Remember that third season of Glee when singers who made us love the show in the first place graduated, with lesser newbies shoved into the spotlight to take their places?
Well, the same thing happens to the Pitch Perfect franchise in only Part 2, and like Glee it feels like the beginning of the end of something special.
Don't get me wrong. Pitch Perfect 2 has its fair share of a cappella clarity and girl power hilarity, certainly enough to satisfy its core audience. However, it misses much of the original's grassroots charm by succumbing to the sequel rule that everything must be bigger than before. This time the fun isn't discovered but foisted upon us, which is easier to resist.
Now the small town Barden University Bellas sing a cappella on a world stage, where a Fat Amy faux pas makes international headlines and rivals are silly, exaggerated supervillains. Rather than true love on the line the finals are truly competition, and everyone knows how that turns out in movies.
The first movie was a sweet, simple song. This one is a gaudy production number. Both entertain, only one endears.
Anna Kendrick's adorability is back as Beca Mitchell, leader of the Bellas but lately distracted by a recording label internship. Beca once sang and played Cups; now she fills them with coffee. Her musical ear impresses the label's owner (Keegan-Michael Key, funny but overused) but takes time away from Bellas rehearsal.
The original's breakout star Rebel Wilson gets more screen time as Fat Amy. Some is amusing, like the opening wardrobe malfunction and any time she flirts. Some isn't, like Amy canoeing and crooning to her boyfriend Bumper (Adam DeVine), with music that shouldn't be there.
Like Beca, Amy is graduating. We can't expect hot commodities like Kendrick and Wilson to accept shoehorned cameos in sequels like first-film graduate Anna Camp. (Maybe Tampa native Brittany Snow, though.) Fat Amy will be tough to replace but Beca obviously passes her torch as face of the franchise to a chirpy freshman.
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) joins the Bellas as legacy Emily Junk, whose mother (Katey Sagal) is an a cappella legend. I'm sure we'll hear her in PP3, if only VOD. Emily's klutzy optimism isn't ripe yet for leadership but Beca's knowing smile through a studio window while she sings is like a pope's blessing.
Pitch Perfect 2 is directed by Elizabeth Banks with flair during musical numbers; an underground sing-off hosted by David Cross is a gem, and the Bellas' rival Das Sound Machine is a terrific comedy mash-up, a hip-hop Sprockets sketch gone mad. Celebrity cameos abound: Snoop Dogg, Robin Roberts, even some Green Bay Packers elicit a few laughs.
It's all more extravagant yet less charming then before. I'd rather see the Bellas struggle to defend their first title, in a more relatable fashion for young misfits, if this is the core group's last go-around. We and the franchise are sure gonna miss them when they're gone.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.