2014 was met with a bit of a slump for several prominent film genres, and among these was definitely the R-rated comedy genre, which failed to turn out just about any significant hits that year, despite the huge post-The Hangover boom that’s been in place since the start of the 2010’s. Fortunately, one bright spot in an otherwise dismal year for adult-oriented comedies was Neighbors, an early Summer movie that did very well at the box office, and received fairly decent feedback. Considering that the movie was distributed by Universal, a sequel-loving studio that also specializes in R-rated comedies, the announcement soon afterward that Neighbors would be getting a follow-up was pretty predictable.
Coming together fairly quickly, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has now arrived, taking the formula from the original movie, and turning it on its head, while still adhering to what made the first movie work as well as it did. It’s a fairly routine setup for a comedy sequel, but what’s surprising about Neighbors 2 is that it actually aims a lot higher than you would imagine with its humour. With Neighbors 2 getting an extra foot in the door after a successful first installment, this sequel tries to take the comedy further, not just in low-brow goofs, but also in surprisingly biting social commentary, making Neighbors 2 surprisingly more intelligent than its predecessor, and definitely a sequel with more to say.
Some of the faults within the ridiculous Neighbors premise still linger, and not every joke or attempt to roast gender stereotypes and preconceptions is successful, but considering how often comedy sequels amount to tiresome diminishing returns, Neighbors 2 deserves to be commended for actually measuring up to what its predecessor was in pretty much every way. The conflict is simpler and more clean-cut this time, but beyond that, Neighbors 2 could actually be overall superior to its predecessor in the end, making it that special comedy follow-up that actually does manage to repackage the same joke, and yet go somewhere new and exciting with it.
New parents, Mac and Kelly, once again played by Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, respectively, are yet again suffering some unwelcome neighbours in Neighbors 2, with the shocking twist that this time, it’s a sorority, not a fraternity that is moving in next to them. Occupying the former house of Teddy Sanders’ Delta Psi Beta fraternity from the first movie, new sorority, Kappa Nu, led by Chloe Grace Moretz’s Shelby, wants to defy the rule of sororities not being allowed to host in-house parties with their new sisterhood. That means plenty of noise, chaos and destruction for Mac and Kelly to once again face.
Immediately, Neighbors 2 gets to work satirizing gender convention and perception, in that Shelby’s sorority is arguably even worse than Teddy’s former fraternity. Unlike Teddy’s boys, who were just being boys, Shelby’s sorority is actively going out of their way to party harder than anyone else at their college, to supposedly strike a blow for womens’ rights, as well as grow the sorority and raise money to keep the house. This effectively raises the stakes of the sequel, while also making Shelby an interesting new antagonist for Mac and Kelly to deal with. It also helps that Moretz is great in this part, ranging perfectly from being unassuming to surprisingly devious.
To compensate however, this streamlined approach to the sequel does simplify the conflict. Whereas the first Neighbors could have created a case for either of the warring sides, Neighbors 2 offers a pretty clear-cut battle; The sorority are definitely the bad guys, and are clearly in the wrong. Because of this, some of the jokes and sorority subterfuge do end up being strained to the point of making Shelby’s crew too unlikable, especially when Mac and Kelly’s reprisals are pretty tame in comparison to the nasty and blatantly illegal things that Shelby’s sorority is doing in response. Pressing this point further is that Mac and Kelly are trying to move into a new house, and make the reasonable request of the sorority not to party too hard for just thirty days, giving them enough time to sell to new owners and move. The sorority so aggressively defying them makes them come off as unsympathetic and selfish, even if Neighbors 2 does at least avoid feeling mean-spirited towards women, or men for that matter.
The fact that it’s equal opportunity is a high point in this sequel, which does manage to examine both sides of its sexism themes, despite making the movie’s main conflict more black-and-white this time. The movie does sort of portray Kappa Nu as tragic villains and victims of circumstance, even when they act noticeably more vile than Teddy’s crew ever did, since they’re basically a monster that their sexist Greek housing system created, and inevitably lost control over, with Mac and Kelly suffering the consequences instead of the school. As a satire of the Greek college housing system in the U.S., Neighbors 2 does work, showing that the no-party rule for women is indeed pretty unrealistic in this day and age, and that colleges are legitimately begging for a situation like the one in this movie.
On the flip side, Neighbors 2 also does a pretty good job of examining the other side of sexism in our modern youth culture, namely how some women treat the sexism card as a get-out-of-jail-free card, and think it gives them the right to be as nasty or as sociopathic as they want in order to make a point. Obviously, that’s not valid, and to Neighbors 2’s credit, it doesn’t necessarily reward Shelby’s sorority for their bad behaviour. Instead of making a lazy, “Boys rule, girls drool” theme, which most lesser movies like this would have been content to do, Neighbors 2 commendably takes the high road, and tries to illustrate an example that serves as a learning experience for all of the characters, and one that highlights that there’s a right way and a wrong way to strike a blow for womens’ rights. Shelby and her girls are doing it the wrong way, and the movie is up front with that, even if it does come at the expense of making the conflict less interesting than it was in the first movie.
As inspired as the new device for the sequel is though, it’s not just Mac and Kelly squaring off with Kappa Nu that really makes it work. The return of Zac Efron’s Teddy, once again a principal character in the story, serves as a very effective wild card for the two dueling neighbours, especially since he’s lost his way in life, after clearly piquing in college, and the events of the first movie. Initially trying to help Shelby’s crew move in, Teddy quickly sees that they’re becoming a genuine menace, and switches sides to stand alongside Mac and Kelly this time. Making Teddy, a former nemesis, become an ally to our leads is another interesting turn for the sequel, and one that results in a good mix of new jokes and funny callbacks to the original Neighbors. Zac Efron is also continuing to beautifully come into his own as a comedy actor to boot, and Teddy is definitely one of the funniest characters in this sequel, with Efron managing to easily keep pace with the talented likes of Rogen and Byrne.
The added maturity and commentary behind Neighbors 2 is genuinely surprising, albeit very pleasantly, especially after the first movie was pretty content to be a straight-up raunchy college kids-vs.-adults comedy. Neighbors was still good, but Neighbors 2 feels like it takes its personalities a step further, making this movie a little deeper and a little smarter, though certainly not to the point where it overrides the goofy laughs that audiences no doubt came for.
There’s certainly more depth to Neighbors 2 in contrast to the first movie, even if the actual story is still fairly low-brow with its jokes. Even then though, the premise is very simple, and definitely echoes the same idea as the first movie; Mac and Kelly are new parents that want peace and quiet for their infant daughter, but some rowdy college kids next door just aren’t letting them have it, prompting Mac and Kelly to start a war with their insufferable young neighbours to try and force them out, while the neighbours take revenge on Mac and Kelly’s sabotaging efforts, leading to an ever-escalating suburban war.
Like I said, Neighbors 2 is a lot more than the same idea with the college kids’ genders swapped as well. As much as the jokes still rely on a fair bit of crass humour, none of it feels exploitative or mean-spirited, instead aiming to create a method to the madness of the low-brow gags. Now, on the flip side, if you were hoping that a switch to a sorority would equal more nudity and sex jokes, at least more so than the first movie, Neighbors 2 doesn’t really offer that. That’s commendable though, since it doesn’t treat its new female antagonists as sex objects. In fact, in all honesty, most of the women of Kappa Nu are pretty average-looking, which is a shocking choice for an R-rated comedy, but also a satisfying one that female viewers especially are bound to appreciate, even if some younger, hornier male viewers might feel let down.
Sure, you can still poke holes in the premise, especially the fact that none of the other neighbours seem to have a problem with a sorority that is extremely obnoxious and destructive, but Neighbors 2 sticks to a strong central idea, and layers a plot around it that never manages to feel too complicated, but also still feels like it has a worthy amount to say. The 92-minute runtime is pretty brisk, and there’s more than a few quick solutions thrown in whenever anything threatens to slow down the movie, but fortunately, Neighbors 2 also doesn’t overstay its welcome. As with its predecessor, it focuses most on being a good comedy on its own terms, and for the most part, this sequel continues to pull that off very well.
Nicholas Stoller once again returns to helm Neighbors 2, and this time, Stoller directly contributed to the movie’s script, again written by the first movie’s duo of writers, along with Rogen and his regular writing/producing partner, Evan Goldberg. These script tweaks by Stoller, Rogen and Goldberg might explain why Neighbors 2 is suddenly trying to aim higher with its social commentary, since Stoller especially is very big on injecting contemporary social themes throughout his comedy.
The increased creative control in both Stoller’s writing and direction sometimes works to the benefit of Neighbors 2 for sure though, since it makes the sequel feel a little more polished and memorable than its predecessor in some respects. There are definitely still instances of lewd humour, but even the rudest of jokes don’t damage the movie’s overall message, or considerable wit. In refining an idea that he already helped realize, Stoller’s direction feels even more confident and sharp in Neighbors 2, even if most of the creative risks taken are in the themes more so than the gags.
A few jokes are recycled from the original Neighbors, whether as intentional callbacks or scene-fillers, though the new material noticeably outweighs the returning material. Even beyond that, Stoller’s direction continues to realize a tight, funny and entertaining comedy overall in Neighbors 2, which recaptures the same variety of raucous fun as its predecessor, while also effectively taking the opportunity to add a garnish of contemporary wisdom on top of it.
Whether or not you feel that Neighbors 2 surpasses its predecessor will come down to your own subjective taste in comedic priorities, but regardless of where you land in accepting streamlined jokes and more prevalent social themes, Neighbors 2 does stand as a strong comedy sequel that succeeds even by just being comparable to its well-received predecessor. The fact that the movie will likely exceed the quality of its predecessor for those looking for a wittier spin on a similar formula is all the better, even if some may also prefer the more raunchy, traditional antics of the original Neighbors.
For the most part though, Neighbors 2 does exactly what a great comedy sequel should do; It takes the core appeal of its predecessor, and strikes a strong balance between familiarity and novelty within its follow-up storyline. Inevitably, as with any comedy sequel, Neighbors 2 will either bring back its predecessor’s premise or completely throw it out, and in this case, this sequel certainly skews toward the former, but the way that this second movie successfully puts an especially inspired, clever spin on an idea that many viewers likely felt had been exhausted by the end of the first Neighbors, still has this sequel defying the odds in a very cool way.
This has Neighbors 2 standing alongside Deadpool and The Jungle Book as one of 2016’s best big screen surprises, and adult comedy enthusiasts definitely shouldn’t miss it! This is certainly one of those comedies that you may love more or less than your peers, depending on what you personally find most satisfying in your comedies, but at the very least, you will considerably enjoy it, even if there’s no doubt as to who you’re supposed to be rooting for this time.
- Still packed with crass, very funny suburban sabotage
- Clever, effective themes of sexism and stereotypes
- Zac Efron's Teddy is an even bigger comedic standout
- Conflict is more clear-cut this time
- A few plot contrivances