constructed Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good, a tragedy that both kills his wife Matilda, and permanently scars best friend/fellow model Hansel’s face. Derek is suddenly left to raise Derek Jr. alone, a task he isn’t ready for in the slightest. General ineptness on that front leads to the arrival of Child Protective Services, who take Derek Jr. and leave Derek more alone than ever before. Overwhelmingly confused, he goes on a multi-year hiatus deep in the wilderness, undoubtedly asking “Who am I?” from sunrise to sunset. But, when a special someone delivers a message addressed to him, Derek decides he must come out of retirement in the hopes of possibly getting Derek Jr. back. What ensues is chaotic, insane, and so, so weird.
To describe Zoolander 2 as weird is entirely accurate because somehow, all these years later, it tries to do even more crazy stuff than its predecessor. As a result, it definitely feels less focused, though the individual things it tries to do are very clever in their own ways. The first film made fun of the vapid fashion industry by sculpting a model, someone who lives and dies to be modified, into a deadly assassin, paving the way for some of the smartest and most methodical jokes the screwball comedy genre had seen at the time. Here, jokes aren’t nearly as methodical, but they’re more experimental and different, instead placing the same dumb and extravagant characters into situations just as dumb and absurd as they are, letting other characters (and the film) around them treat all of it with urgency. Derek is trying to find his son and make sure he stays ridiculously good-looking, Hansel’s forced to confront his abandonment issues when every member of his beloved orgy becomes pregnant, and Mugatu desperately seeks sweet, sweet vengeance. So, when this is framed with a sense of scale similar to the end of the world, it exudes sweetness while simultaneously being playfully mocked.
. . . not every gag is wholly effective, however, the main idea is admirable and clever enough to be well worth a watch.
In addition, the film takes Derek and Hansel’s older, more archaic, judgmental worldviews and challenges them with modern personalities and concepts, like pseudo-hipsters and realistic body types. At first, these things resemble the roots of jokes, to reflect what Derek and Hansel see, but as they both become more tolerant, the roots are revealed to have been Derek and Hansel the whole time. All the while, there are numerous celebrity cameos that, though a bit too lazy, call back to the blatant, nonsensical cameos of yesteryear. Returning cast members all manage to slip right back into each of their roles perfectly, especially Ben Stiller, who seems like he never really left the character of Derek Zoolander. As well, Stiller brings his directorial skills to what could easily have been phoned in, or filmed like a sitcom, offering some really interesting angles and colorful visuals that make the less effective jokes less of a problem. And it’s true, not every gag is wholly effective, however, the main idea is admirable and clever enough to be well worth a watch.
Though it seems to have been publicly crucified by critics, I can’t help but argue that there’s more at play in Zoolander 2 than simply setups and punchlines. Maybe, just maybe, after being initially chastised just as the first film was, this one will be appreciated sometime down the road.
Though it seems to have been publicly crucified by critics, I can't help but argue that there's more at play in Zoolander 2 than simply setups and punchlines. Maybe, just maybe, after being initially chastised just as the first film was, this one will be appreciated sometime down the road.