In the 15 years since Zoolander, nothing has quite matched the unique formula of parody that Ben Stiller did so well. It’s fair to say that the film has almost surpassed its cult status in past years and the announcement of a sequel so long after the original was both a risk and a potential goldmine. The promotion and hype for the film has been impressive, most notably with Derek and Hansel walking the Valentino fall runway during Paris Fashion Week last March, using a famous viner’s phone (Jérôme Jarre, who also cameos briefly in the film) to film themselves taking selfies. After a decade and a half, the bar was set high.
The film opens with a high speed recap. Derek’s school collapsed, killing his wife and leaving Derek to look after their son, who is soon taken away from him. Hansel is also disfigured in the accident, and both models soon go into self-imposed solitude becoming, as Derek puts it, ‘hermit crabs’. Time passes and Billy Zane arrives, playing himself, to bring both men out of hiding and back into the world of fashion, as well as persuading Derek to reconnect with his son, Derek Junior. During this time, famous celebrities including Justin Bieber, Madonna and Lenny Kravitz have all been murdered, pulling one last iconic pose before they die. Enter Penélope Cruz as stunning Valentina, a former swimsuit model turned Interpol fashion police, desperate for Zoolander’s help in solving the crime.
Throughout the film, the sheer volume of celebrities packed into the 102 minute film is borderline overwhelming and although humorous to an extent, it feels like Stiller is dating the film in advance; these are the celebrities who are current now, he is who we’re interested in. I love seeing an inexplicable cameo from a B-lister playing a characterised version of themselves as much as the next girl, but this drags it out till you aren’t even surprised by whoever pops up next, just confused. Skrillex? Katy Perry? Neil deGrasse Tyson? Whatever.
Kirsten Wiig’s character, high end fashionista Alexanya Atoz, is clever – a parody of fashion icons such as Donatella Versace with her botoxed appearance and heavy accent – but Wiig is heavily underused with about ten minutes of screen time. Her potential to be the supervillain of the convoluted film is high but after Mugatu appears, she is brushed to the side and never mentioned again.
One of the real issues at the heart of this film is the plot – or rather the multitude of them.
The whole premise of the film falls apart after what I assume to be the main plot falls through completely. We never find out the true reason why the murdered celebrities are pulling the shelved, pre-blue steel Zoolander look, despite a weird Segway to an ‘Adam, Eve and Steve’ subplot that feels completely random and last minute. With 4 screenwriters working on the one script, it feels stuffed with gags that are hit or miss but left in anyway, that may have sounded great at the read through with the guys, but fails to pack any sort of real punch with the audience.
As the climax of the film approaches, a scene where all the largest names in fashion – Anna Wintour, Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang and more – meet in a darkened chamber like members of the occult is most representative of why this sequel could never be as good as the original. At its core, Zoolander was about making fun of the fashion industry and those who were involved in it. It was a true parody of what everyone on the outside wanted to believe – fashion is stupid, models are dumb, all of it. But in this cavern scene, this is no longer the case. This time, ‘fashion’ is in on the joke. And yes, it is funny to see the Editor in Chief of Vogue scream obscenities at Will Ferrel, but it feels empty. There’s no bite, no one on the outside, and sometimes, there needs to be.
The premise of the film’s success rides on familiarity – something it does well, but leaves a little to be desired. By the end it is a relatively fun film that treads the same path as its predecessor, but this time pumped full of money till it runs out its ears. The celebrities, the locations, the special effects – the evidence of which is a cameo by Fred Armisen in which his face is CGI’d onto the body of an eleven year old – all culminate into something that undoubtedly was fun to write and shoot, but when it comes to the big screen, just doesn’t hold up for fans who were hoping for something explosive.
By Kitty McMurdo-Shad
Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures