Supposing Zoolander 2 were a dress and this were a runway show, I, as judge, would find much to disparage. What is with the outdated frills, fresh over a decade ago but stale now? What is with the recycled lines and patterns — haven’t we seen the same thing, but better, from this designer before? Why does the sensation of viewing it evoke such revulsion?
There is nothing new about this sequel to Ben Stiller’s famous fashion farce other than the release date. In fact, it feels rather undead, with the characters and the actors concealed beneath seeming to wonder about their place in the universe, held in a suspension of irrelevance. The film feels dreary. Whatever worked the first time around is rehashed but with less conviction or pertinence, a weaker echo to the original.
Fans may remember the original Zoolander for its zany cast of characters and many quotable lines. The makers of this sequel have not forgotten, either, as this movie continues to ape its former glory through wringing every old line dry. What is new is ponderous, indeed, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing an androgynous alien harpy of sorts, looking like a Pan’s Labyrinth reject. Besides seeming to mock gender ambiguity or gender fluidity, which is just unfunny, outdated, and upsetting, the film lends little comical insight to the culture of today. Not even Don Atari, played by the usually reliable Kyle Mooney, registers as much as a chuckle, being a tired representative of an already well-worn punching bag: the hipster, or some variation thereof.
Jokes like these feel more like defense mechanisms against the passage of time. Time has moved on from Zoolander, both in the world of the film and the world of the viewer. It’s the sort of sequel that boomerangs a story back for nostalgia’s sake — nothing more. But this is the way of the world now, with cultural corpses rising to reclaim whatever last bits of matter they can scrape from our pockets and minds. Fortunately, being so clearly more of the same but with less flair, it’s easy to pass up.