Believe it or not, the original Zoolander is fifteen years old this year. Ben Stiller’s cult comedy opus first graced theatres in 2001, where it brought Stiller’s famously empty-headed male model character to the mainstream. Despite the movie barely turning a profit at the box office, Zoolander has built a strong cult following of fans, with even a lot of critics liking it, despite its outwardly vapid, brainless tone. Because of the comedy’s enduring audience, Stiller has been trying to get a sequel off the ground for many years, and has only now successfully accomplished it, with the unlikely release of Zoolander 2 having now hit theatres.
Once again aiming to be a satire of celebrity culture and the fashion industry, Zoolander 2 aims to openly acknowledge the long absence since the release of the first movie, with protagonists, Derek Zoolander and Hansel now being out-of-touch hermits who are brought back into their old world by ridiculous, and yet strangely familiar circumstances. Surely, it was a large ordeal to get Paramount to green-light a sequel to a cult comedy that didn’t make that much money when it was in theatres, a whole fifteen years ago, but somehow, Stiller made Zoolander 2 happen!… Which is why it’s incredibly unfortunate that Zoolander 2 is the very definition of a superfluous movie sequel.
This movie should not exist. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. This sequel is not only far too late to the party, releasing all the way in 2016, but its story, for all of its attempts at more ridiculous charm, doesn’t feel all that interesting, plus its humour ranges from feeling dated to just feeling illogical. The first Zoolander holds up as a fun, surprisingly clever and highly quotable movie that deserved more success than it got, but the sequel, disappointingly, really doesn’t feel like it was worth the wait.
If there’s any kind of strength to the underwhelming Zoolander 2, it’s the characters. The personalities of Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander and Owen Wilson’s Hansel are still as appealing as they ever were, and the movie is often carried by Stiller and Wilson, who still manage to get some solid laughs out of what’s otherwise a pretty disappointing follow-up. Stiller’s real-life wife, Christine Taylor no longer plays a large part in Zoolander 2 unfortunately, after serving as the primary love interest in the original Zoolander, though she does make a couple of cameo appearances as a ghost. Yes, they killed off Taylor’s character, which means that this sequel commits one of the cardinal sins of superfluous sequels out of the gate, namely by crapping all over the original’s happy, satisfying ending.
To be fair, the explanation for the disaster that kills Zoolander’s new wife, and has his son taken away from him, is a surprisingly and hilariously believable one, considering Zoolander’s character, but it’s nonetheless annoying to have the story of Zoolander dredged up and upended for this sequel. When things pick up, Zoolander and Hansel have both retreated from society, and end up roped back in to an espionage plot thanks to the new character of Valentina Valencia, a literal officer of the, “Fashion police” from INTERPOL. Apparently, only Zoolander and Hansel can stop a nefarious plot related to the fashion industry, which echoes a bit of the hilariously zany plot of the first Zoolander movie, though doesn’t capture the charm and fun of the first movie’s ridiculous setup.
Naturally, as the trailers gave away, Will Ferrell’s villain, Jacobim Mugatu is once again behind everything as well. Mugatu’s ultimate plan ends up having a rather tenuous connection to the Zoolander bloodline, which comes conveniently when Zoolander is trying to reconnect with his lost son. Yes, whereas the first movie was about Zoolander being forcibly brainwashed into assassinating the Malaysian prime minister during a fashion show (a delightfully insane plot that set Zoolander apart from other comedies), the sequel is about Zoolander trying to get his son back, and once again having to fight against Mugatu. Needless to say, it’s a bland diminishing return for this very funny character, especially when the ideas surrounding his son in this movie really don’t end up being all that funny or interesting.
There is an additional villain character this time, in the form of Alexanya Atoz, played by Kristen Wiig. There is a semi-decent twist with her character towards the end of the movie, which is kind of a funny callback to the first movie, but ultimately, Wiig’s villain just doesn’t make much of an impact. The most noteworthy thing about her is her grotesque plastic surgery-infested face, which makes her look terrifying, but that’s as far as the joke behind her goes. Ultimately, it’s Mugatu that’s running the show once again, which Zoolander 2 doesn’t do that great a job of hiding in the end.
Another sticking point with this sequel is the celebrity cameos, which are extremely scattershot, and frankly, pretty excessive. Some of the cameos can be funny, but some of them are completely pointless. Worst off here is Fred Armisen, who simply has his head CG’d onto a child’s body, and that’s the entire joke. What’s the punch line there? Is it that Fred Armisen is a child? How is that funny? Likewise, several of the celebrity appearances are callback gags to the first Zoolander movie, which means that anyone who hasn’t seen the original movie won’t understand the significance or purpose behind them. Some fans of Zoolander might get a few chuckles, but unless you’ve re-watched the first movie recently, you won’t find yourself understanding a lot of these celebrity-driven gags.
At least Stiller, Wilson and Ferrell prevent Zoolander 2 from becoming too boring, and their characters are still fun as ever, which is why it’s a shame that they weren’t given a better script to work with. The virtual absence of Taylor is a bummer, and while Penelope Cruz manages to hold her own, she just doesn’t have as much chemistry with Stiller as Taylor does in the end, probably because Taylor has the unique advantage of being Stiller’s actual wife. Why not keep Matilda and have Valentina be a love interest for Hansel? Oh, I guess because that would mean that we couldn’t have a weird running orgy joke to describe Hansel’s personal life, another callback that won’t make sense to anyone that hasn’t seen the original Zoolander. It all just amounts to feeling like a big indication that these characters were put to far better use in the first movie, and the new personalities just don’t carry the same amount of charm.
As I said, the storyline in Zoolander 2 really doesn’t measure up to the ridiculous, yet strangely brilliant storyline of the first movie. The attempts to parody fifteen years of sidesteps and eccentricities in celebrity culture and fashion since the release of Zoolander in 2001 are pretty frequent, and they do occasionally effectively capitalize on things like the advent of social media and the rise of mobile devices that’s occurred in the interim. When it comes down to it though, this sequel isn’t nearly as funny as the first movie was.
Some of this comes down to the over-dependence on callback gags to the first movie. This has the inadvertent side effect of drawing even more attention to the fact that the original Zoolander is so much better than its overdue follow-up. The other issue is that Zoolander 2 feels like it’s more concerned with cramming in as many celebrity appearances as possible, rather than building actual jokes around its characters. As much as Stiller, Wilson, Ferrell and even Wiig manage to be pretty funny at times, they would have been a lot funnier, had their character arcs actually been given more to work with beyond the least inspired of possible sequel directions for them.
This leads to Zoolander 2 feeling like a sequel that’s more predictable, noticeably less funny and significantly less clever than the original movie was. Yes, it’s fair to say that the first Zoolander movie was probably lightning in a bottle, but that’s all the more reason why Zoolander 2 might have been better off not existing, since it clearly struggles to recapture the first movie’s deranged recipe of surprise success.
Despite fellow collaborator, Justin Theroux originally supposed to be taking over directing duties of Zoolander 2 (you may remember Theroux as the ‘evil D.J.’ from the first movie), Stiller once again ended up directing Zoolander 2 himself in the end. Perhaps this is best, since nobody understands the Zoolander character better than Stiller himself, and even beyond that, Stiller is a great comedy director on his own merits, as evidenced by movies like Tropic Thunder, The Cable Guy and, yes, the original Zoolander.
For all of its stumbles in the plot and humour, Zoolander 2 is at least competently directed as well. The movie still has a good sense of energy, and even the jokes that fall flat are at least punctuated with an honest effort thrown behind them. The zany spirit of the first movie, while diminished, is still there, more let down by the shaky quality of the writing, rather than the concept of Zoolander no longer working. In fact, Stiller seems to want to go bigger in this second movie, especially now that he has a higher budget, though it could also be said that Stiller and co. may have gone too far with some of their ideas, particularly when Zoolander 2 starts becoming loaded with faulty visual effects that really don’t look convincing, even for a satirical movie.
Of course, it also helps that Stiller has a great rapport with the huge cast of actors and celebrities that he’s assembled here. Sure, some of the celebrity cameos are pretty pointless, but the ones that work are genuinely funny, even if those are less common than they should be. If nothing else though, Stiller nonetheless believes in the vision of Zoolander 2, and that’s evident from both himself and his many acting friends clearly having a good time, even if this sequel doesn’t totally come together as well as hoped. Fortunately, the sense of vigor and proud silliness still makes Zoolander 2 easy to watch, even if it’s sadly a lot less funny than the first movie was.
Zoolander 2 feels like a movie that’s explicitly designed for people who loved the original Zoolander, and have been waiting for this overdue sequel for the full fifteen years since the original came out. Everyone else however will not really find any reason to seek out Zoolander 2, especially since it had the woeful misfortune of opening against 20th Century Fox and Marvel’s mega-hit masterpiece, Deadpool, a movie that also happens to be a lot funnier than this one.
Like I said, as much as it’s painful to declare, Zoolander 2 was better off not existing. This sequel just proves to be a superfluous add-on to the original, which could have easily stood on its own, and in fact did stand on its own for a whole decade and a half! The presence of the Zoolander character would of course be welcome for appearances in comedy sketches and the like, but perhaps designing another full-fledged feature film around the character was too much to hope for, especially when the original movie already proved to be such an unlikely success.
If you’re actively interested in the Zoolander sequel, since you adore the original movie, you may have some fun with it, but it’s definitely not worth rushing out to see in the theatre. You may be better off waiting to rent it when it arrives on home viewing. As it stands, Zoolander 2 is not a disaster, but it feels like a disappointing follow-up, since it’s not as funny or as clever as the first movie. Perhaps it’s a case of collapsing under its own ambition, perhaps it’s a case of the wrong priorities. Whatever the case though, Zoolander 2 probably won’t be the sequel that fans of the original were hoping for. That’s really a shame, especially when you can probably derive more entertainment value from just watching the first movie again.
- Stiller, Wilson and Ferrell are still quite funny
- Lots of fan service for people who love the original
- A few genuinely funny celebrity cameos
- Storyline is significantly less funny and interesting
- Over-dependence on celebrity cameos and callback gags
- Ruins the first movie's satisfying ending