If there ever was an unlikely franchise to be born out of a film many people wrote off due to its trailer it’d be Pitch Perfect. I wrote it off before it came out because it looked so terrible and yet it wound up on my Top 10 of 2012 list. It was a film that made money in theatres (a small $17 million budget vs. $65 million domestic in box office) and wound up feeling like a much bigger film than its $113 million plus worldwide grosses would dictate.
The film did a number of things, include push Rebel Wilson up into the category of female comic actors waiting for people to realize Melissa McCarthy’s 15 minutes of fame stemming from a bad Danny McBride impression are over. Anna Kendrick might wind up being the most successful of anyone who came to fame from the Twilight if the post career trajectories of that whole cast holds up like how we’re thinking they will. Plus for a minute it made “organized dork singing” a potential genre and when plans for a sequel were announced I was shocked when original cast members came back en masse.
It’s happened to a lot of films that were supposed to be singular entries that wound up becoming franchises because of the direct to video market. It helped keep the American Pie franchise afloat and we got plenty of Death Race sequels, as well as Mean Girls 2, because of the once thriving DTV market. So it sort of made sense that Pitch Perfect 2 would be DTV and be called something like Pitch Perfect 2: The New Class or Pitch Perfect 2: Directional College Name Here. If you’re making a sequel to a film like Pitch Perfect, which wasn’t left open for a sequels, my first thought was that it’d wind up not being able to retain its cast and wind up becoming a DTV staple.
With the entirety of the cast returning for the most part Pitch Perfect 2 is an intriguing sequel in a year full of ones that weren’t so much because we don’t know the end game so far. With Avengers 2, et al, we know what the destination is going in: more movies and more money. Pitch Perfect 2 comes in with no set end point because there isn’t a set destination they have to achieve by the end of it. Avengers: Age of Ultron may have stunk but it also was there for a purpose: to help set up the rest of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
Pitch Perfect 2 is walking a path that is coming up more and more when a film gets successful enough to warrant a sequel. Considering it’s an underdog tale at its heart, even if it’s in the Sky High vein where it’s a great genre spoof while also being a great genre piece, there’s only two real paths a film franchise like this can take.
The first is to follow what The Final Destination did and just repeat the formula from the first. It’s fairly easy because film fans respond with their dollars to what they know. People en masse usually don’t want to be challenged by engaging cinema. It’s why Hollywood has always been about remakes, reboots, sequels and franchises. A good business responds to what its customers are willing to pay for. People complain about a Transformers film but they exist because they keep the turnstiles going round and round enough to justify their existence.
It’s easy to repeat the formula because the underdog tale lends itself to it. You can break up a team, and then have them get back together for the big game, and people will walk away from the movie theatre happy. The Hangover did this for their second film and wound up essentially making a foreign setting version of the first. Die Hard 2: Die Harder did so as well. So Pitch Perfect 2: Pitch Harder wouldn’t have been a huge surprise.
Hell, with the youth movement in Hollywood you could just make it Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and a bunch of newcomers having to defend their title one more time when they’re the underdogs. It wouldn’t have been a big shock if this route had been the one traveled because it’d be easy. The Bellas are new and falling apart and it’s up to the veteran hands to bring them together would be a very easy tale to tell.
The other is to up the stakes, which is what they’re doing this time around. The Bad News Bears kept doing this during the original franchise run in the 1970s in that they went from trying to win in California to the national championships, and then to Japan. It’s a much bolder move to up the stakes because it’s easy to repeat the same film at least once in a franchise. It’s also usually fairly profitable to do so as well and taking the risk of adding onto the original is much more difficult. It’s rare to get a sequel like Aliens or T2 that takes the original and adds to it.
The second option is the more difficult one in a lot of ways, creatively, because upping the stakes requires a different kind of story. It’s easy to overcome the odds once, and have to learn how to be a team once, but when you return an entire cast like this film does then you can’t repeat the same formula and have a good film. It’s what killed the first sequel of The Hangover. Repetition is often the creative death of a franchise because while it may wind up being profitable it winds up painting a film franchise into a corner. After repeating the first film successfully the only thing that can happen is just that.
The fact that Pitch Perfect 2 is going this route, of the Bellas going after the World Championships of Organized Nerd Singing if you will, should give us some confidence that this isn’t just a blatant attempt at repeating the formula from the first. It’s the harder road, the one less traveled. In an era where plenty of films try the easy route, the more difficult one is the one I’m interested in.
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A Movie A Week – The Challenge
This week’s DVD – The Equalizer
A couple weeks ago a sequel to The Equalizer was announced. That was insanely interesting to me because it’s the first sequel that I can remember Denzel Washington being attached to. I always thought he’d have made a sequel to Devil in a Blue Dress at some point, as Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins was a great character and has a long history as a literary character. The cinema is a weird thing sometimes, I suppose.
Simple premise. Robert McCall (Washington) is a former super bad ass who gave it all up to be a working guy. Now he works 9-5 at a Home Depot type store, reading books at little diners and having an unassuming life. When a teenage hooker (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets tuned up by a john, McCall utilizes those skills to pick a fight with the Russian Mob.
It doesn’t end well for them.
It’s interesting to see Denzel able to maintain his credibility while essentially taking on projects that would be beneath a lot of other actors in his position. The Equalizer is a fun little film that wound up doing just well enough in theaters to warrant the first sequel in Washington’s career.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound
Mad Max: Fury Road – The continuing adventures of Max Rockatansky in the post-apocalyptic world.
See it – While I’m disappointed it’s not Mel Gibson returning to the role, and this film has been in post production for a long time, I’ll give this a chance.
Pitch Perfect 2 – The Bellas are back. This time it’s to the World Championships!
See it – So far I’m intrigued enough to want to see it.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .