Sequels are very tricky to form; especially if the filmmakers have pleased many with their first outing. The Hangover was a sleeper hit that connected with audiences all over the world. The film had “legs” when it was in theatres due to very positive word-of-mouth which also may have helped the film become incredibly successful on DVD/Blu-Ray.
It doesn’t take much knowledge to figure out that people have high expectations regarding The Hangover: Part 2 because of the first film’s history. Director Todd Phillips and his new Screenwriters are given a choice when making a sequel. Do you take the concept of the first movie and recycle gags and make a very safe movie or do you take the material and spin it in a way that raises the stakes for both the characters in the movie and for the people making the movie? I’m happy to state that the team behind Part 2 decided to stick with the latter decision.
The Wolfpack is back together for another wedding. Stu, played by Ed Helms, has met his perfect match, Lauren, played by Jamie Chung, and the two arrange their wedding in Thailand. Doug, played by Justin Bartha, is excited for the special event while Phil, played by Bradley Cooper, bickers about the prolonged air travel and the cost of plane tickets. After some convincing, Phil aggress to attend. Speaking of convincing, this also means that the unstable Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis, is invited by an unenthused Stu.
Stu doesn’t want a bachelor party though. He would much rather have a bachelor brunch. Phil cannot see eye-to-eye with this and begs Stu to have fun. As the troublesome pack arrives to Thailand and the opportunity to have a bon fire on the beach arrives, Stu gives in and promises Lauren he will only have one drink. Lauren insists that the gang also brings along her younger brother Teddy, played by Mason Lee. The five guys begin to drink around the fire and before they know it, it’s morning, they’re in Bangkok, and they can’t remember the events that unfolded between the bonfire and their rude awakening in Leslie Chow’s apartment. The role of Chow is reprised by Ken Jeong. Doug is safe at the hotel but the disoriented foursome have lost Teddy. By scrounging clues together, the friends try to find the whereabouts of the missing younger brother.
The first scene of this film is almost an exact copy of the first scene from The Hangover. Same shots, same edits, and same deliveries by both the angry Fiancee and Phil the mediator. This scene is a bit startling at first sight because move goers start to think that maybe Phillips has opted for making a risk-free sequel. However, once the audience is reintroduced to the characters and are introduced to the mystery at hand, a sigh of relief can be exhaled.
Instead of reusing jokes from the first outing, Phillips and his Screenwriters trade in scenes of slapstick and extreme shock humour and focus more on the mystery elements that made The Hangover original and cherished by audiences. Because the story is so strong, not only is Part 2 a successful comedy but it also doubles as a great mystery.
Screenwriters Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, and Phillips aren’t afraid to drift away from the comedy in order to develop its characters and the plot points. In the first film, Screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore wrote situations that were funny but outlandish. In Part 2, the new writing team tones down the level of absurdity in order to develop a more down-to-earth feel to the film’s tone and to its characters. If the three new writers use references or past jokes, they always up the ante and raise the stakes making the material feel fresher.
To give a better example of how the writing has improved, let’s look at the animals featured in these comedies. In the first Hangover, the boys had kidnapped Mike Tyson’s tiger. Most of the jokes involved the characters referencing the tiger numerous times as well as playing with its aggressive animalistic behaviour in order to generate laughs. The tiger was used more as a prop. In this instalment, the gang gets ahold of a smoking monkey. The three actors make reference to the monkey and acknowledge that it smokes but the smoking monkey is more of a character than a prop used to garner laughs. The monkey is integrated into the story and used as a major turning point and by giving the animal actions, the monkey ends up being more interesting and charismatic than the aforementioned tiger which just lumbered and snarled a lot in the first film.
The Hangover: Part 2 also shows that the actors are having fun with these personas and aren’t afraid to develop them deeper. The best examples of this character development is during exchanges between Cooper and Helms; which feel more natural this time around. Stu and Phil feel more like friends and not like two personalities fighting for the punchline. Galifianakis is able to shine here as well with his awkwardly loveable role. Be sure to keep an eye on Galifianakis’ Alan during scenes where the focus isn’t on him. The subtle mannerisms and facial expressions are the aspects that are the most admirable about this weird character.
There is also some strong and funny supporting work displayed. Jeong is given the perfect amount of screen time in order for his silly gangster character to gather laughs. Paul Giamatti appears as a tough “businessman” that will make Howard Stern fans remember Giamatti’s portrayal as Pig Vomit in Private Parts. We haven’t seen this side of Giamatti in a while and his pushy presence in this sequel is greatly appreciated. Nick Cassavetes shouldn’t be overlooked either. His brief appearance as a tattoo artist is filled with hilarious dialogue layered within his tough demeanour.
I commend Phillips and his team on not giving into sequel peer pressure. It’s really ballsy for filmmakers to take a product people are accustomed to and driving it in a slightly different direction. As a movie critic and lover, I really appreciate these storytelling choices. However, as I gush about this film, I remember the trip my Fiancee and I took to a cafe after the screening. I tried to collect my favourite scenes but was having a hard time remembering scenes with huge visual payoffs. The first film might’ve had more memorable moments because of how outrageous Lucas and Moore’s script was. That said, The Hangover may have had more memorable visual cues that you can work into everyday conversation but The Hangover: Part 2 is memorable in another way. It’s smarter, tighter, and is able to balance mystery and comedy without breaking a sweat. To me, that trumps any goofy tiger scene.