Zoolander 2 is just as dumb and silly as the original film. Some people will take that statement as an endorsement of the movie, and some will take it as a criticism; how you read it will likely dictate if you’ll enjoy this 15-years-later sequel or not. For this reviewer, it was meant as a compliment: much like the original, this next chapter skewers people, places, and things in such a way that the presentation is always vapid but the satire is usually spot-on.
The plot of the film is razor-thin, and follows fairly standard movie tropes. After a long hiatus from the public eye (told via news-story flashbacks where several prominent national news anchors begin the parade of cameos – more on that later), Derek Zoolander must return to the world of fashion if he has any hope to get over the loss of his wife, reconnect with his son Derek Junior, and oh yeah – stop an evil plot from one of the biggest twisted masterminds of our time. There, see? Once sentence and the whole storyline is pretty much laid out for you.
What the film lacks in inventive story-telling, however, is made up for by the appearance and commitment of both the original characters to continuing their zany parade as well as the newcomers who breathe an odd sense of excitement into the tale. Pretty much the whole original gang is back in action for us: in addition to Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and his dead-but-appears-as-a-ghost wife Matilda (Christine Taylor), we’ve also got former-rival model Hansel (Owen Wilson) and super-crazy-evil Mugatu (Will Ferrell) rounding out the primary characters. Even bit-role players are back in action, including the bad-guy crew of Katinka (Milla Jovovich) and “Evil DJ” (Justin Theroux, whose also one of the writers of both this film and the original), face-making and latte-failing assistant Todd (Nathan Lee Graham), and everybody’s “cool friend,” Billy Zane himself. New blood includes Penelope Cruz as super-spy Valentina, Kristen Wiig as nigh-indecipherable fashionista Alexanya Atoz, Cyrus Arnold as Derek Junior, and Benedict Cumberbatch (yes, really) as a pan-gender supermodel named All (yes, really!!).
The aforementioned list of celebrity cameos is extensive, to say the least. In addition to the mega-stars of the fashion-designer world playing ultra-evil versions of themselves (including Tommy Hilfiger, Anna Wintour, Valentino, Marc Jacobs, and Alexander Wang), here is the list of celebrities that this reviewer recalls seeing, often in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances: John Malkovich, Madonna, Ariana Grande, Katie Couric, Christina Hendricks, Willie Nelson, Matt Lauer, Kiefer Sutherland, Sting, Olivia Munn, Susan Sarandon, Joe Jonas, Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Fred Armisen, Kanye West, Kate Moss, Mika, MC Hammer, Susan Boyle, Macauley Culkin, and Kim Kardashian. It’s almost assured that there are more that didn’t make it onto this list.
While watching the movie, one gets the feeling that the new people (both the cameo-makers and the regular cast members) clearly get the vibe of the first film – Hell, 15 years ago, many of them were probably fans in the theater seats themselves – and are working hard to be “in” on the joke. There are definitely moments, though, where the lack of plot and inability to reconcile story points with the original movie lets Zoolander 2 down. The fact that Derek essentially abandons his son for so long and then makes fun of him for being “fat” and “uncool” definitely hits a sour note, given that Derek himself had such a rough go with his own Dad (“Merman, father – Merman!”). The overextended “evil plot” that drives the third act feels extremely forced and largely unthreatening; fortunately, the jokes and cameos are still being fired at a brisk pace, so many viewers will be able to look past the inconsistencies. Winning any major movie awards, though, will not be in this film’s future.
Therein lies the rub: Zoolander 2 is entertaining enough for what it is, but it will likely not resonate well at all with anyone beyond its admittedly-smallish target audience. Let’s not forget, Zoolander was also, upon its original release, roundly criticized and panned, doing relatively poorly at the box office and turning only a minor profit, but it found new life on home video as a cult-comedy type of story. Perhaps the same fate lies in store for this sequel; only time will tell.
In the end, it’s simple math, really: if you enjoyed the first Zoolander movie, then odds are good you’ll be digging this sequel as well. If the first film wasn’t your cup of tea, then it’s in your best interest to steer clear of this one. It’s an equation that even Derek Zoolander could figure out. Probably. Maybe.