Though Ben Stiller’s “Zoolander” had the unfortunate luck of being released two weeks after 9/11 to generally mixed, indifferent reviews (and an especially harsh assessment from critic Roger Ebert), the film has garnered some passionate fans in the past fifteen years, including people like Terrence Malick. But despite all the positive qualities in the original, “Zoolander 2” has so far been critically derided in most quarters for its laziness, relying too frequently on cameos and recycled gags from the first movie to generate laughs. The movie follows Derek (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson), along with a member of Interpol’s Global Fashion Division played by Penelope Cruz, as they infiltrate a different world of high fashion to stop assassinations of “the world’s most beautiful people” while their enemy Mugatu (Will Ferrel) is hot on their trail seeking revenge, but the plot is simply a clothesline to hang gags involving the brutal murder of Justin Bieber along with a neverending string of cameos. For most critics, “Zoolander 2” falls flat, and no amount of Blue Steel can save it.
First Reviews of “Zoolander 2”
Justin Chang, Variety
It may have been a really, really ridiculously good-looking idea on paper, but Ben Stiller’s attempt to bring back one of his more beloved creations feels like a cheap designer knockoff in “Zoolander 2.” Falling well below the standards of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” (2014) in the long-delayed-sequel sweepstakes, this flailing follow-up drags the endearingly dim-witted Derek Zoolander out of retirement for an extended Roman holiday, backed by a parade of real-life celebrities and fashion-world denizens who are now very much in on the joke. If only that joke weren’t so far past its sell-by date: The results may delight those who believe recycled gags and endless cameos to be the very essence of great screen comedy, but everyone else will likely recognize Stiller’s wannabe Magnum opus as a disappointment-slash-misfire, the orange mocha crappuccino of movie sequels.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
More than all those miscalculations, the comedy of “Zoolander 2” is strikingly out of touch. Compared to last year’s great transgender comedy “Tangerine,” a sleeper hit with broad appeal, the stale comedy built around Benedict Cumberbatch as a gender-neutral model who goes by “All” isn’t just crass; it’s empty. “Tangerine” keenly addressed the divide between its leads’ insular world and the harsh way society ostracizes them, but it never turned the confusion over their sexual identity into a joke. Transgressive comedy can do brilliant things, but dumb comedy that works overtime to sting its audience’s taste only gets cumbersome. The comedy of “Zoolander 2” has the same brutish simplicity as its characters.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
Is there a documented record for the most celebrity cameos in a single film? If there was, “Zoolander 2” just broke it. The film opens with the murder of Justin Bieber and closes with…well, without spoiling it, let’s say it closes with a whole slew of more cameos, and there’s at least 20 more in between. These are some of the biggest names from the world of fashion, music, TV, film, journalism, and pop culture. If “Zoolander 2” was a party, the guest list alone would make it the greatest ever thrown. But “Zoolander 2” is not a party. It is a movie. A bad movie. Never have so many cool people appeared in something so patently lame — or, as idiot male model Derek Zoolander mispronounces it, “luh-may.”
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
What “Zoolander No. 2” miscalculates most, and what it did so well originally, is treading the fine line between funny and stupid. Moreover, the rehashed comedy misjudges the tolerance the audience has, fifteen years after the fact, for monumentally stupid characters. “Zoolander 2” suffers from the obvious weakness of comedy sequels: we’ve already seen one version of this joke, but Hansel and Derek still behaving like the same morons gets old extremely fast. In fact, the dim-wittedness of Zoolander himself produces some of the lamest, even most embarrassing jokes (Stiller’s character is a recluse, so he calls himself a “Hermit Crab,” har?). With no compelling story to speak of, “Zoolander 2,” which brims with misplaced confidence, mistakenly assumes it can skate by on the charms of its actors and the audience’s interest in watching these clowns go through the same motions again. And sure, talented actors like Stiller, Wilson, Ferrell, and Wiig can produce maybe ten minutes worth of amusing chuckles, if we’re being generous, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to understand this hardly adds up to a satisfying comedy.
Jen Yamato, The Daily Beast
The biggest crisis to hit the celebrity world in “Zoolander 2” is sparked by the catastrophe-heralding collision of two of the greatest forces in millennial pop culture, neither of which were household concepts when the first “Zoolander” opened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks: Justin Bieber and the selfie. The cruel cycle of fame is quick to discard yesterday’s darlings, a fate sure to befall this flat sequel to 2001’s goofy comedy about a dim male model saving the world. In 2016, “Zoolander 2” perceptively argues, there is a fate worse than death: obsolescence. Choosing the wrong Instagram filter? A close runner-up. Like the first “Zoolander,” the long-awaited sequel is a mish-mash of random jokes, fashion pokes, and endless celebrity cameos that begin with the grandiose sight of the Biebs dying in a glorious hail of bullets. He’s the latest in a string of pop megastars who’ve been found murdered sporting Blue Steel pouts on their faces, and his death is one of a few clumsy contrivances that pulls Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) out of early retirement and into a tedious plot involving another global fashion conspiracy and “Da Vinci Code”-like historical intrigue.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
In the past decade-and-a-half, fashion has evolved even further into the mainstream. “Project Runway” democratized the craft of the designer, just as “America’s Next Top Model” did for the career path of the professional clotheshorse. Stylists have become demi-celebrities, and the annual Met Costume Institute Gala has ballooned into the Super Bowl of red carpets. Meanwhile, label whores both fictional (Carrie Bradshaw) and non- (Paris Hilton, the Kardashians) have turned conspicuous consumption into an aspirational career, while social media and selfies have spawned legions of spotlight-hungry supermodels — at least in their own minds. All that should have provided delicious fodder for the screenwriting team, led by Justin Theroux, who also reprises his role from the earlier film as an evil henchman to Will Ferrell’s petulant villain, Mugatu. But paradoxically, the sequel gets far less mileage than its predecessor out of the real-world absurdities of a target industry that takes itself so very seriously. When even icy style guru Anna Wintour is among the insiders clamoring to make a self-parodying appearance, the subversive edge gets blunted.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
Despite a much higher budget this time around, the film feels sparse and narratively claustrophobic until its third act. There are any number of major scenes where it’s pretty clear that the two main actors aren’t in the same room together, and it’s blatant enough to be distracting. But once we are reintroduced to Will Ferrell’s Mugatu, the film actually starts kicking into gear. Ferrell is such a comedic force of nature that he wills laughs into existence by sheer force-of-will, and the film’s actual plot finally comes into focus. He has one line, which caps off an expositional monologue, that may rank as one of the biggest laughs of 2016 (while also offering a meta-commentary on the entire movie as a whole), but the otherwise lazy and unimaginative film arguably doesn’t deserve his effort. There are a handful of chuckles and, thanks to Ferrell, a few laughs toward the end, but the film adds up to nothing of consequence with nothing to justify itself save for a huge number of lowest-common-denominator jokes that just don’t click. The majority of the film, the first two acts really, just lie there in wait for something interesting or funny to happen beyond another celebrity cameo. Yes, some of the cameos elicit smiles, but that’s the only ammunition the film seems to have beyond its third-act villain. “Zoolander” was a real comedy with amusing characters, witty situations and a plot that served said characters while offering some bubbling-under-the-surface commentary that sadly turned out to be sadly topical. “Zoolander, No. 2” exists purely to cash in on the cult adoration of the original picture, as well as to cash in on the generational nostalgia that fuels so much of our social media these days. Sadly, “Zoolander, No. 2” really is the very definition of a “number two.”
Kate Lloyd, Time Out London
The details don’t always make sense, but chaos is part of the “Zoolander” experience. The humor is nearly always on trend: Netflix and Uber get a nod and Mugatu teases Tommy Hilfiger with a very 2016 burn: “The new Hilfiger collection, brought to you by white privilege.” Attempts at zeitgeist comedy don’t always pay off: while Benedict Cumberbatch’s appearance as All, an androgynous model, is not as problematic as the trailer hinted (the joke is definitely on Derek and Hansel’s bigotry and not All’s gender), it still feels uncomfortable. Some later scenes fall flat as a series of last-minute twists dampen the high-energy of all that comes before, but mostly, “Zoolander 2” hits the mark with style. Just don’t expect anything too deep.
Helen O’Hara, Telegraph
An impressive battalion of celebrity cameos range from the satisfying (teen singer Justin Bieber, brought in and killed spectacularly) to the delightful (Kiefer Sutherland) to the irrelevant (Olivia Munn). But even compared to the first film, women are sidelined while the guys hog the funniest lines – Cruz’s best joke involves her bosom – and Stiller, as director, has a tendency to pause for laughs that don’t come. Still, it’s fun to see Zoolander once more. It seems unlikely that the premise could ever sustain a third film, but if this is Derek’s swan song then he leaves amid a flurry of feathers and bustle – surely all a male model could wish for.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Like “Anchorman 2,” Derek’s sequel is powered by a kind of double momentum arising from the first movie: the simple unused comic potential of the original drama and also the fan goodwill and catchphrase-capital that’s been accumulating all the time he was gone. It goes a reasonable way, though it depends on quite a bit of sentimental attachment. Like a famous band playing live, Derek et al are required to do their greatest hits, not their new stuff — and they don’t really have much in the way of new stuff. “Z2” is as moderately successful as could have been expected: the only really left-field moment is a thoroughly bizarre “miscarriage” joke connected with Kiefer Sutherland. Derek and Hansel aren’t as hot right now as they used to be. But I still felt some warmth.
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com
“Zoolander 2” is not just relentless in its joking, it becomes relentlessly clever in debunking itself as it goes along. “This is barely a movie,” I thought, as it hopped from one inane plot device to ‘80s music cue to ‘80s music video pastiche to inane plot point. But the observations about the fashion world got, if not sharper (I don’t know enough about the contemporary fashion world to vouch for accuracy), then definitely more pointed, beginning with Kyle Mooney’s portrayal of a hot new designer named Don Atari whose aesthetic pinions on how much everything “sucks” and is “stupid.” Derek and Hansel have been persuaded via old friend Billy Zane to participate in Atari’s fashion show in Rome, lorded over by a spectacularly pompous couture doyen named Alexanya Atoz, played by a nearly unrecognizable Kristen Wiig. Atoz’s schtick is elaborately mispronouncing English words, and this is hammered almost as insistently as is Derek’s idiocy. The biggest comic risk the movie ends up taking, as it happens, is in scenes in which Derek doesn’t “get” something. And this is entirely the case lot once Penelope Cruz, playing a member of Interpol, Fashion Crime Division, invests him and Hansel in a world-saving (or something) mission. The character is literally so dumb that it’s not funny, except it becomes funny by dint of the way it’s not funny, and so on.
not even Terrence Malick will like ZOOLANDER 2.
— david ehrlich (@davidehrlich) February 10, 2016