28 December 2013

First Impressions: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Often I'll feel a bit in the minority when writing about Will Ferrell and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) in particular. I suspect I'll remain there when I expose here that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) is the superior film. Now, with a film like this, going in cold is pretty important, even though it's just about impossible with this kind of marketing. Needless to say, SPOILERS of all kinds follow from here on in our discussion of the merits of the sequel to Anchorman.
And Perms!

See, it's as if director Adam McKay, producer Judd Apatow, and star Will Ferrell finally hit their stride in what they've been trying to do in narratively subversive films for the past decade. It blends the surrealism of the original Anchorman, the genre satire of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007), with a whole lot more refinement and subtlety, and finally and most importantly, the sharp social satire of The Other Guys (2010).

The Other Guys was really this film about a few different things - a pair of unlikely cop heroes rising to the occasion, a savvy buddy genre spoof, and an indictment of the financial crisis, with corrupt stock lenders as unlikely a villain as Will and Mark were as heroes. Anchorman 2 is equally about three very contrasting subjects: the redemption and growth of one man focusing between his family and career (with explicit references to the myth of Icarus), an extremely goofy experiment in surreal filmmaking, and an indictment of the corruption inherent to the 24-hour news cycle.

Not only is the film brilliantly inciteful concerning the 24-hour news cycle tendency to veer towards crap, but it also extols the dangers of synergy and contains an intense critique of pandering to the audience (which it also essentially eschews through toying with its own audience's expectations). While the final battle is admittedly goofy, with plenty of A-listers making fun, they actually distract a bit from what that scene is actually doing - a meaningful critique of how many overlapping and unnecessary news outlets there are out there.

Now, do most people care about the news or the decline of journalistic integrity, or care to see these ideas examined in a major studio-funded and highly anticipated comedic sequel? No, but it's pretty damn important. There is some talk in the film about the morality of selective news reporting and the fact that people want garbage rather than the boring news that they need. The film also examines the news' democratic function, its purported intention to use the independent discovery of truth to increase government transparency and accountability. Hell, it's basically a modern day iteration of Network (1976), and even set during a similar time frame. Is this message lost in a film that also features Harrison Ford turning into a werewolf? Maybe, but the range of McKay's sensibilities are pretty insane. Just ask Glenn Frye.
A love for the ages

The second (or third? Wake up!) installment of Anchorman is also structurally superior to the first one. It contains far more story, and Ron remains both the biggest protagonist and villain - he gets in his own way more than any other character. Despite that, Jack Lime (Lame), played admirably by James "Cyclops" Marsden serves up a fine antagonist role, even if he's essentially defeated around the midway point. Lesser comedies may spend more time devising this conflict, instead McKay hands the victory to Ron early, and spends the rest of the film dealing with more interesting character moments. The most significant issue in the film then is that it gets away from this core story with these really zany moments - such as the competing realities of Anchorman. The flick ends up not being quite sure if it exists in the real world or the rubber band fantasy world of the first Anchorman. Either way though, if you can maintain a high suspension of disbelief, with a little cognitive effort, it hits pretty funny.

This is also the year for idiots to find love. After Galifianakis found his perfect partner in The Hangover: Part III (2013) in Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig is perfect here as Brick's blushing beau. Anchorman needs to learn to tread carefully with Brick, though. The latter entries in The Hangover series ought to demonstrate that there's almost an Alan Garner-ification where the retarded guy gets to be too much. Brick tolerance nearly peaks in his first scene, but just like the first Anchorman, there is some mental adjustment required to deal with his non-stop issuance of non-sequiturs. The film wisely pulls him back a bit, until Ron snaps at him, to the revulsion of the rest of the cast. You see, this is a moment where realities collide and a "true" reality intruding here, where the universe's generally accepted tolerance of Brick collapses and things go crazy.
And Kristen Dunst as
Alterius, Maiden of the Clouds

A lot of people will be calling the final battle the best scene in the film, and to be fair it's brilliant, not only for the onslaught of cameos. Sacha Baron Cohen, Kanye, Tina and Amy, Jim Carrey and Marion Cotillard, Will Smith, Liam Neeson and John C. Reilly, and Harrison Ford. Wow. That will never be repeated ever. I just wished Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Chewbacca, and James Earl Jones could have joined Harrison all spouting "Totes McGoats!" I'll contend instead, however, that the best scene by far is the capture and release of Doby the shark. Not only is it a pretty apt metaphor for the rehabilitation of Ron himself, but it features a perfect hilarious shot of Ron's son, Walter "No Eye Contact" Burgundy, sobbing uncontrollably watching Doby's release. It's like this twisted demented version of Harry and the Hendersons (1987) that also lets you know that this is, in their own right, a perfect family that's going to be alright.

This comes despite some really complex interactions between Ron and Veronica. Some part of Veronica, for some reason, always love Ron. Ron's just such a constant blowhard, though, that any kind of sustainable relationship with him must be ridiculous to bear. She returns when he's humbled by blindness, but also exhibits her own level of selfishness when she denies him the information that the doctor could return his sight. Ron also contains inescapable love for Veronica, though, and he's finally able to forgive her, resist (sort of), the incredibly confident performance of Linda Jackson (Meagan Good), and become the family man he needs to be.

The first Anchorman was really the first movie that Ferrell and McKay had ever done - it's this small scale, cheap, dirty kind of surreal filmmaking that didn't really have any major expectations. The second one couldn't have higher expectations, so it's only natural that their attitudes are still this general "screw you" to the audience and what they wanted to see. It becomes incredibly silly, absurd, and politically poignant at the same time. It's a real scene, man.

Anchorman 2 is far less quotable than the first one. It also lacks much of the heightened masculinism - there's less scotch, mahogany, or other testosterone-fueled elements. In the age of another Ron, by the name of Swanson, these kind of jokes are played out. It finds its own niche.

There's a lot more going on here. There's a little racism in the workplace, fried bat wings, and even the shimmering transition from sunny San Diego to the crisp streets of New York City. Not to mention a nice scene featuring hot oil, bowling balls, scorpions, and cruise control gone terribly wrong. And down with news.

Stay classy.

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