Following a sequel is already a tough thing to do, but to come trundling along after a modern comedy classic is damn near impossible. The first Anchorman isn’t a terribly great film, but its impact is undeniable. That means Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues doesn’t have quality to compare against; it has to top influence. It doesn’t quite manage to do that, but Anchorman 2 is a competent—if sprawling and unfocused—continuation of the Ron Burgundy saga.
Seven years after Ron and his wife Veronica Corningstone overcame the dangers of a zoo, they are now married with a son and co-anchors for a big name news network. Things take a turn for the worse, though, when Ron is fired and Veronica is promoted to be the first female nightly news anchor in New York. As you can expect, he doesn’t take this well and leaves for San Diego.
As Ron takes a series of odd jobs and becomes increasingly drunk while he performs them, it strangely evokes Blades of Glory-ish sensations. Apparently it’s just really easy to write Will Ferrell as a fallen superstar with a brazen disregard for disorderly conduct, which is a little disappointing. We’ve seen him in that role already many times, and more than that, we’ve seen him at the bottom of the barrel as Ron Burgundy before, too.
The greatest problem with Anchorman 2 is that is simply retreads most of the ground we covered nine years ago. All we get is a different opening gambit since Ron and Veronica are already together. But then they split, so we’re right back where we were in the first Anchorman. We replace her competitive presence with James Marsden’s Jack Lime, a devilishly handsome ace reporter, and her romantic impetus with a similarly too-good-for-him, strong, independent Meagan Good as Ron’s boss Linda Jackson. And then we’re off to the (same) races!
Then, when the film does show flashes of substance, it squanders almost all of them. Almost immediately as Ron starts on the graveyard shift with the world’s first 24-hour news network, it strikes out with an informed and biting commentary on modern journalism. Puppy videos, car chases, corporate oversight, and manipulative commercialism and patriotism all gin up his ratings.
But then it switches from satire to on-the-nose vaudeville, which is perhaps emblematic of the film’s second greatest flaw: it doesn’t let anything stick around long enough. Part of the reason the first movie worked was because it let you steep in its non sequiturs. This one moves far too quickly for its own good, as if it was too full of ideas and not enough execution.
The question of journalistic integrity and ethics is thrown away almost as quickly and unexpectedly as it came. Steve Carell’s Brick Tamland and Kristen Wiig’s Chani Lastnamé form a great couple—their initial courtship is one of the best I’ve seen in such a long time, though it may just be speaking to my desire to find love where there is none—but is similarly dismissed until it’s needed for a joke, just like Ron’s accident and recovery and his (literal) pet project.
Those jokes, though, are substantial. Carried by the charisma and commitment of a fantastic cast of improvisers, much of the jollies to be had are far more situational than quotable as it was in the first film. We know the characters now, so simply seeing them dropped into absurd and awful predicaments with little to no pomp or circumstance works. A fried bat restaurant, a surprisingly non-funeral funeral, and so much more goofs work because the cast wholly embodies their roles.
It’s odd, however, that the comparison would also lead to describing the first film as refined, which is most assuredly not in an objective sense, but Anchorman 2 is so meandering that its predecessor might as well be Gravity in its singular focus. So many of the jokes work so extremely well, but an incredible amount also fall flat, and almost painfully flat at that. For example, the uncomfortably racist dinner featured in the trailer was just that: uncomfortable and racist. And Greg Kinnear’s role was entirely unfortunate.
With so much to callback to, though, it may just be a problem of unfair comparison. Baxter’s resolution and a poorly timed anchor brawl and everything else all remind you that this film walks in the shadow of a giant. It’s not that it doesn’t succeed (the building-wrecking fight is the hardest I’ve laughed in a long time), but it’s asking us to remember how much we liked The Legend of Ron Burgundy. And boy do we remember.
But like I said: this is a perfectly functional film. An incredibly cast carries the majority of the load here (I’d be surprised if the entire script wasn’t just a single page that said “IMPROVISE”), but the spark that made the first one a seminal piece of comedy just isn’t there. Perhaps the ambition was too great, Adam McKay and Judd Apatow’s eyes bigger than their stomachs. But by the grace of Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues scrapes by to be a decent laugh.
+ Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig’s initial romance is spectacular
+ The opening bit of commentary on modern journalism is biting and on-point
+ A cast that fully embodies their characters makes absurd situations into great jokes
– No commitment to jokes or story or satire
– Overly stuffed with callbacks that invite comparison to an influential film
Final Score: 6 out of 10