It’s way too long, haphazardly plotted and teases on being more than a joke machine without really following-through, but I laughed more at Anchorman 2 than almost any other comedy this year.
The original Anchorman has, over time, turned into one of the all-time great comedies. The kind that’s hilarious upon initial viewing and only gets better upon repeated goes-through. It’s extremely funny, smart in its own silly way, tells a clear and coherent story and, arguably most importantly, lean with a run-time that only just reaches past the 90 minute mark when the credits start up, creating a film that never sags. I loved it, pretty much everybody else loved it and it left no room or reason for there to be a sequel. But here is one anyway, because that’s how this industry works.
So, the bad news, first. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues indulges in all the tropes that a big, tent-pole sequel to a surprise success indulges in. The budget is twice that of the first one, which means that a lot more is going on, which means that almost all semblance of a coherent structure has been tossed out of the window. The cameos are more frequent, more pronounced and much bigger in name. More screen-time is given to the breakout characters, inadvertently saddling others with almost next-to-no material. And it’s longer. Much longer. This one is whiskers away from the 2 hour mark when the credits have finished rolling and boy does it feel like it at points.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that Anchorman 2 delivers where it counts: being extremely funny. In fact, excluding The World’s End, I have not laughed this hard or this frequently at any other comedy this year.
I’m not going to bother outlining the plot because even the film itself doesn’t seem to much care about it, either. Instead, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his “Best Damn News Team” Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) are dropped into various situations and funny stuff happens. They’re hired to help anchor a new 24-hour news network. Their new boss is a black woman by the name of Linda Jackson (Meagan Good) who takes over the false-straight-woman role from Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate, who is still in this in a big way, though). They have a rival anchor named Jack Lime (a perfectly cast James Marsden) who struts about the place like the bullying jock in a high school locker room. The owner of the station is an Australian millionaire who made his money and his empire by inheriting it off of his father. And, along the way, Ron Burgundy and his “Best Damn News Team” accidentally end up inventing the modern news format.
Those last two parts are where Anchorman 2 has the opportunity to get a leg up on its predecessor. There’s genuine satire that can and is mined here, and the characters that populate the Anchorman universe are great devices to execute that satire because of course somebody like Ron Burgundy would wonder “Why do we have to tell the people what they need to hear? Why can’t we just tell them what they want to hear?” Unfortunately, it’s satire that’s discarded just as soon as it’s brought up. The film makes the point and then… does nothing with it. Ron and co. learn that they can make news stories in addition to reporting on them, but the opportunity to say anything other than the obvious makes it an opportunity wasted. I’m sure that many viewers will be happy to hear that the film makes its points and then just gets back to telling jokes, instead of beating them over the head with the point for the remaining hour or so, but Anchorman 2 teased being more than a joke machine so I’m personally saddened that it didn’t follow-through on that tease.
Instead, the film is basically a joke machine and that comes at the expense of anything resembling a coherent structure or plot. In fact, the film only starts to bother with structure and plot in about the final 40 minutes when Veronica fully re-enters the picture. Otherwise, the film is content to drop its characters into various scenarios and see what happens, which is fine, but the sheer number of scenarios and the very long run-time cause the film to start dragging by the hour and ten mark. The jokes don’t let up, the very funny jokes don’t let up at all, but this is a film that would have benefitted immensely from both a tighter focus (there are points where it just seems like writers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks) and an editor willing to cut the movie down to 90 minutes.
In addition, certain segments just plain don’t work. Brick, being the ensemble dark-horse of the original, gets his own subplot where he falls in love with a woman who is basically the female version of himself, and if you ever needed a prime piece of evidence as to why you don’t pair two Cloud Cuckoolanders, one of them being the breakout character of the original film, together on screen for extended periods of time with no straight-man to bounce off of, then here it is. It’s not the faults of Carell or Kristen Wiig, who plays the love interest, it’s just that their sub-plot is nothing but interminably long anti-humour with no payoff and it stops being funny very quickly.
Lastly on my complaints list, this is Ron Burgundy’s movie. Yes, Brick might have his own subplot, but that’s pretty much discarded at the halfway mark, along with most of the supporting cast. Jack Lime is dealt with about 45 minutes and pretty much disappears until the finale, after that. Ron strikes up a semi-romance with his new boss which is promptly ditched along with her character once Veronica re-enters the film in the final third. Brian’s main job in this film is to argue with Ron when the latter lets his fame go to his head. In fact, excepting one scene (his re-introduction scene, no less), I’m struggling to think of a single thing that Champ ended up doing in this movie. Admittedly, the film’s universe does revolve Ron Burgundy, so it would be weird to see him side-lined for lengthy periods of time, but the film has a great ensemble of characters and a fantastic cast playing them, so it’s hard for me not to find it disappointing that most of them are kept out of the spotlight in favour of more and more Burgundy.
Now, there is a reason why I’ve spent over half of this review going over the problems with Anchorman 2. Firstly, I listed those complaints so they you could realise just how funny Anchorman 2 is. A lesser film would be irreparably crippled by an over-long running time, an unfocussed screenplay and an often wasted supporting cast, so it’s a testament to just how funny Anchorman 2 is that it’s still worth seeing despite those problems. The other reason: I really don’t want to ruin why Anchorman 2 is so funny. This is the thing about reviewing comedies. With bad ones, the reviewer can state the reasons why it sucks and why the jokes don’t work because they’re trying to keep people away from the film. With a good comedy, it becomes a constant exercise in going “There’s this one bit that’s really funny but I don’t want to tell you why because you should really should see the movie yourself!” So, I’m going to try and vaguely detail the type of humour that Anchorman 2 traffics in without spoiling anything, and then I’m going to end this review and tell you to go and see this movie. OK? OK.
Yes, Anchorman 2 does repeat a fair few of the gags, or types of gags, from the original Anchorman, usually attempting to go bigger in some way. For example, remember the news anchor fight from the original? That gag is back for this one but with bigger stars playing the rival news teams (including what is, in my humble opinion, the single greatest film cameo of the 21st Century), a bigger scale (that it doesn’t completely follow-through on, but quite honestly I didn’t care in the slightest) and it’s placed near the end of the film with it feeding into the finale’s scenario, instead of just operating on Rule of Funny. See, though it pillages from its predecessor, Anchorman 2 puts enough new twists and bells and whistles onto its gags to make them feel fresh. It makes gags from the first film into constantly entertaining running gags instead of just direct rips, if that makes sense. Plus, Ron Burgundy’s ridiculous turns of phrase in this film are forever justified when he blurts out “By Olivia Newton-John’s Xanadu!”
The tone of the comedy, though, is still on the same level as the original: stupid characters doing incredibly dumb things and often getting rewarded for their dumbness. Jokes come flying in from all angles, set-ups and punch-lines are doled out with ruthless efficiency and the majority of scenes end just as the last possible bit of humour has been rung from them. There’s very little that’s subtle about the film, pretty much everybody is a crazed sociopath in some way shape or form, but the jokes are funny enough by themselves that a lack of subtlety wasn’t particularly an issue for me. And though the film doesn’t follow-through nearly enough on it, what satire is here is still very much appreciated, adding slight depth to a film that’s otherwise almost permanently operating at 11.
And, of course, it’s almost all delivered superbly by an extremely game cast, with several notable standouts. Assuming that you haven’t been over-exposed on him by this point, Ferrell as Burgundy can still bring the belly laughs and is still more than capable of flitting between insane, idiotic, egomaniac man-child (there’s a scenario late into the film that should have stopped being funny by its halfway point, but stays funny for its entire run-time purely because Ferrell knows exactly how to deliver it) and occasional sane man to crazier antics. James Marsden is damn near perfect as the jerk-y, snivelling and petulant Jack Lime. Meagan Goode emulates the Christina Applegate role from the original excellently, just with more sass, whilst Applegate herself manages to get laughs, even whilst forced into the straight man role. And Judah Nelson, as Ron and Veronica’s 8-year old son, pitches his character so high into the “annoying child morality pet” spectrum that he’s able to elevate the script’s parody of such a character into being one of the film’s most consistently entertaining jokes.
So, Anchorman 2 is everything that you’re imagining a 10-years-in-the-making sequel to a surprise hit comedy to be. It’s way, way, way too long, overstuffed, haphazardly plotted, demonstrates why providing a popular side-character with more screen time and a subplot of their own is not always a good thing and it often wastes its very funny cast of characters by simply not using them. But you know what? I have not laughed this hard at a film in a cinema screen in a god damn age. There were tears of laughter in my eyes at one point and I’m pretty sure other people in the cinema screen (who similarly loved it) were looking at me weirdly for laughing so loudly and so frequently. Considering the fact that I can count the number of genuinely funny comedies released this year on one hand, I am more than willing to let those big complaints slide in favour of celebrating a comedy film being funny.
Only time will tell if it’s as great as the original Anchorman, and it goes without saying that if you disliked the original then you will almost definitely dislike this one, but Anchorman 2 is a damn funny movie. And you know what? Sometimes that’s more than enough.