Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
As is now my modus operandi, I will provide a brief, spoiler-free, review right at the top, before moving into more in-depth discussion, a transition that will be clearly marked for readers.
When I first heard the news that the team behind Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, were making a sequel, I’m sure I wasn’t the only who felt a sense of dread come over them. This loosely defined “frat pack” of Hollywood comedy star and starlets rarely go in for sequels in their most well known works, and the few times that they have, the results have usually been less than impressive (Meet The Fockers anyone?)
But you gotta have faith. Anchorman is one of those amazing movies that, despite the near complete absence of plot, inherent logic and other usually vital things for any coherent movie to be born, still became a near instant part of pop culture, and remains so to this day, quotations, stills and GIFS passing into the internet lexicon with an ease that is testament to that movies hilarious nature.
Could the cast and crew of that film, nine years on, recapture some of the crazy magic that made Ron Burgundy such an amazing success? Or was it all just a horrible, memory ruining mistake?
It’s the 1980’s and the beginning of a whole new thing in journalism: the 24 hour news channel. And when anchor legend Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is fired from the co-position he held with his, now estranged, wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) he finds himself thrust into the middle of that new form of news, along with his usual crew: ladies man Brian Santana (Paul Rudd), the misogynistic Champ Kind (Dave Koechner) and the mentally deficient weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). Featuring a whole host of adventures, romances, mishaps and celebrity cameos by the bucket load, can Ron and his team rise, once again, to the summit of broadcast journalism?
Thankfully, this production team actually has managed to pull it off. While the fact that it’s a sequel means that the material and the shock humour (not gross out humour to be clear) fails to land quite as well as it did nine years ago, The Legend Continues is still a very, very funny movie, in the best tradition of Ferrell and company.
This is Ron Burgundy in the doldrums, working his way back up, and the results are a glorious mash of 80s references, celebrity cameos, and commentary on race, news, drugs and just about anything else that the cast can think off. As with The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the plot is mostly superfluous, just the bare frame on which we move from set-piece to set-piece, and God knows The Legend Continues is just chock a block with them, operating independently off each other, very much like these characters are just doing SNL-style skits and chaining them together in a movie format.
There’s Ron’s disastrous employment at a Seaworld stand-in, the gangs first encounter with their black manager, Burgundy’s horrible racist behaviour when meeting with her family, the gang smoking crack cocaine on live television, Brick Tamland’s funeral (featuring a live Brick Tamland), an amazing sequence about blindness in a lighthouse, and a battle royale of epic journalistic proportions near the conclusion. The Legend Continues is a world where you can go from homosexual innuendo to parodies of Free Willy in a heartbeat, and that’s an amazing place to do comedy in.
The laughs come thick and fast, at completely random junctures. One of the great strengths of The Legend of Ron Burgundy was how it almost felt like everything was ad-libbed, like the cast were so comfortable with each other and their characters that they could just come out with anything and be sure that the others would play off it. Nothing of that has been lost in The Legend Continues at all, and the movie is the kind of comedy experience where the next laugh comes from just about anything without any set-up.
The cast is brilliant, taking on their roles like they just finished filming The Legend of Ron Burgundy yesterday. They’re older, but that simply means their amazing back and forth has had even more time to gel and become ingrained. Will Ferrell is still one of the greatest comedic minds of our times, and he carries The Legend Continues as well as he did its predecessor. They’re joined on this adventure by a supporting cast that stretches well past the ability to note them all, but particularly praise worthy are the likes of James Marsden, Kristin Wiig, Greg Kinnear and, in a wonderful piece of in-referencing, the likes of Jim Carrey, Liam Neeson, Kanye West and Will Smith near the conclusion.
Competent camerawork and a well picked soundtrack round The Legend Continues off. It isn’t a particularly deep movie, but it does have at least one larger point. Just as The Legend of Ron Burgundy looked at the way women struggled to be accepted in the journalistic world of the 1970’s, so The Legend Continues looks at how the 80’s saw the start of a general “dumbing down” of broadcast news, why this came about, and why it was such an incurable poison to the integrity of the industry.
At the end of the day, The Legend Continues is just a damn funny movie, and that’s the highest praise you can give to a comedy film. It made me laugh, constantly, throughout its running time. It’s a fine continuation of this franchise that fans of the original should love while also being able to pull in new viewers. The legend continues, and long may it keep going.
More in-depth discussion, with spoilers, from here on out.
I could try and go in-depth into the plot and story of The Legend Continues, but that would be fairly pointless. As with The Legend of Ron Burgundy, the plot in The Legend Continues is wafer thin, in a universe that has even less internal consistency than it did a few years ago. Brick Tamland is now a time traveller, sharks can be bottle-fed, ghosts and Minotaur’s are real etc, etc. Anchorman in general has a certain cartoonish air, with all of the story problems that such a thing comes with.
Well, I say “problems”. It’s only a problem when you’re stuck up enough to view it as such. I rate films based on expectations formatted to each film. I don’t expect great story from many comedy films, and I certainly don’t expect it from The Legend Continues. I expect laughs.
And I got those, in a very great quantity. A basic three act structure is followed, with an emphasis on the first over the other two, but who really cares that much about the rise and fall and rise again of Ron Burgundy? We should only care insofar as it offers the potential for comedy, and it that regard, the “story” of The Legend Continues succeeds. Ron becoming a national anchor or repairing his relationship with his son is not terribly concerning, especially because this is a universe where the laws of physics don’t apply.
So, it’s funny. The humour is paced well, comes from a variety of sources in terms of exact situations and genres, and from a variety of characters. If there is characterisation, journey arcs, they offer plenty of laughs with everything that they do. The Legend Continues is a funny, funny movie, and if I can say nothing else about its story elements, it is that they are funny. Threadbare, shallow, but funny.
But perhaps not quite as funny as The Legend of Ron Burgundy. There is a certain sense of repetition in sections here, of hitting a target that has previously been hit. Part of what made The Legend of Ron Burgundy so great was its freshness, the way that it conducted itself being relatively new in this generation of movie goers. The Legend Continues is basically doing the exact same thing in terms of humour style and delivery, so sometimes it doesn’t hit home quite as much as it maybe should. I’m sure that this wouldn’t be a problem for somebody who hasn’t seen The Legend of Ron Burgundy, but it was a minor issue for me.
What actual plot there is, is OK. It doesn’t really engage, but it sure as hell entertains. Ron has to climb the mountain again, needs to get the band back together, needs to tackle his own arrogance, repair his past mistakes, grow a little, but it’s all been done before. There is little originality in the plot, just with the jokes. The few sub-plots have the same problem, with only Brick’s tryst with Kristin Wiig’s character having any real substantial feel to it, and even that was overly ridiculous, just something for a fan favourite character to be wrapped around (still very funny).
It’s just a vehicle, in much the same way as the plot was just a vehicle for the two main characters of The Heat. That plot allows this brilliant cast to move from set-piece to set-piece. The journey in the van, the meeting with the boss, the news montage, the skating rink, the lighthouse, the recovery, the final fight, they’re all just skits and sketches, that could have been part of a TV show like SNL and still retained their awesome funniness. But, they require a shell to be placed inside of for a movie format – this isn’t Movie 43 after all, and thank God it isn’t – so a shell was constructed. But this is a movie that is all about its individual moments over the larger construct.
In that, it a confluence of ideas and inspirations. There is a general fun-poking of broadcast news in general, most especially the Rupert Murdoch kind, which favour sensationalism over truth. But there is also parodying “recovery” movies, divorce/separation stories, road trip films. There is some knocks at the traditional Hollywood love plot and the way that movies have approached the topic of race. There is crude sex and fart jokes, mixed with deeper stuff on issues of family, friendship and love.
There is a degree of self reference, a feel of winking at the audience on occasion, most notably with the final fight scene, which was just an elaborate version of the same thing in The Legend of Ron Burgundy, a method of cramming in as many interested celebrities as possible. In fairness to The Legend Continues, it still worked amazing well, with enough new ideas to be far from a simple copy, but it is just part of that slight feeling that The Legend Continues is one big in-joke, a love letter to the fans of The Legend of Ron Burgundy that exists solely because of the awesomeness (as opposed to the commercial aspects) of that first movie, and its success as an internet meme in film form. Something as simple and almost intangible as Ron Burgundy acting too much like Ron Burgundy – a strange, meta self parody if you will – can be just a tiny bit jarring, but rarely lasts for long.
Will Ferrell positively luxuriates in what seems to be the best role of his career, a narcissistic cretin with a low IQ and no compunctions about anything that comes out of his mouth. His Ron is a totally over the top crazy guy, and its perhaps only because somebody like Will Ferrell, with all of his comic timing and experience in the genre, is behind the moustache that Ron remains likeable, even sympathetic, despite all of the inane and ridiculous things that he gets up to. Ferrell plays him like every kind of stereotypically scene-stealing, charisma hole actor you’ve ever heard of or imagined, and he’s just perfect in that role. Ferrell just sells and sells Burgundy throughout, so by the end nothing he says or does has the slightest trace of not fitting that character. A cartoon? Certainly has elements of it, but it’s a superbly acted cartoon.
Paul Rudd remains great as Brian, in one of the only roles that requires a few brief moments of actual acting, when he feels betrayed by Ron and later in two minds upon his return, a few quick glimpses of the talent that has recently attracted Marvel’s eye when thinking about Ant-Man. Rudd’s one of those actors who’s seemingly been satisfied with supporting roles in comedies of this type and playing the male lead in the odd romcom, but I think he’s better than that. He shows it here, both in those serious moments, and also as the crazy, sex-obsessed guy he always was, with the moronic condom display replacing the amazing “Sex Panther” bit from The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Rudd’s just fun, has that kind of exuberance mixed with genuine emotion at times.
Steve Carell has a really hard part to play here, the man, behind Ron, that everyone has come to see. Playing someone with some form of mental deficiency is always difficult, and even more so in a comedy, but by God he makes it work. The deadpan delivery, the frantic changes in emotion and mood, the sheer straightfacedness of the whole thing, Carell delivers, and more, in his enlarged status within The Legend Continues.
Dave Koechner was always a bit of an odd man out, less famous and well known than his three co-stars, but no less important than them in making The Legend of Ron Burgundy work. The way he really pulls on that thinly disguised obsession with Ron remains as great as always, and the sheer ballsiness of his misogyny is a wonder to see on screen, a highlight of many of the more “80’s” scenes.
Those four continue to interact with each wonderfully, and are joined by a number of individuals who contribute greatly. Kristin Wiig is the female Brick, doing just as good a job as Carell, in one of cinemas strangest love sub-plots. Christina Applegate’s general role is reduced, unfortunately, from The Legend of Ron Burgundy, but she still has that prim and proper air thats the perfect foil for Ferrell’s Ron. Meagan Good does great “straight man” work as Ron’s boss/love interest, and plays a part in the most excruciatingly uncomfortable, but still hilarious, dinner scene I’ve ever seen. Dylan Baker is the network guy who also plays a slight straight man role, but was fairly faceless for the whole thing. James Marsden is great as Ron’s childish network rival Jack Lime, who gets destroyed by the new arrival, and Greg Kinnear has a brief but really memorable role as a psychiatrist with “mind powers”.
The mountain of cameos at the end can’t really be evaluated too harshly, but it’s fair to see that they all throw themselves with reckless abandon into their brief, but amazing funny roles.
Visually, the film is just fine, with the same sort of slick cutaways, framing and camera work that was on display in The Legend of Ron Burgundy, perhaps with more of an 80s style to it, the kind of thing that is less a statement and more of an accompaniment to the humour, just setting the ambiance up. No one is really going to be rating The Legend Continues too much on its cinematography, and its fair enough to say that it is competent. The slow-mo sequence is the van was executed really well, and that’s about the only thing that I can really note especially.
It has a script that flows and zings with abandon, with so much humour evident throughout. Whether it’s the perfectly timed nonsense coming out of Brick’s mouth or the larger parodies of various things, the wordplay is at the heart of everything funny about The Legend Continues, which, like The Legend of Ron Burgundy, is so memorable because it is simply so quotable. It’s manic and occasionally offensive, but always entertaining.
There are so many skits and sketches that deserves a mention on that count. There’s Champ’s “Chicken of the caves”. There’s Brick’s funeral, where we’re treated to three of the four man band trying to convince Brick he’s actually alive even as Brick vows to find his own killer. There’s the trading of memories, including ones yet to come, in the van, before a wonderful slow-motion sequence. There’s the African-American dinner scene, where Ferrell leaves no racial stereotype untouched in his appalling behaviour. There’s the random woman screaming for Ron to not “DIE IN FRONT OF US” when he falls on the ice, my personal favourite. There’s Burgundy’s bout with blindness, and the unlikely problems that causes (I don’t know why I have to keep telling you this…”). And there’s that crazy final fight scene, featuring Ron’s amazing confusion over the existence of Stonewall Jackson’s ghost, and a discussion on the historical basis for a Minotaur.
On and on it goes, so many memorable scenes that provide hearty laughs that come close to tears. It’s open, it’s accessible, only occasionally too risqué. In short, it’s a well rounded comedic experience, all thanks to a script that manages to find the right balance with what I will assume was some amount of ad libbing, just as with The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Musically, it’s all fine. The same loud tones that The Legend of Ron Burgundy sported remain, a audible sarcasm that enhances the humour in its failed attempt to imbue Ron’s story with any kind of epicness, a deliberate effort to be sure. A nice contemporary soundtrack, with some modern artists, further supplements.
In terms of themes, all that The Legend Continues has to offer is some blistering commentary on the way that broadcast news has changed over time, turning into the sensationalised thing that it is today, starting roughly in the period that the movie takes place. Reasoned retrospective, in-depth investigations and pieces of genuine importance and human interest fell along the roadside, replaced by sentimental patriotism, mindless car chases and a commitment to airing what people wanted to see over actual news.
The Legend Continues satirises that whole culture, how easily the news media slipped into that role, and how the quest for ratings has left much of that business in a very dark and corrupt place. There is a certain amount of strawmen being constructed, but I wouldn’t consider many of the targets – like Rupert Murdoch – to be unfairly picked. Ron Burgundy sells his soul for rating success, but manages to pull back from the brink before it is too late, choosing family and responsible news reporting over cash signs and fame. He and his friends are almost alone in that, and the unseen aftermath is the ramping up of the sensationalism train, not its derailing. One of the first shots of a news desk is Ron and Veronica reporting on the news in the time honoured fashion, with dignity and poise. One of the last is Brick Tamland speaking inanely into the camera about things that don’t matter. One of those things is going to last, and one of them isn’t.
In conclusion, I can saw with resolve that I really liked The Legend Continues, far more than I thought I was going to. This is a sequel done right, keeping the best elements of the original and adding a sufficient amount of new material and situations so that it isn’t just a carbon copy of the first. The cast just seem to love being on set, back in the shoes of some of their most famous characters, and give The Legend Continues such a large amount of verve and life.
I think you could compare this movie favourably to something like This Is The End. Both are sort of vanity projects from a very tightly knit group of comedic actors, both are very self-referential and have an almost fan servicy feel to them. But the difference is that The Legend Continues mixes up the source of its laughter constantly, and is able to have that feeling of freshness and unpredictability when it comes to humour, while This Is The End was sort of a one trick pony by its conclusion. The Legend Continues is just much more satisfying an experience.
Production wise, it’s a well-made film, but lacks in areas of depth and story. But when it comes to humour, the primary aim, it is one of the best films of 2013, a genuinely funny take on the world of news media in the 1980’s. I laughed all the way through The Legend Continues, and probably would again. I think that you would too. Burgundy lives. Recommended.
(All images are copyright of Paramount Pictures).