There was a time, a time before Anchorman… But really, who wants to remember that time? Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s first movie about news-reading anarchy has enjoyed the kind of ripple-effect longevity that comedy filmmakers dream of. So it’s easy to forget that, on release, the first Anchorman was not considered a success; the reviews were middling and this was reflected in its audience share… But then something started happening…
Word of mouth. Anchorman‘s quick-fire ad-libbed nonsense was so silly – and so quotable – that the film found a devoted audience, and that audience just kept growing. The internet played a big part in this. There are entire websites devoted to t-shirts that reference lines from the movie. And while McKay and Ferrell have gone on to bigger (but not really better) things, the prospect of a sequel never quite disappeared. Now, here it is.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues has an unenviable task; following up one of the most beloved comedies of the last decade. I must admit that I wasn’t there right away with the first movie, but I was one of the people caught up in its wake and now I’m a devotee as much as any other. I was nervous about this project. Was it necessary? Could it ever be as good?
Things start off tentatively. Like most sequels, Anchorman 2 has some busywork to do before it can set sail. It’s now the 80’s, Ron and Veronica (Christina Applegate) have moved to New York, where their husband-and-wife news team has been a success, but when Veronica is promoted and Ron isn’t, he (inevitably) causes a scene and leaves. Working at Seaworld doesn’t cut it, but an alluring offer at a burgeoning 24-hour news network inspires Ron to get the ol’ team back together for one last hurrah.
McKay and Ferrell are right to get this done as quickly as possible. The early scenes don’t quite hit with the instant buffoonery that we’re accustomed to, and it almost seems as though Anchorman 2 might try to play out as – gasp! – a proper film, instead of the compendium of carnage we’ve been waiting for. Yet the stage must be set, and once Champ (David Koechner), Brian (Paul Rudd) and Brick (Steve Carell) are reunited, that ol’ magic isn’t far behind them.
That Anchorman 2 plays on some of the big laughs already established is to be expected. So there’s jazz flute and Brian’s cupboard of erotic aids, Ron’s hazardous dependency on the autocue and, of course, Brick getting overwhelmed by, well, everything. And yet when these greatest hits are dusted off here they don’t feel like crutches. More like fond returns. The nine-year gap between movies might’ve helped here – Anchorman 2 gets away with recycling a lot simply by nostalgia.
And yet, importantly, virtually all of it works. I’m pleased to report that the hit rate on gags here is more or less equal with Anchorman. When it comes to the comedy McKay hasn’t strayed far from the original formula – get these guys in a room, shoot them saying and doing ridiculous things, cut your movie together from whatever works best. I’ve no doubt there was enough footage for at least two completely different films. But it’s not all variations on familiar ground. Along the way they pleasingly try to expand their repertoire; a sequence at a lighthouse involving a shark is simply joyful lunacy, while Kristen Wiig’s inclusion as Brick’s equally hampered love interest allows for some endearing moments.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that, out of nowhere, Anchorman 2 suddenly has a point to make. A significant plot thread sees Ferrell and co delving into some rather pointed satire as their new boss – a thinly veiled Rupert Murdoch-type – pressures them to cut a story because it embarrasses a corporate partner. This (together with some less-than-subtle barbs at the dumbing-down of broadcast journalism) threatens to turn Anchorman 2 into an issues movie. Initially it feels a little odd – are they really doing this? – but as the film bloats (and it does), it soon seems there is ample room for a little social commentary.
Less successful is a return to Ron’s awkwardness with social change. His new boss is not only a woman (shock!) but she’s black (double shock!). Anchorman 2 just about gets away with what follows because it so thoroughly reminds the audience what an idiot Burgundy is, but it strays awfully, awfully close to derailing, particularly at a family dinner sequence which would’ve been best left on the cutting room floor.
Speaking of editing, the film overall feels a little too big. The unwritten rule-of-thumb is that 90 minutes is about right for a comedy movie. Anchorman 2 goes for the full two hours, and it occasionally feels heavy with material. However, the final act redeems these moments by brazenly upscaling the nonsense. There’s a trump card; the news team battle. What follows is, quite simply, mayhem.
So it’s a little bigger than it maybe needs to be, and there are a few longer gaps between the belly laughs because it’s actually trying to say something… but Anchorman 2 largely nails it. Try to divorce yourself from comparing it to the first movie. They’re different versions of the same thing, which is a remarkably successful and repeatedly funny piece of entertainment. A genuine hit comedy is incredibly rare and incredibly hard to pull off. As difficult as the genuinely scary horror film. These guys continue to make it look easy. Against all odds, the legend has continued.
By the hymen of Olivia Newton John, we just might have another classic on our hands. And even if not, this is by some distance the best film with Will Smith in it. Whammy.