The original Zoolander’s gags, while sometimes dumb, ended up working because they were wrapped up in such a fresh concept – male models are really, really stupid – and also Ben Stiller’s inspired performance as the eponymous pouty lead.
Sadly, the sequel feels less inspired. Zoolander 2 takes the jokes from the original and recycles them with a few minor tweaks, and while there are some laughs here and there thanks to some silly jokes hitting the right notes, it never reaches the height of the original, or anywhere close for that matter.
The film picks up 15 years after the original. Apparently, Derek Zoolander’s infamous Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good collapsed, killing his wife Matilda, injuring his model mate Hansel (Owen Wilson) and causing his son, Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold), to be taken away. Derek is then lured back into the world of fashion in hope of reuniting with his estranged son.
Rather expectedly, Stiller and Wilson still have their on-screen chemistry as Derek and Hansel and get back into their groove pretty quickly. Their love of “not knowing things together” is recaptured in the opening stages of the film, but is never capitalised on to full effect due to the constant bombardment of celebrity cameos. While they played a role in the original, the celebrities were merely proxies for the interaction between Derek and Hansel (which is what people really want to see); this time around pop-culture celebrities are gratuitously thrown in as segways for the next plot point, often leaving me feeling like they’re an unwanted visitor at my favourite dinner party.
Will Ferrell’s over-the-top villain Mugatu returns in the latter parts of the film, and as always, Ferrell is at his best when playing the outlandish, upping the ante of every scene he’s in and spouting some magnificent gobbledegook (“I’m the mamma bejamba!”).
However, it has to be said that the new addition to the cast, Kristin Wiig, playing evil fashion mogul Alexanya Atoz, is the real showstopper. Wiig commandeers the audience every time she’s on screen with her bizarre Eastern European accent and strange mannerisms, making her a fitting inclusion in the offbeat Zoolander roster.
The real problem of the movie is how tonally different it is from the original. The first movie dabbled the line of the ridiculousness while still being grounded in a real world, which was a huge part of its charm. Seeing how stereotyped male models operate in a real world context was great, but the sequel emphatically embraces the ridiculousness to the point where where the entire world and all its personalities are bizarre caricatures of themselves (there’s a scene which sees Penélope Cruz’s character gain the ability to swim like a dolphin, for example).
Ironically, in a film that tries to tell the story about a former fashion model attempting to be relevant in the modern world, the film itself ends up trying way too hard to be relevant with younger audiences by shoehorning a celebrity-a-minute cameos that kill the momentum of the gags, leaving it to fall flat on the catwalk.