For the bulk of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues‘ running time, Adam McKay will offer little argument to convince you of the film’s necessity. Of all the many, many sequels on 2013’s release slate, this one may be the most needless; 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy remains a classic of slapstick inanity, an ode to the gut-busting power of random punchlines supported by nothing short of pure, unadulterated absurdity. It’s also remarkably self-contained, leaving room to go forward but little reason for anyone to do so, unless of course the question of money is brought up, in which case fie upon artistic integrity. Everybody needs a payday, after all, McKay, star and co-writer Will Ferrell, and all of their friends included.
So here we are nine years later, and, amazingly, Anchorman 2 manages to mostly entertain and amuse for an hour and a half by using the same style of jokes, a similar formula, and a structure that could best be described as “globular”. The film has almost no bones whatsoever, save for a fragile spine that carries what passes as “narrative” here from start to finish despite its instability; where the first picture took on the shift in attitudes toward women in the workplace (and behind the news desk), this one instead opts to document the genesis of the 24 hour news channel, putting our hero, Ron Burgundy (who else but Ferrell), at ground zero for the birth of America’s 1980s intellectual decline and the advent of never ending trash TV.
Yet along the way, Ron’s star falls, rises, falls again, rises again, and…well, you can see where this is going. There’s very little sense that McKay and Ferrell give a good goddamn about building toward anything but the next joke, even if they do try to maintain a throughline involving Ron maturing as a man up until the very end; emotional resonance and genuine character investment doesn’t matter as much to them as upping the ante from the original. It’s an enterprise that half-works – to a point, the film feels like an exercise in rehashing the most recognizable comic beats of Anchorman. Remember the jazz flute scene? Did you laugh at it? Well, that’s good, because McKay thinks he can get you to laugh at it all over again.
In truth, recycling does work to Anchorman 2‘s credit on occasion: the obligatory sex scene here is, uh, racier, and the climactic redux of a certain iconic sequence from Anchorman that shall remain unidentified here manages to out-do its progenitor in every conceivable way. (In fact, it’s the latter that justifies the movie’s existence.) But these are the rare shots that make their marks. Everything else feels like a series of haymakers. McKay and the cast (returning vets Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, and Christina Applegate, plus new faces Meagan Goode, Dylan Baker, Kristen Wiig, and James Marsden) desperately throw out as much material as they can, hoping that at least some of it will land with the audience and spark a new one-liner that seeps into popular consciousness with the same efficacy as, “By the beard of Zeus!”.
The gentle comedown here is that there isn’t anything in Anchorman 2 that’s half as quotable as the least quotable lines from Anchorman, but bless everybody involved for trying. It’s possible that the juiciest stuff wound up on the cutting room floor; watch any of the trailers and you’ll notice a number of moments or alternate lines that didn’t make their way into the theatrical cut. (Expect McKay to cobble all the excess footage together as they did with Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie.) When did shooting “enough” fall out of vogue in favor of shooting “way too much”? Clearly, someone needed to step in and tell McKay and the boys “enough”.
None of this should give anyone the impression that Anchorman 2 isn’t funny. It is. It is! Just try to avoid watching those aforementioned teasers, because they give away some of the better gags, most of all an ill-fated encounter with cruise control in Ron’s souped-up Winnebago. If Anchorman 2 is messy, it’s still chalk-full of the same focused mayhem and deranged intensity we expect of this crew; few people have mastered the art of boisterous ad-libbing quite like Ferrell, a man who can fill a room with his voice after uttering a single syllable. The only person capable of topping him is Carell, enjoying an expanded role this time around thanks to the high profile he’s built for himself since the previous outing; as with the Winnebago, Carell’s best bit, a green screen panic attack, gets spoiled by promos, so tread lightly online.
Whether any of this works for you will depend on how you like your comedy. There’s no doubt that McKay and Ferrell are playing big and broad here, discarding nuance entirely for on-the-nose commentary. That’s fine, too: as with The Other Guys, they have an agenda here, and that’s to take the mickey out of an American viewing audience that’s addicted to the comforts of low-impact news reporting. If subtly is your thing, then Anchorman 2 will be anathema to you – a mid-film montage of America’s dregs, each responding in turn to the crass, sensationalist brew Ron concocts in his journey toward success, drives the point home with all the delicacy of blunt-force trauma.
The end results prove to be more or less effective, though, so maybe the most logical reaction here is pleasant surprise. Rare is the sequel that manages to best its predecessor; more commonly they tend to fail outright. Anchorman 2 ends up being light years away from Anchorman in terms of sheer quality, but it’s a solid enough follow-up even if it’s not going to convert viewers who don’t already get Ferrell’s shtick. That’s a criticism against the film in and of itself, though: as funny as the movie can be, it’s also built on a lot of pandering. Maybe next time, McKay and co. ought to aim a little higher.