Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
We asked for this. Hell, we begged for this. We kept bringing up an Anchorman sequel any time the cast members were available for interviews, because the original film is beloved and for once we actually thought that a sequel would probably be a good idea. I don’t know why the hell we actually thought that. Comedy sequels tend to follow a very simple formula: find a way to undo the happy ending of the original film and make the heroes underdogs again, then change locations and revisit all the funniest set pieces from the original, only make them twice as stupid.
And sure enough, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues follows that tried and, frankly, often crappy formula to the letter. It separates anchorman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) from his wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) in a matter of minutes, then forces his news team to make good in the nascent world of 24-hour cable news. The action moves to New York City, and sure enough we get protracted variations on the famous Sex Panther scenes and all-star anchorman rumbles, each now bigger and crazier than ever. Seriously, that fight scene makes it look like they’re trying to top the last act of The Avengers. They're just on a much lower budget.
So it’s more of the same. That’s pretty much all we could have hoped for. All that matters in a comedy sequel, usually, is whether or not it’s funny. Anchorman 2 has that part covered. The jokes bum-rush the audience at a frantic pace, and most of them are at least amusing. Quite a few are drop-your-pants-for-no-good-reason hilarious, which is an expression that I just started right now. Feel free to use it.
But Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is also trying to be about something, and while that particular something is valid, it doesn’t work the same way that the original's message did. Anchorman set its story in the 1970s, against the backdrop of female journalists entering the male-dominated world of on-air reporting. The male characters were sexist assholes, but the historical context left their views feeling naïve, so it was still possible to like them. If Anchorman took place in the present day, it would have been reprehensible, but the message of the film was so old-fashioned that the movie retained an overwhelming charm, since the boorishness of the leads felt funny, not mean-spirited.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues takes place years later, against the backdrop of the dawn of 24-hour cable news. The plot follows Ron Burgundy, disgraced, becoming a world news icon by transforming 24-hour news reporting into an idiot box, more concerned with getting big ratings than engaging in actual journalism. It’s a story that’s frankly more relevant now than ever, but the gag that Ron Burgundy invented live-reporting car chases and screens with too many graphics on them gets stale quickly. Moreover, it reduces a very real problem that still exists – and pervasively – into the fictional creation of a loveable character.
Not that Anchorman 2 could ever be accused of promoting crappy journalism. If anything, it deserves credit for marketing its message to a demographic that doesn’t necessarily watch “The Daily Show” every night. The real issue, from a comedic standpoint, is that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is so busy soapboxing it often fails to incorporate its message into the humor as effectively as the first film did. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy assumed audiences were on the side of women’s rights from the get-go. Anchorman 2 assumes that you have no idea what’s wrong with cable news reporting and spends far more time than necessary spelling it out for you, and the result is simply less funny than the alternative.
It’s clear that the makers of Anchorman 2 understood that Ron Burgundy needed to be on the obvious wrong side of history in order to keep the same comic tone as the original film. It’s too bad that the best they could do was make him a racist. Ron winds up in an interracial relationship with his producer Linda Jackson (Meagan Good) that results in a family dinner confrontation that’s too abrasive to be genuinely funny. The laughs still come but they come instead from disbelief in two things: 1) that a white guy is spouting such ugly stereotypes to a room full of black people, and 2) that, essentially, the same scene was done better, and funnier, in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
So it’s flawed. It follows a limp comedy sequel formula and its lone sincere effort to break that pattern is met with mixed success. It’s still – and this is the most important part – extremely funny. It never reaches the same soaring heights as the original Anchorman but by god, you will laugh enough to justify its existence. The question is, will you laugh enough to justify how much you’ve built up Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues in your head?
Now that would be news at eleven.