Anchorman 2 not a sequel, but a re-make

SPOILER ALERT: This review pretty much gives away everything that happens in Anchorman 2. So only read this if you’ve already seen it, or have no intention of watching it.

In Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Ron Burgundy expresses his philosophy on news with a simple question: “Why do we have to tell the people what they need to hear? Why don’t we tell them what they want to hear?”

Director Adam McKay evidently identifies with this approach, except that he applies it to his filmmaking. Instead of making a sequel with a point of differentiation to its predecessor – let alone a point – Anchorman 2 makes no such attempts. It is unashamedly a carbon copy of the original, replicating everything that made the original such a cult success.

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Anchorman 2 begins with Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) practising tongue twisters. Not long afterwards, a decision is made to have him fired (for swearing on air, among other things), while the station’s lead anchor job is offered to his co-anchor and wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). She expects him to be happy for her, but his ego is far too big for that.

It is already sounding familiar. But this is just the start.

Our favourite news presenter soon accepts a job with a new 24-hour broadcaster, where his loyal news team meets its identical-looking rivals. Their boss is a black woman (Linda Jackson, played by Meagan Good), a predicament Ron finds ludicrous. Sure enough though, he slowly learns to see through her skin colour and she eventually falls for him. They then have sex, news that Ron is unafraid to share. His news team disapproves of this, and they duly walk out on their leader.

Ill-fated circumstances soon see Ron hit rock bottom. On his way back to glory, he sings a song, gets involved in an all-in brawl (“No touching of the hair or the face,” he clarifies), re-unites with his news team and family, and gets saved by his dog Baxter.

The end.

This might seem like a large chunk of the plot to give away in a review, but in actual fact I’ve revealed little that audiences don’t already know. That’s because Anchorman is not so much a sequel, but a remake.

As harsh as this assessment may sound, you can’t really begrudge McKay; after all, audiences loved 2004’s Anchorman. Not long after its release, the film’s offbeat humour and hilarious one-liners became part of the cultural zeitgeist, while Ron Burgundy became nothing short of a comedy superhero.

In the months preceding the sequel’s premiere, Ferrell was everywhere, using Burgundy’s charm to promote anything and everything. It was over the top, but none of us were too concerned. As Burgundy worshippers, we were just relieved to have our favourite personality back on our screens. It has always been in Burgundy’s character for him to sell out when given the opportunity. As such, it didn’t matter to us that he was endorsing vehicles or underwear. On the contrary, we lapped it all up. Such was our FOMO that we couldn’t bear to miss a Burgundy product placement or television interview, just in case he said or did something outrageous and we weren’t there to see it.

That thought process goes some way to explaining why Anchorman 2 has thus far been such a commercial and critical success. When you’re in the cinema, listening to Burgundy’s latest curse-phrase, it almost feels like you’re listening to your favourite band perform a brand new song. You sit there wide-eyed for two hours, marvelling at your God’s resurrection.

Despite all the fanfare, no one seems to be noticing that Anchorman 2 is a very ordinary – and lazy – film. It’s an inferior duplicate, which lacks the punch the original delivered to us when we first saw it almost a decade ago. The off-the-cuff quotes seem more forced, and the characters seem intent on pointing out all the not-so-subtle gags, careful not to let any be left unnoticed. Moreover, McKay fails to push any boundaries or experiment with new material; all he does is regurgitate old content in the hope that his audiences still like the taste.

At times, Anchorman 2 attempts to construct a broader message about news media. Despite not throwing any weighty punches, its parody of the Fox network allows for some decent gags. Otherwise, it makes a few jibes about 24-hour news and infotainment, but fails to give us anything we haven’t heard before. What makes this frustrating is that Anchorman 2 pretends that the idea of dumbing down the news is a revolutionary departure from the original, even though the first film’s news broadcasts often lacked news values. Think Veronica Corningstone covering cat fashion parades, and Channel 4’s Panda Watch segment.

What remains are just re-takes of our favourite scenes. These are unsurprisingly the film’s highlights. Ron’s song – this time a solo – is the equal of “Afternoon Delight”. Its absurdity and over-dramatic style are exactly what the remainder of the film is missing. Similarly, the mandatory news anchor fight scene, famous for its unprecedented number of cameo appearances, lives up to its reputation; the arrival of each unexpected celebrity is a delight to watch. If this review genuinely wanted to reveal spoilers, it would list the names of those players. But don’t worry; I have more sense than that.

The other element of Anchorman 2 that works is the expansion of Brick Tamland’s character (played by Steve Carell). After almost a decade of playing comparatively less goofy roles, it’s a joy to see Carell return to the idiotic persona that made him a breakout success in Bruce Almighty and the original Anchorman.

However, while laughing at Brick – and his new female counterpart Chani (played by the ever-reliable Kristen Wiig) – you can’t help but feel a little uneasy. Is Brick only funny because he is – for lack of a better word – stupid? If so, does this mean we are finding humour in a mental disability?

Whichever way you want to spin it, the answer is yes. Oddly enough though, McKay can get away with this blatant political incorrectness. Why? Because it’s Anchorman, and that’s exactly what the audience expects. Indeed, were cinemagoers or reviewers to point out the offensiveness of the film, it’s likely they’d be dismissed with a defensive “It’s just Anchorman – it’s not meant to be taken seriously” response.

Brick and Chani aren’t the only ones who derive laughs from their disability. During the second half of the film, Ron loses his sight and begins behaving in a highly unorthodox manner. When conversing with his news team, Ron’s only excuse for his behaviour is “I AM BLIND!” It’s arguably one of the funniest new gags of the sequel, yet another example of the writers making jokes at the expense of people with disabilities. Again it’s not unexpected, but it’s a bit sad that a comedy originally lauded for its innovative humour is aiming for the lowest common denominator.

With all things considered, Anchorman 2 is not a terrible film. Given the low standard set by other recent comedy releases, the film should be commended for at least being able to make its audience laugh. Moreover, the film ignores the sappy sentiment of other comedic releases, toying with themes of romance and happy family values in a purely ironic way.

Which beg the questions: is the whole film ironic? Has McKay intentionally made Anchorman 2 a parody of itself? And is there deliberateness behind Ron Burgundy’s desire to feed audiences exactly what they want?

It’s hard to know for sure. We may just have to wait another ten years; perhaps Anchorman 3 will give us the answers.

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