After seeing Zoolander 2 this weekend, my happiness went up. Laughter levels increased. Smiling doubled. The movie was so full of jokes, ridiculous cameos, and outlandish set pieces that I walked out with full enjoyment, remembering the best jokes ("How I killed your mother, on CBS right after 2 Broke Girls") and how much Neil deGrasse Tyson is loving the fame he is getting lately. But all this to say, it has underperformed both commercially and critically. Why?
Critical success for blockbusters influences commercial success
Before the days of movie review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes, reviews were not comparatively under widespread scrutiny. In today's society, reviews seem to matter to even the most casual moviegoers as an indicator of if they will like the movie. This is often not true. Even the first Zoolander performed less than 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet it is still considered a classic stupid American comedy. But for a movie to perform well commercially nowadays, it seems to be necessary to include getting good reviews in the marketing strategy for the films. Of course, some movies get great reviews and still bomb, but lately there have not been blockbusters with terrible reviews (such as Zoolander 2) that perform well financially. This was, I believe, Zoolander 2's main problem.
Critics love structure, Zoolander 2 lacked structure
In this new Ben Stiller film, the plot was hard to follow. The exposition was ridiculous and quickly turned-over. The characters had shaky, if present at all, motives. The transitions between major phases of the movie were unclear. These are all things the critics love to hate movies for. Critics, above all, seem to love plot structure, elements like rising tension and a climax, and often a three-act structure. When these things are not present, they contribute to a movie being disliked by the high-and-mighty critics.
Sadly, Zoolander 2 fails to make sense for the most part. Even though I was laughing almost the whole time, without a clear plot structure there is a lack of a sense of fulfillment at the end of the film, leading, ultimately, to dissatisfaction and a negative critic review.
When the goofy supermodel spy movie failed to gain critical success, the new landscape of the film industry's audience saw it, and decided the movie was not worth their time. You would think that a major movie-studio would understand the present importance of critical success and place a higher emphasis on doing the very basic things a critic would appreciate. You would think so, but it did not happen for Zoolander 2. Which is sad. Because I thought it was pretty funny.