Review: The Hangover Part II (2011)

The fact that The Hangover Part II is a deliberate retread should not come as a surprise to people. When fashioning a sequel to the largest R-rated comedy of all-time, Todd Phillips and company chose not to take risks and instead stuck very closely to the format that worked so well the first time round. As a result, The Hangover Part II is very similar to the first movie, but this is not inherently a problem. Yes, The Hangover Part II cannot fully recreate the magic of the first film because it lacks the element of surprise; we know what’s coming. But does this make it a bad film? Not at all. In fact, The Hangover Part II is about as good a film as the first one. The difference between the reactions to this film and to the first one can only be chalked up to one thing: audience expectation. An audience can’t be sucker punched twice.

The plot is a retread of the first film. The Wolfpack, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zack Galifianakis) go to Thailand for Stu’s wedding, have a quiet drink on the beach, and wake up in a seedy Bangkok hotel room with no memory of the night before. Some call this lazy. I call this deliberate. The film goes to fair lengths to draw attention to its similarity to the first one, straying close to “meta” entertainment in some instances. It took a fair bit of thought to think of interesting, funny ways to fit the mold of the first film while in a new location and situation. In fact, some complaints about the film seem to suggest the ludicrous idea that there should have been no “hangover” in The Hangover Part II, since that angle was done in the first film. My main problem with these complaints stems from the fact that they overlook that The Hangover Part II is a funny film, as if being funny is only of ancillary importance for a comedy.

And The Hangover Part II is extremely funny. What the jokes lack in surprise, they make up for in vulgarity. The jokes are darker, the situations more extreme, and the characters are treated much worse than in the previous film. One memorable sequence involving Stu in a Bangkok strip club really pushes the envelope.

As well, Phillips has again crafted a technically impressive film. The Hangover Part II is probably the best looking comedy I’ve seen in quite awhile. There’s a thrilling car chase that ranks well alongside many recent action films. The atmosphere of Bangkok is palpable, as if the city itself becomes a character. The jokes are short. The pace is fast. There’s something to be said for a comedy that is lean and mean and properly edited. Unlike Apatow and company, Phillips’ team knows how to edit down a scene so that things don’t drag. As well, the mystery is again a refreshing plot in the often plot-less comedy genre. The Hangover Part II is an altogether well-made film.

The act of watching The Hangover Part II is somewhat similar to the act of re-watching the first Hangover. You are familiar with the characters and the situation and have an idea for how things should turn out. It’s up to you whether that’s a significant problem. Should we expect more from sequels? Perhaps, but most comedies aren’t even good enough to warrant a sequel in the first place so it’s a whole other conversation when discussing comedy sequels.

To say that the film’s no more than a remake of the first film is a lazy critical evaluation. Yes, the film’s not original, but hardly any studio comedies are — much less sequels. I’d much prefer to watch another Hangover film — a film with funny jokes and funny characters that is actually well made — than most other studio comedies. Fans of the first film will like The Hangover Part II as it repeats much of the familiar hilarity. And for those who vehemently disliked the film because it was too much of a retread, I must ask: what were you expecting?

The Hangover Part II (2011)

Directed by Todd Phillips; written by Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong, and Todd Phillips; starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zack Galifianakis

7 out of 10