When The Hangover came out, it took everyone by surprise. Here was a movie with a brilliant high concept, three friends wake up from a stag-do in Vegas and have to piece together the night before and find out what has happened to the groom-to-be before the wedding comes around. Now, two years and nearly $500 million in the box office later, we have a sequel. It was a movie that didn’t really need a sequel, but we’ve got it anyway, and it follows the age-old sequel rule of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This mentality can work for better and for worse, either way you’re going to get a sequel that is going to have a reeking stench of familiarity. And yes, this can work very well for some sequels, as the sense of familiarity has to be established for a sequel to work, but is this the case for The Hangover Part II? The answer is yes, and no.
This time around it is Stu (Ed Helms) who is getting married to a (non-mail order) Thai bride called Lauren (Jamie Chung), who wishes to get married in her parents homeland of Thailand, despite Lauren’s father’s obvious disdain for Stu. So Stu along with friends Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) make the trip to Thailand. Along with Lauren’s younger brother, the promising young genius Teddy (Mason Lee), the four friends decide to have a quiet drink around a bonfire, rather than potentially re-create the chaotic events of Doug’s own bachelor party in Vegas. However, that doesn’t quite go to plan, as Phil, Stu and Alan wake up in a dingy rundown hotel in the middle of Bangkok, with no idea what occurred the night before. Not only that, Teddy is missing with only two days to go until Stu’s big day.
The story is the biggest problem with this movie, as it seems the writers seem to have taken that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality a bit too literally. It may have partly to do with the fact that the first films writers were not on board for this movie, but the sense of surprise and originality that made the original a surprise hit is sadly lacking here. The narrative structure of the movie is exactly the same. If you’ve seen the first one, then you’ll know exactly when a twist is going to occur and you know what effect that twist will have on the rest of the movie. The cleverly structured foundations of the first movie’s narrative is made to look lazy this time around and makes the film feel quite un-original. Even just including Doug in the proceedings would have brought something fresh, but he is simply left on the sidelines. A lot more time should have been taken on the story for this feature, as Stu’s marriage just doesn’t seem right, not to mention the fact that it quickly disregards and discards the matter of Heather Graham’s prostitute from the first movie. It seems his marriage was just an excuse to take the action to Thailand. However, that move to Thailand is what saves the film from being a pointless cash in sequel.
Where Todd Phillips fails as a screenwriter, he more than makes up in visual flair. The camerawork is very grand when it needs to be, highlighting the beautiful landscapes that the more rural areas of Thailand has to offer. And then there’s Bangkok itself. The city is a hub of chaos, the movie highlightss this by showing the expansive city scape from its numerous impressive skyscrapers. The location is the perfect place for all the mad high-jinks to occur, and all of the events seem like they could actually happen within this labyrinth of pandemonium. The movie works as both an advert for Thailand, yet also a warning for the dangers of Bangkok (especially with those prostitutes *ahem*). Indeed, it is from exploiting the nature of the city and its dark back streets that gives this movie something fresh, and quite a mean streak.
The movie is not without its laughs, although there are no one liners that match the likes of ‘I didn’t know they gave out rings at the holocaust?’ from the first one. The writers certainly know what the audience expects from these characters, so we get plenty of Alan’s dim-wittedness and even more of his strange affection for Cooper’s Phil. Helm’s Stu is once again a neurotic mess, who never seems to be in control of the situation. In fact, the three main characters are what give this film the pleasant sense of familiarity as the camaraderie is still very much there between the three main cast members. Sure, the Galifianakis act is getting quite old, but Alan remains the funniest character. It is also refreshing to see Ken Jeong return as Mr. Chou, who brings with him some of the best moments. The jokes of the movie mostly hit, and a lot of them are quite a bit more mean-spirited then the first movie, and it still has it share of cringe-worthy moments (although a monkey smoking is more cruel than funny).
There is a reason why a lot of high concept movies don’t have sequels, it just won’t work as well the second time around, as the likes of Jaws 2 and Speed 2 easily highlighted. The problem with those movies was that they missed the point of their predecessors, Jaws was not just a shark movie, and Speed 2 was never going to work with Sandra Bullock and no Keanu Reeves. Thankfully, The Hangover Part II, doesn’t miss the point, as it gives the audience what they want from the three characters. But the only reason it doesn’t miss the point is because it is practically a carbon copy of the first movie which just happens to take place in Thailand instead. However, the new setting and hanging back out with these characters does save the movie from being an utterly pointless sequel. Lets just hope that the rumoured Part III brings something new to the proceedings rather than just giving us the same thing again. And how many times can you be a dumb enough to end up with this kind of Hangover for a third time running?