Pitch Perfect 2 has a winning sense of pleasant reunion. The sequel to the surprise hit a capella college comedy from a few years ago carries with it a delight to be back. Surely no one expected that sloppy but likable little comedy to do well enough to support a follow up, but here we are. It returns to the world of the Barton Bellas, an all-female a capella group made up of unlikely misfits last seen winning the national title. Picking up three years later, Becca (Anna Kendrick), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), and the rest (Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Alexis Knapp, Chrissie Fit) are on the verge of graduating, but find their final year off to a bad start with an embarrassing performance in which one of their members accidentally moons the Obamas. This gets them kicked out of the world of a capella, setting up another underdog scenario to be overcome by winning the World Championship to get reinstated. Once again, the young women must learn to work together and create a great routine, all the while dealing with their individual eccentricities.
Luckily, screenwriter Kay Cannon isn’t content to repeat the structure of the first movie. In fact, she seems to realize generic let’s-put-on-a-show and campus comedy plotlines were holding the otherwise amiable predecessor back. She knows for an encore the audience just wants to hang out with likable performers doing their shtick in between good music. The result is a movie that’s looser, longer, sillier, with more music and funnier lines. It’s the rare comedy sequel that’s actually an across-the-board improvement instead of a safe repeat of a known formula. The need to win the big championship is a climactic goal, but everything leading up to it is simply excuses for pleasant banter, funny supporting roles, silly gags, cameos, and fun musical numbers, featuring everything from Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus to Sir Mix-a-Lot and Kris Kross.
Making her directorial debut, Elizabeth Banks (who also, with John Michael Higgins, returns as a color commentator) moves the proceedings with a good pace and fine eye for smooth pop filmmaking. It’s episodic, with plenty of digressions including romances (Skylar Astin and Adam DeVine make appearances) and professional concerns (Keegan-Michael Key shows up as a record producer). But it never drags as the bright, bouncy, colorful, and consistently amusing movie zips along on slick competence providing good-natured, high-spirited, undemanding entertainment. We see a series of misadventures, from clashes with the terrifyingly perfect German group Das Sound Machine to a new freshman recruit (Hailee Steinfeld) struggling to fit in, and an underground a capella battle held in a rich fan’s basement (featuring everyone from Reggie Watts to John Hodgman to a few Green Bay Packers).
It could be scattered, but there’s a nice emotional throughline involving female friendships and the group’s importance to its members that gets a heartwarming payoff in their final performance. Along the way, Banks and her cast find funny bits of business in every scene. Whether we’re with Snoop Dogg recording a Christmas album or camping in the woods on a team-building exercise, it’s enjoyable enough to be worth the detour. It’s only a matter of time before Wilson crashes in with a loopy one-liner, Kendrick gets a flustered retort, or one of the supporting players pipes in with a goofy barb. The movie plays to everyone’s strength in that way, before drawing all the voices together in beautiful harmony for ensemble numbers that really sing. They work well together, and as a result it’s fun to be around them no matter where the plot takes them. With a favorable hit-to-miss joke ratio, this is a big crowd-pleasing comedy that’s essentially nice and easy to like.