Overview: Former male models Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel McDonald (Owen Wilson) are called out of their reclusive lives by Billy Zane to participate in a fashion show put on by fashion’s biggest name, but they soon become embroiled in another plot beyond their comprehension. Paramount Pictures; 2016; Rated PG-13; 102 minutes.
Why Am I Watching This?: The average theater goer might, as they watch Zoolander 2, find themselves thinking things like, “This is stupid,” or, “Wow, I wonder if anyone else feels awkward,” as they watch the amalgamation of nostalgia, cameos, juvenile humor, and silliness that is Zoolander 2. Its plot and characters are absurd, and it often ventures into some cringe-worthy territory. If it were judged against other movies, it would not hold up well.
Because Zoolander!: However, it’s pretty clear that Stiller and friends were not trying to make a “film,” so judging Zoolander 2 by erudite notions of filmmaking, story, and character doesn’t actually make much sense. The best way to view Zoolander 2 is as a movie made for people that watched and loved Zoolander fifteen years ago. Zoolander 2, for Zoolander fans, is a trip back to the absurdity they loved when they were much, much younger. If you know Zoolander really, really well, you’ll enjoy Zoolander 2’s little nods to moments, phrases, and details you loved in the original; Mugatu’s comatose dog, for instance, or “puddle-talking”-out internal conflict. And Derek still has a tiny phone. For those that do not love Zoolander, though, Zoolander 2 is…well, not great. Pretty awful, actually.
Some Actual Satire: So, let’s look at it entirely seperated from its predecessor. Zoolander 2, while it has some plot holes and bits that feel like failed skits from a sketch comedy show, the movie still manages to make some commentary about life in 2015. For instance, Stiller and co-writer Justin Theroux manage to capture the feeling of bewilderment one experiences when encountering youth culture of which you are no longer a part accurately. Don Atari, the hipster fashion designer, spouts sentences that confuse Derek and Hansel and make them feel their own age and irrelevance. At one point, several minutes of screen time are spent on Derek, Hansel, and Don trying to clarify something Don said, which Derek, Hansel, and the audience only hear as a mumble.
And Some Actual Criticism, Maybe: On top of this, Derek has to face the fact that his son is, cue gasp, fat. Derek and Hansel, upon discovering this, try to determine whether being fat makes you a bad person. It’s as though they are our fat-shaming id; we laugh, but we also recognize that we are being made fun of for having, deep down, the very same conversation with ourselves that Derek and Hansel are having on screen. Add to that Hansel’s ongoing relationship drama, satirizing typical cinematic romantic drama, and there are some genuine moments and genuine laughs to be had.
Overall: At its most basic, however, Zoolander 2 is a stupid movie. The cameos are somewhat fun, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig get to exercise some of their weird energy, but mostly it’s harking back to the much better and funnier original, and relying on the bias of fandom to atone for its weaknesses. Zoolander was stupid, and Zoolander 2 isn’t trying to be a “film” as much a it’s just trying to be Zoolander again, and in that it succeeds pretty well. There is enough for fans to walk away feeling satisfied, but as a film, it’s a bit scattered, a bit stilted, and not terribly funny.