Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is a comedy classic. It’s infinitely quotable, gets better with every viewing, and had the staying power to go from being a moderate summer hit to a film where a growling legion of fans were constantly demanding a sequel. Sadly, these cases usually end with a “Be careful what you wish for.” But Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is “Sometimes, dreams do come true.” Burdened with almost a decade of expectations compounded by an unrelenting marketing campaign, not to mention the fact that comedy sequels are almost always inferior to the original, Adam McKay‘s film was inevitably at a disadvantage despite fans begging for its existence. The compromise is a shaggy beast of a sequel that maintains the silly and strange soul of the original. Even with its glaring flaws, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues still manages to be 2013′s funniest film.
Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and his wife/co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) have gone from their humble San Diego origins and are now working a newsdesk in New York City in 1980. When revered anchor Mack Harken (Harrison Ford) decides to retire, he hands over the coveted nightly news desk to Veronica and summarily fires Ron, who he declares to be “the worst newsman I have ever seen”. Despondent, Ron’s life falls apart, but he’s given a second chance when he’s invited to work at the world’s first 24-hour news network. Reassembling his Channel 4 news team—Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champ Kind (David Koechner), and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell)—Ron and his pals discover that their incompetence, narcissism, and shallowness is perfect for the vapid format of 24-hour news.
It’s important to remember that when Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy came out, its stars and attitude hadn’t become ubiquitous. Judd Apatow (who produced Anchorman) and Steve Carell‘s breakthrough hit, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, was over a year away, and Will Ferrell‘s film hits—Old School and Elf—were good, but nothing that pushed the envelope. A lot has changed in nine years, but Anchorman 2 feels like a homecoming. Ferrell and his co-stars slip back into their old roles almost effortlessly. Perhaps it’s because I’ve watched The Legend of Ron Burgundy so consistently over the years that it feels like these characters never really left. The Legend Continues simply allows me to see them in new situations, and watch them absolutely kill at everything they do.
There’s no recapturing lightning in a bottle, so Anchorman 2 does what a good sequel should: cement an identity in order to create a deeper connection with the original. That may seem like a nice way of saying “It’s more of the same,” but that’s almost always what a sequel is, and that’s why they’re usually a losing proposition. If Anchorman 2 sticks to what works, then it’s seen as playing it too safe, and if it’s radically different than the first movie, then it’s disrespecting the fans. When I say, “establishes an identity”, it means that Anchorman 2 maintains the tone and style of the first film without relying too heavily on old jokes. The film keeps fan service to a minimum, but the fan service still undermines the movie’s greatest asset: unpredictability.
These scenes are still good and are bound to get cheers, but like most fan-service, it comes off as obligatory. It’s an unnecessary “Thank You” note to the fans when the film itself is already gratitude for the people who championed a sequel. The fan-service still gets laughs, and even though the film goes on longer than it needs to, Anchorman 2 really only gets out of hand when it indulges Brick.
Brick is the one blaring, false note in the movie where it seems like McKay and Ferrell played to the character’s popularity rather than his function. Carell is a bonafide movie star now, but Brick worked better in small doses. Furthermore, while Brick is still far beyond the “mentally retarded” diagnosis he’ll receive from future doctors, he’s much more hyperactive. This is “LOUD NOISES!” Brick, and sometimes it feels like Carell is trying to muscle his way into scenes rather than sit back and steal them with a well-timed joke. There’s also a romance subplot between Brick and a dim-witted secretary (Kristen Wiig) that falls flat, which is surprising when you consider the actors’ immense talent. Thankfully, the movie never completely loses the Brick we loved from the first movie, and he can still drop in a quick line that absolutely slays the audience.
Anchorman 2 is clearly flawed, but here’s the thing: I don’t care. I can’t deny the film’s faults, but I also can’t deny how hard I was laughing throughout the movie. I laughed more in the first thirty minutes than I laughed at any other comedy this year. I laughed so hard I think I lost some weight by the time the credits rolled (and yes, there’s something after the credits). I went in feeling a mix of anticipation and dread because of my high expectations and fear of disappointment; I left with my sides hurting from laughing so much. I won’t spoil any of the jokes here other than to say that if you liked the first movie, you’ll like this one. The comic sensibilities are the same, and other than piling on more Brick, the movie still has the same basic form of a reasonable plot supported by wonderfully weird, mind-bogglingly ludicrous comedy.
There will be arguments about which film is better: Anchorman or Anchorman 2, and declaring a victor is pointless because they’re both hilarious. The question isn’t which film is “better”. The question is which film will have staying power, and I can’t answer that because I’ve only seen Anchorman 2 once. Although both movies thrive on the outlandish unpredictability, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has thrived because of its durability. We all know that milk was a bad choice, diversity is an old, wooden ship, and you have to keep your head on a swivel when you’re in a vicious cockfight. I don’t know if Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues will be as quotable or even as funny on a second viewing. But I can’t wait to find out.