Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is to Anchorman what Ghostbusters 2 was to Ghostbusters. It’s an inferior, but lighthearted and often very funny retread of ground that had been previously covered much better in the original. Sure, it’s often hilarious (in the first half, anyway) and the cast jumps back into their roles quite nicely, but is it a good movie? Nope. Not that it matters. I doubt anyone going to see a sequel featuring Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay’s most memorable creation would want anything more than a quote-spewing good time that brings the old band back together, but even by those low-bar standards, it’s still a bit of a comedown. The first film I could watch endlessly on my own and never get tired of it. I would probably have to invite friends over for a considerable amount of drinks to sit through this one again.
Picking up several years after the events of the first film, doofus newsman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) have been successfully co-anchoring the weekend evening news. When Veronica gets promoted to prime time and Ron gets fired for essentially dragging down every newscast, he takes it quite terribly. Suicidal, drunk, and on the verge of ending it all, Ron is approached by a producer (Dylan Baker) looking to put together a team for the overnight shift at a newfangled early 80s 24 hour news channel. He reunites his old news team from his San Diego days (investigative reporter Brian Fantana, played by Paul Rudd, sportscaster Champ Kind, played by David Koechner, and weatherman/lamp enthusiast Brick Tamland, played by Steve Carell) and heads to work for an Australian multimillionaire owner (Josh Lawson) and a boss that just so happens to be an empowered black female (Meagan Good). His presence at the new station also sets up a rivalry with their ace anchor, Jack Lime (James Marsden), forcing Burgundy to up his game and to create the kind of claptrap news we all see today on television.
It sounds like there’s a lot of plot to Anchorman 2, but there really isn’t, nor would anyone expect there to be who buys a ticket for this anarchic joke fest. Much like the first entry, the story and direction are nothing more than a thin framework designed to act as a “gag delivery system.” In that respect Anchorman 2 serves a purpose, but this time out, something is definitely off, and anyone who knows how the first film was made and how this one was similarly assembled can see what the problem is.
This follow-up doesn’t always conjure up the good memories of its predecessor, relying far too heavily on almost word-for-word call backs to the original film instead of trying for more original jokes (tons of “By the [blank] of [blank] quotes, a climax that’s just an even further over the top rehash of one of the first film’s funniest cameo filled set pieces, nods to late 20th century sexism/racism, etc.). It’s also very Ron-centric. Aside from the early “where are they now” look at the news team, Ron’s hilariously dead eyed son, and a few colourful moments with Brick attempting to strike up an awkward romance with an equally nutty co-worker (Kristen Wiig, brilliantly trolling every indie-Hollywood Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype there is), none of the supporting cast ever has much to do.
That’s disappointing because in terms of how the film ends up being assembled, it has a lot more in common with the direct-to-DVD, pseudo-sequel Wake Up, Ron Burgundy! that was made up of deleted scenes and plotlines that were excised from the original three hour cut of the first film. This one – which was also cut down allegedly from three hours in length with another B-side movie apparently on the way – comes across as a lot sloppier and far more rushed, despite the almost ten year gap between the films. Assuredly it would have been hard to bring this cast back together and there had to be a time crunch to get these people all in the same place at the same time. It’s hard to hold anything against the cast specifically, but they often have to resort to mugging for the camera instead of telling funny jokes or trying to get out of awkward situations. While the first film had time to actually whittle down all of the improvised “let’s throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks” anarchy in the editing room, there’s little sense of that here, with many scenes in the film’s second half just crashing into each other at full speed without ever actually being connected to one another.
Also, when the film begins to transition into almost exclusively about Ron (in a lengthy, dull sequence where he loses his sight that’s taken almost verbatim from a combination of situations in Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory, and the first film at the same time), it also kind of stops being funny. There’s no one really able to reel Ferrell in, and if they shot that much footage and this 15 minute segment was legitimately the best thing they had, then maybe they really should have just made individual sketches and thrown them up on Funny or Die instead of making a full length film. It becomes the one thing that these kinds of movies shouldn’t be: slow and badly paced.
But for the first hour at least, the laughs are quite hearty, with the returning cast bringing a great deal of nostalgia and similar performances (save for Carell, who actually improves on Brick’s batshit nuttiness), and that will probably be enough for most people to be entertained. The film’s climax is fairly cheap given that it’s something that’s been done before by these guys, but it’s still the best callback to the original McKay and company can offer overall. There’s also some clever, if perhaps a bit too on-the-nose satire about modern news that the first film never really tried to approach. It’s a nice touch, but not one that changes the complexion of the film all that much.
But who am I kidding, really? If you even read this far you’re probably one of maybe 10% of the movie going public who liked the first film and are on the fence as to whether or not you want to see the news team get into more shenanigans. It’s essentially critic proof to an extent where I might as well be critiquing snowfall, sunsets, or kittens. It won’t matter what I say. You’ll probably laugh and eat it up as much as I did during its best moments, but you’ll probably still think it isn’t as good as the first one. And much like the movie I have just written about here, I’ve spent far too long getting to that point.