Oscar®-nominee Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods), Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids), Brittany Snow (Hair Spray), Anna Camp (The Help), Alexis Knapp (Project X), Hana Mae Lee (“Super Fun Night”) and Ester Dean (Ice Age: Continental Drift) return as the girls who run the a cappella world, with Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Chrissie Fit (Teen Beach Movie, “General Hospital”) and Katy Segal (“Sons of Anarchy”) joining the team for the first time. Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games series), who also directed the infectiously funny film, and John Michael Higgins reprise their roles as clueless competition commentators Gail and John. Skylar Astin (21 & Over), Adam DeVine (“Workaholics”) and Ben Platt (Ricki and the Flash) rejoin the comedy as the Barden’s favorite Treblemakers with YouTube superstar Flula Borg and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Automata) leading the Bellas’ archrivals, German supergroup Das Sound Machine.
When the first 'Pitch Perfect' opened, Universal Studios had no idea what they had on their hands. With very little marketing, in late September 2012, it quietly kicked off a limited debut with just 335 locations. An expansion was already planned for the following week, but it was the $5.1 million total opening weekend and $15,371 per-screen average limited debut that caused its second weekend to spread it out to 2,770 screens in North America. It was then that Universal started dumping money into promoting it. The female-fueled $17 million A Cappella hit resulted in a $115.3 million worldwide box office return. With a cost-to-income ratio like that, a sequel was inevitable.
Although Universal didn't put much into superficially promoting the original 'Pitch Perfect,' there were plenty of advance screenings being held (in Salt Lake City, at least). I recall attending the earliest of the screenings approximately three weeks prior to its release date. The theater was nearly empty, yet I and one other critic (I believe he and I were the only two critics in attendance) found ourselves surprised by the huge amount of laughs that it earned. Even more surprising was the amount of laughter that I was contributing. Unlike the wretched series 'Glee' that lost its way and creativity in the transition from page to screen, 'Pitch Perfect' not only found the way to keep itself afloat for 112 minutes, but it also maintained a high level of laugh-out-loud comedy. Assuming that I was going to dislike every minute of it, the overall screening experience took me in the opposite direction. I enjoyed nearly every minute of it.
So, you're probably thinking, Luke, there are already two reviews of the first 'Pitch Perfect' on High-Def Digest. Why are you reviewing the first one again in a review that's supposedly for 'Pitch Perfect 2?' Good question. You should know where I'm coming from with my opinion of the sequel.
The trailers for 'Pitch Perfect 2' did absolutely nothing for me. Not a single trailer (of which there were a couple) nor TV spot revealed the slightest fragment of a plot, giving the impression that it was devoid of a singular story, banking solely on the characters – "Fat Amy" in particular – doing exactly what they did to get laughs in the first movie. Being the directorial debut of Elizabeth Banks (who produced and somewhat co-stars in both films), the initial outlook for the sequel was not good.
Was my assumption of the plot-less sequel correct? Almost. Storywise, 'Pitch Perfect 2' is a mess. It's simply a vehicle to place the characters – old and new – in outlandish, over-the-top and even sappy/sentimental scenarios. I assumed that it wouldn't feature a plot, but in reality it's filled with way too many plots, each a small (typically pointless) story that turns it into an episodic nightmare. The reason the advertisements didn't reveal a storyline is because there are far too many to choose from. Had the trailer singled out one or two of the plot points, then they would have advertised a movie that 'Pitch Perfect 2' was not.
Although not the biggest of the stories, the one that's strung along throughout the 115-minute sequel and features in the movie's climax involves the Barden Bellas' troubles with the national A Cappella association. The introduction to the movie immediately brings the Bellas on-stage at the Kennedy Center for a televised national sing-off. Just like the first movie, we see how one member of the group unexpectedly botches it for everyone. Instantly, the Bellas lose their credibility and the right to perform at national competitions for one full year. Fortunately, they still retain their right to compete in the world finals, so that give us a climax to aim for. We're sparsely reminded of this ultimate goal throughout the movie by the screenplay randomly having the Bellas run into their stiffest international arch-rivals, Das Sound Machine. What European Das Sound Machine is doing in Small Town, USA for these "chance" run-ins that are peppered throughout the movie is beyond me.
Next up, some drama is added to the mix. Although technically an ensemble movie, Beca (Anna Kendrick) is the lead of the movie. In the first 'Pitch' she created drama within the Bella's dynamic by dating a boy (Skylar Astin) from the local rival group, The Treblemakers. This time, Beca has decided to fill her spare time with an internship at a local big-time recording studio. You wouldn't think of this as a drama-creating conundrum, but the screenplay turns it into one. For reasons unknown, Beca decides to not tell the Bellas of her internship and keep it a secret. Like time-turning Hermione in 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,' Beca struggles with juggling Bellas life with her secret job. Believe it or not, this is not the fluffiest nor the most forced of the plots. If the little episodes had names, there would be David Cross' Underground Sing-Off, Bellas Go To Camp (a.k.a. How the Bellas Got Their Groove Back) and Fat Amy's Love Opus.
If this was it for 'Pitch Perfect 2,' if there was absolutely nothing else to it, then it would be entirely dreadful. Although I really enjoyed the first one, had 'Pitch Perfect 2' been nothing more than a batch of pointless episodes, then I would have hated it – but it has a couple tricks up it sleeves, both in the form of comedy.
Even more than the first movie, 'Pitch Perfect 2' is hilarious. I go to comedies to laugh; 'Pitch Perfect 2' did just that. For the most part, Elizabeth Banks directed it like anyone would have directed it, but from time to time she added these fantastic doses of her own humor. The physicality of the comedy is heightened from what we saw in the first – especially during Bellas Go To Camp. The second aspect of the comedy is the more notable and much more frequent one: the writing. Screenwriter Kay Cannon ('New Girl,' '30 Rock') adapted the first 'Pitch Perfect' from a popular novel. I haven't read it, but I assume that the plot was pulled straight from the book. With the sequel, it feels like Cannon had nothing to go off, so she wrote what she's used to: a series of 20-minute stories. However, the upside to that pitfall is that she wrote tons of genuinely hilarious jokes into the script. There's a whole lot of humor to be found within the dialog and scenarios. Helping those jokes land on their feet are not only the returning central cast members and their great improvisational skills, but a slew of cameos – returning and new – that bring comedic brilliance to the screen. Aforementioned David Cross, Keegan-Michael Key and a surprise "team" that I'll refrain from spoiling add much to the comedy.
In one big way (the story), 'Pitch Perfect 2' is a disappointment over the first. But in another way (the comedy), it almost completely makes up for it. As per usual, overall, the sequel isn't as good as the original – but had a solid story been included, there's no doubt in my mind that it would have exceeded the first. 'Pitch Perfect 2' was a global box office hit. Earning $183.7 million domestically, $101.3 million overseas and produced for a mere $29 million, the $285.1 million worldwide gross will definitely trigger a second sequel. If Banks, Cannon and company can create a better blend of comedy and story while retaining the memorable characters, then they just might be able to produce pure gold.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has given 'Pitch Perfect 2' a fully-loaded combo pack release that includes a BD-50, a DVD and both Ultraviolet and iTunes digital copies. The discs and redemption slips are included in a two-disc blue Elite keepcase. First round Blu-rays also come with an embossed, sparkly and reflective thicker-than-usual cardboard slip cover that perfectly matches those of both the first and the double-dip Blu-ray releases of the original 'Pitch Perfect.' Skippable trailers for the 30th anniversary edition of 'Back to the Future,' 'Furious 7,' 'Dope,' 'R.L. Stein's Monsterville,' 'When Marnie Was There,' 'Barbie in Rock N' Royals' and TV's 'Blindspot' all play prior to the static and score-set main menu.
'Pitch Perfect 2' arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Shot with the same model Arri cameras and the same 1.85:1 aspect ratio as the first 'Pitch Perfect,' I expected this Blu-ray to have an identical, flawless five-star video quality. While it's almost there, it's not an exact return to visual perfection. Once again, the crispness and sharpness is jaw-dropping. The combination of fine details – like the tiniest droplets of saliva floating from the singers' mouths while performing under bright stage lights (gross, I know) – with the wildly vibrant color scheme, 'Pitch Perfect 2' features a very eye-catching and active experience.
Banding, aliasing, crushing and artifacts are non-existent, but there are extremely faint instances of digital noise and some of the vibrant colored lighting can dabble in over-saturation. With the movie featuring loud and colorful stage lighting, it's probably safe to assume that the blast of detail-erasing color was a conscious design decision; however, the over-saturation also occurs in non-stage settings. In particular, one pool party scene feature cool blue pool lighting that even warrants the unnatural visuals. If it wasn't for those two sporadically arising issues, this sequel would have earned a five-star video rating as well.
While the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track found on the Blu-ray of the first 'Pitch Perfect' only earned a four-star rating, that of 'Pitch Perfect 2' steps it up and jumps right into five-star status.
The lossless mix of 'Pitch Perfect 2' is exceptional from the very first moment when the Universal logo kicks off with an A Cappella rendition of the brand's theme music. The voices that comprise the music playfully bounce around uniquely from each individual channel. They seamlessly fill the gaps between each speaker creating an entirely full, room-filling aural experience. Whether used for dialog or singing, the vocal track is not limited to specific channels. The film's music – be it soundtrack, score or singing – following suit.
'Pitch Perfect 2' doesn't always set itself up for settings and moments that would make way for strong effects instances, but just as the music track uses voices in unique ways, so does the effects mix. Effects are applied to the vocals that make them sound fantastic. While performing, the Bellas voices can be heard echoing through the different performance spaces. When Snoop Dogg sings in a sound booth, the eerily muffled environmental effect can be heard through his singing. Whenever settings call for background environmental sounds, it continues to make constant use of all channels. During performances, you'll hear peanut gallery "bravos" and cheers from all around.
Aside from being the follow-up to a very profitable first installment, based on the advertisements alone, 'Pitch Perfect 2' didn't have much going for it quality-wise. Highly episodic and lacking a solitary worthwhile plot, what keeps the sequel afloat is the high amount of laugh-out-loud comedy featured in the screenplay and brought to life by the improvisations of its talented ensemble cast. Had it not been for the very high amount of laughs, 'Pitch Perfect 2' would be a waste. The video quality has some minor flaws, but it's mostly very strong and borders on perfection. Making constant and creative use of all channels, the audio quality is undeniably perfect. While there's a high count of special features, many of which are exclusive to the Blu-ray format, most are very brief. Instead of being broken into small pieces and giving the disc a high quantity of bonus features, they should have been creatively compiled into a larger, fluid quality making-of feature. All in all, 'Pitch Perfect 2' is a very worthy sequel for the die-hard fans of the first and a surprisingly funny sequel for everyone else. If they can combine the comedy of the sequel with the characters and story of the original, then 'Pitch Perfect 3' just might be the franchise's highest note.