When the first Zoolander film hit the cinema in 2001, the world was a very different place. Smartphone technology went as far as colour screens (pretty sure we were all still playing that weird snake game on our phones waiting at the bus stop with our travel 10s), but with zero online connectivity. Social media was like, what, ICQ or something? And selfies? They weren’t even a thing. But the cult of celebrity worship had begun, and Zoolander writers Ben Stiller, Drake Sather and John Hamburg used the film to mock the celebrity and fashion worlds, with model idiot Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and fellow male model Hansel (Owen Wilson) embarking on a mission to save the Prime Minister of Micronesia (the President of Malaysia), whose anti-sweat shop stance angers big-name fashion designers, including one Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell).
The film featured cameos from stars like Natalie Portman, Donatella Versace, Billy Zane and the late David Bowie (in a role designed to be played only by a pop culture legend), and gave us our first looks at people like Alexander Skarsgård (of True Blood fame, but who died in a tragic gasoline fight accident when Derek and Co. decided to go an Orange Mocha Frappuccino-induced drive through NYC), Judah Friedlander (now famous for playing baseball cap-loving Frank from 30 Rock and was Derek’s hardworking brother from the New Jersey mines) and Justin Theroux (Mr Jennifer Aniston, played the Evil DJ with the Relax trigger and also co-wrote Zoolander 2). The first film was successful because of its on-the-nose satire of the celebrity game, its ability to laugh at anything fashionable and its line-by-line quotable quotes. If Zoolander was a cult hit, surely Zoolander 2 would follow its lead?
Not entirely, but that doesn’t make the sequel any less of a fun film. Sure, you’d probably enjoy it more if you were a downright fan of the first movie, but let’s face it, the Zoolander pop culture effect will probably bring many newcomers to the franchise out of pure curiosity, and that will probably make people want to familiarise themselves with the first film.
Zoolander 2 again throws jabs at the celebrity world, but this film feels like it’s more about the joy of getting the old Zoolander crew back together again, and finding out what happened to Derek’s Centre for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. This time around, Zoolander and Hansel are on the hunt for a killer who leaves a trail of murdered, ridiculously good-looking celebrities in their wake. Can they save the world again, or will their recent personal tragedies hinder them from being the hottest heroes they know they should be?
Just like the first film, the storyline here is of little consequence. But when the jokes do come through, they are as sharp as the ones from the first film. Hansel facing fatherhood (he managed to knock up everyone in his 11-member orgy group, including Keiffer Sutherland) and Derek dealing with his son being “fat” (“I’m really not sure he’s a good person”) are just two of the scenes that may have you chuckling a little. Mugatu’s triumphant return to the fashion world, ripping off his prison garb and freeing his strange little hair-do will have any Will Ferrell fan silently cheering. Penelope Cruise as Interpol Agent, Fashion Division (so literally, the Fashion Police – not even kidding), Valentina Valencia is a welcome addition to the Zoolander family. She’s hot and she’s famous, and therefore worthy of being included on a celebrity line-up that also boasts the likes of Milla Jovovich (reprising her role as Katinka Ingabogovinanana) and Kirsten Wiig (playing, with great camp and style, new baddie Alexanya Atoz). There are a lot of little moments where the jokes shine through, but the overall effect is nothing like the first film.
Perhaps it’s because in 2001, we were just beginning to see how ludicrous it was to applaud an entire industry that believed external beauty was the end game. Now, in 2016, we exist in an uneasy harmony with the fashion/beauty world, and the jokes aren’t really that outrageous anymore. We’re used to seeing actor-slash-models grace our screens, in fact, we’ve now gone a step further and fully embraced reality TV stars as actual entertainers. In the first Zoolander film we laughed at Mugatu berating a model during a fitting (“I’m sorry, did my pin get in the way of your ass?”), in Zoolander 2, Valentina uses her ample bosom as flotation aides in the water. It’s not the best gag, but maybe that’s because the really good ones have already been used … 15 years ago, when the pop culture climate was different.
It’s hard not to compare Zoolander with Zoolander 2, and it’s difficult to enjoy the sequel in the same way as the first film. What can be said about Zoolander 2 is that it’s a great film for the fans, and if you’ve waited over a decade to be reunited with your favourite characters, then you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re new to the Zoolander world, it’s best to brush up on the first film, just so you know what they’re on about. It doesn’t live up to the first film, but it’s an amusing film nonetheless.
SCORE: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 102 minutes
Zoolander 2 will screen in Australian cinemas from 11 February 2016 through Paramount.