Zoolander 2: Don't Believe the Hype

The first Zoolander film was released in 2001 to rave reviews from critics, with The Guardian describing the movie as “the finest film ever made about the fashion industry”. Since then, Zoolander has gone on to become something of a cultural institution with jokes about “Blue Steel” and “The Derek Zoolander Centre for Kids Who Can’t Read Good” abounding even 15 years later. For once, the hype surrounding a movie seems to have justified itself ‒ the first Zoolander movie was magical, just the right blend of irony, cultural critique and fabulous story-telling. It’s no wonder that its cultural legacy has lasted.

As a result of its predecessor’s runaway success, anticipation for Zoolander 2, or “Twolander” as some have named the new film, ran feverishly high. Pre-release excitement was fueled by fan events, Ridiculously Good Looking Selfie posters and a teaser trailer featuring the one and only Justin Bieber.

When I finally made it to the cinema ‒ several weeks after the film’s initial release ‒ I had high hopes. I hoped that the film would be as incisively funny as its predecessor. I hoped that I’d laugh so hard I’d cry, and that I’d also be provoked to think about fashion and culture on some level. But I was disappointed.

This is not to say that Zoolander 2 is not an enjoyable film. Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are still both outrageously charming and frustrating as Zoolander and Hansel. The new film begins fifteen years on from where the last one left off and features both of the ridiculously good-looking former models grappling with fatherhood. Zoolander, stupid as always, has made a series of decisions that lead to the death of his wife and the loss of his son to social services. Meanwhile, sex-addicted Hansel has abandoned his orgy of lovers (ft. Kiefer Sutherland of 24) upon finding out that they ‒ yes, all of them! ‒ have fallen pregnant with his child.

At the film’s beginning, both characters are estranged from the world of modeling; Zoolander, due to the shame of his really, ridiculously stupid decision-making, and Hansel, due to facial scarring caused by the aforementioned bad decision-making. Although the narrative arc propels both characters toward parenthood and, of course, back into the world of fashion, and has a solid emotional core, the events which spin out around this arc are hyperbolic and less than cohesive.

This is, to some extent, the point. Zoolander 2 is joyously self-referential, reveling in its own legacy and bathing in the cultures of celebrity and fashion, that it ultimately sends up a plot complete with a Chosen One and a swimsuit model/member of the Fashion Police based in Rome, played by Penelope Cruz, who also brings just the right amount of sexy and spunky to the role, and is perfectly suited to the tone that the film sets out to achieve. Indeed, the film is often brilliantly and incisively comedic, playing its larger-than-life plot against the trappings of modernity with uproarious results.

Unfortunately, these moments are ultimately overwhelmed by the lack of coherence in the plot, specifically as events often seem inserted with the only intention to slot in yet another celebrity cameo. Prepare yourself for not just Biebs and Kiefer Sutherland, but Katy Perry, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Marc Jacobs, Billy Zane, Skrillex and many, many more. I didn’t think anyone could outdo Queen Tay on the cameo front, but director Ben Stiller has truly got her beat here.

For nostalgic fans of the first movie, Zoolander 2 is an enjoyable ride that will keep you laughing throughout. But the film ultimately fails to tap into the zeitgeist in the same way as its predecessor. If you don’t go in expecting a narrative that resonates like that of the first film and you won’t be disappointed.