In the ballad of the Barden Bellas, it's time for another verse. That gang of college pals is back — aspiring record producer Becca (Anna Kendrick), group stalwart Chloe (Brittany Snow) and outspoken Australian Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) included — and they're trying to sing their way to supremacy once more. Is their second outing a toe-tapping rehash of their catchy debut tune, or does it drag on past the natural fade-out point? The answer is both. Pitch Perfect 2 alternates between the cinematic equivalent of the catchy melody you don't mind having stuck in your head, and the earworm you quickly grow tired of.
Just three short years ago, an a cappella comedy was considered a gamble, but now we don't just have a repeat effort — we have a ready-made formula to follow as well. With mashups of songs old and new, rivalries getting heated, against-the-odds challenges to overcome, and one-liners a plenty, there's not much that's different, save for a new character setting up for a potential third instalment. That'd be freshman Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a wannabe Bella since birth thanks to her ex-member mother.
Fresh blood aside, everyone is older this time around, given that three years have passed in the film as well. They're also clouded in scandal, after an important show exposes too much of Fat Amy, leaving the Bellas banned from performing as punishment. Chloe finds a loophole that will see them on stage again, but only if they can beat their stereotypically tough-talking German counterparts at the world championships. Becca's focus is elsewhere, though, as she's thinking of life beyond study and competitive singing.
It was the jukebox-like playlist of tracks and the loveable cast playing quirky characters that helped Pitch Perfect hit the high notes the first time around, so here, it isn't surprising to see a whole lot of doubling down on both. Expect an eclectic compilation of Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus tunes, as well as '90s hiphop jamz and songs about butts. Expect Kendrick and the group cycling through sing-offs, fall outs, bonding sessions and realisations about what's really important — and copious amounts of harmonising.
What you shouldn't expect is anything beyond a more is more approach — more music, actors, complications and reminders that it's all about a singing sisterhood, that is. If it sounds routine, that's because returning screenwriter Kay Cannon, once again taking inspiration from the book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, doesn't stretch anything very far. Pushing boundaries is left to Wilson, who steals the show all over again. In a lineup that includes Arrested Development's David Cross, Key and Peele's Keegan Michael-Key, Snoop Lion and the Green Bay Packers (yep, the American footballers), it helps that she's the only one who doesn't seem like she's just going through the motions.
Of course, it's always difficult for a sequel to a breakout hit to pave its own way, a problem Pitch Perfect 2 clearly struggles with. Sitting in the director's chair as well as popping up again as sarcastic commentator Gail, Elizabeth Banks bubbles over with enthusiasm, but not with flair. She's pitch-slapping audiences and staying in key; however, her film isn't a fun new must-listen track — it's more like movie karaoke. The verdict (sing it with me): aca-average.