The Barden Bellas are in trouble. After winning the hearts of a cappella aficionados and casual fans everywhere, both within the movie and through its surprising box office success, the singing sensations of Barden University are now faced with the daunting proposition of how to continue their success. After a disastrous performance in front of the U.S. President, they promptly find themselves on the outs with their college and each other, knocking them right back to square one as they search for redemption.
Enter teenager Hailee Steinfeld as new Bella recruit Emily, and seemingly the only member legitimately of college age. Emily is a Bella legacy and eager to make her mom proud as she joins the team and brings a new dynamic: an original song composition. She’s got talent to spare and the drive to make a real contribution to the team, giving her story a bit of “a star is born” arc. The former Oscar nominee Steinfeld is perfectly cast and emerges as a gifted performer, a revelation that she’s continuing with her current solo pop career. She’s also the biggest bright spot in this sequel that buckles under the weight of its heightened expectations.
The queen bee of the first film (Anna Kendrick as Beca) is still in control of the team, but also splitting her time and focus by moonlighting as an intern at a recording studio in the hopes of furthering her solo dreams. Kendrick remains entertaining, but her impact is woefully diminished this time due to Beca’s shifting priorities and Emily’s heightened role. There’s also the matter of the other a cappella teams vying for screen time. Yes, the male Treblemakers return, along with other teams fighting to win the a cappella world championship, chief among them the dastardly German team Das Sound Machine led by the imposing Pieter (Flula Borg) and Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort-Sorensen).
While the film is ultimately entertaining, it’s not without sizeable faults. Chief among those is its tired reliance on one-dimensional characters in place of character development. The Asian girl (Hana Mae Lee) is still completely insane and grinds the film to a halt with every one of her idiotic shenanigans, the black girl (Esther Dean) is largely resigned to the background except for when her hair catches on fire during a performance (hello, Michael Jackson), while seemingly every line uttered by a new Latina (Chrissie Fit) is about how poor she is and how she snuck into the country. And of course Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is fat, but just in case you didn’t know rest assured you’ll hear about it many, many times.
It’s disheartening that a franchise that espouses female empowerment bombs so terribly at elevating any of its characters that fall outside the norm. It’s even more depressing that it happened on the watch of debut feature-film director (and returning co-star) Elizabeth Banks. In what should have been a crowning achievement for her, she’s saddled with a lackluster script that doesn't capitalize on the goodwill raised by the first film. The performers are game, the music numbers are fun, and Banks does a fine job with what she has, but returning writer Kay Cannon fails to develop a meaningful story or character growth for her original players.
The Blu-ray 1080p image quality is as precise as expected, while the soundtrack accurately conveys every note in an immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Bonus features abound in the package, with plentiful deleted/extended/alternate takes, a gag reel, and extended musical performances present on both the Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray goes further with an entertaining but unused Treblemakers performance of "Locked Out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars, a breakdown of the Das Sound Machine finale that lets you isolate vocal tracks, lots of amusing takes of ab libbed lines that didn’t make the final cut, a closer look at Snoop Dogg’s cameo, a freestyle Green Bay rap, and a look at the love story of Bumper and Fat Amy. The Blu-ray bonus features are all presented in 1080p hi def, but sound is locked at Dolby Digital 2.0.