The classiest news anchor since the dawn of time is back for a second outing- but can it match the original cult classic?
In the case of Anchorman 2, we find that the plain reality of the situation is as such- Paramount Pictures' decision to commission a sequel was hardly the most risky aspect of the production, nor the prospect of besting the renowned first film. That aspect is instead writers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell's narrative approach, which far from implying a desire to distinguish the sequel from past tropes, in fact seeks to celebrate every element that has contributed to the franchise's success.
Such a tactic has been tried and tested before in the realms of comedy, of course, and a single glance over at The Hangover: Part III and Kick-Ass 2 provides a reliable indication of the results of a backfire. Yet in crafting what effectively amounts to a love letter to their fanbase, McKay and Ferrell have accomplished an astounding feat, for Anchorman 2 represents a modern pinnacle of comic narrative progression. If any single character, location or setpiece from the 2003 classic comes to mind, then this reviewer can virtually guarantee its reprisal in an innovative form at some point during the piece's respectable 120-minute running time.
One of the primary difficulties, however, in attempting to bring across the central factors of the sequel's success is the detrimental nature of spoilers. Suffice to say that the film wraps up with a momentous confrontation that will no doubt hold much the same cult status as the last film's brawl featuring Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller and other comedy greats, for reasons which will become apparent upon a first viewing. During the plot's opening two acts, a justified concern at the lack of star cameos may arise for the viewer, but come the familiar yet simultaneously inspired climax, such a criticism would be borderline-impossible to assert without reservations. The marketing team's premature revelation that Indiana Jones' Harrison Ford features in early scenes is just one slip-up in an otherwise impeccable campaign of secrecy that allows for a wholeheartedly satisyfing pay-off here.
Producer Judd Apatow has hinted that an alternate cut of Anchorman 2 is in the works thanks to the numerous instances of dialogue improvisation from its lead stars, and it's not difficult to see why. Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Steve Carrell's evident buddy relationship on- and off-screen has scarcely changed over the course of a decade, nor each individual member of the quarter's capability of constantly delivering a one-liner to pitch perfect hilarious effect. An inevitable by-product of the unashamedly fan-appeasing script, though, is that the gang's recurring tropes are clear as daylight second time around. Rudd and Koechner's roles here are more akin to those of secondary charactrers when viewed alongside Ron and Brick's extensive respective screentime.
Even the little touches in the script and McKay's direction make all the difference in the overall experience. Whether it's the Channel 4 news team getting their kicks from a retro Garfield comic-book or a side-splitting cameo from the BBC, the latter corporation now headed by the most unlikely British thespian yet, or the creative team's exploration of the effects of having digital text scattered across various areas of a news broadcast, there are certainly developments to be discovered throughout, layered moments of nuance in which the enduring satirical nature of the series remains prominent. These subtle innovations aren't quite enough to overshadow the structural and tonal paralells between the sequel and the original, but they can and will be appreciated hugely by series newcomers and veterans regardless.
Not every gag hits the mark, as can be expected of just about any modern comedy. In particular, Anchorman 2's dealing with racial segregation and "assimilation" is a contentious matter to say the least, and not one which is necessarily conducted in such a fashion that it completely justifies McKay and Ferrell's step to do so. The sub-plot involving Carrell's Brick and Kristen Wiig's whimsical love interest Chani is also at times underutilised and at other times an unnecessary distraction from the bulk of the action, though never to any extent of profound detriment. Anchorman (4/5) itself was not a perfect comedy film structurally or in its own jokes, and even if its successor doesn't quite retain the iconic hilarity of its setpieces, what's on offer here will humour the viewer too frequently for the occasional missteps to result in eventual disappointment.
Considering that most Anchorfans (myself included) will rightly have entered the auditorium broadcasting the second instalment with a sense of trepidation, that it disapparates any initial suspicions of a misfire is an incredible achievement. Like its renowned predecessor, Anchorman 2 isn't flawless, but it does reclaim an oft-neglected sense of reckless wonder in the genre of comedy, its audacious integration of supernatural creatures into the final act acting as a seamless development of the script's crazed, experimental tone. Were a third outing to come on the cards, then Ferrell, McKay and Apatow would doubtless have to think up an isolated narrative which doesn't place any reliance on prior, potentially tiring trope. In this single, spectacular instance, however, the team pull off their love letter to one of the genre's defining greats with inspired aplomb- ten years on, no man stays classy with quite the same bombastic flair that Ron Burgundy still exhibits.