The Rockstar Mayhem Festival is a unique festival experience. The festival travels the United States every summer with a myriad of hardcore and alternative acts. This year’s festival featured huge acts like Slayer, King Diamond, Hellyeah and The Devil Wears Prada.

We sent local photographer, Adam Wright to Rockstar Mayhem Fest 2015 this year to photograph and interview some of the bands traveling through Boise, ID on July, 1st. Check out his interview with Andy Trick of The Devil Wears Prada.

 

The Devil Wears Prada
By Adam Wright

The Rockstar Mayhem Festival is a unique festival experience. The festival travels the United States every summer with a myriad of hardcore and alternative acts. This year’s festival featured huge acts like Slayer, King Diamond and Hellyeah.

We sent local photographer, Adam Wright to Rockstar Mayhem Fest 2015 this year to photograph and interview some of the bands traveling through Boise, ID on July, 1st. Check out his photos of the hardcore, Christian Ohio band, The Devil Wears Prada.

Find TDWP:

http://www.tdwpband.com/

http://twitter.com/TDWPband

http://www.instagram.com/tdwpband

Find the Rockstar Mayhem Festival:

http://rockstarmayhemfest.com/

http://rockstarmayhemfest.com/dates

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The recent San Diego Comic Con International offered a bevy of previews, teasers and reveals about the next year of film releases, with one of the apparent standouts being the newest Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer, which clocked in at a shocking 3:40 runtime. If you haven’t had a chance to watch this trailer and the teaser that preceded it, check those out below:

Release the brood!

Superman: The Man of One Expression

As has been my habit with recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avengers: Age of Ultron footage, I have begun critically analyzing the material for reasons I will explain below. With the release of the new Batman footage (and the collective groan of ecstasy from comic nerds), this preliminary trailer/teaser review has morphed into a thought piece on why we need to think critically about the new Batman v. Superman launch and about the future of the DC cinematic universe.

Right off the bat, I want to address a few objections that I am sure will be leveled against me. First off, a knowledge of comic book history is not necessary to critique any aspect of these trailers. At the end of the day, comic book fans will make up the minority of those watching the new Batman v. Superman film and contributing to its revenue. If you need proof, check out the two highest grossing films so far this year; Jurassic World and Furious 7, two non-superhero films.

Secondly, the fact that I am taking the time to run a DC property film trailer through the gauntlet doesn’t make me a Marvel fanboy. Despite the fact that Marvel has been in an 8 year process of thrashing DC properties with entertaining and well put together ventures while cleverly masking their own failings (does anyone remember the second Ghost Rider?), all of my favorite superheroes and accompanying films are DC (or its better imprint, Vertigo), including The Spirit, Watchmen, V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight. In addition to being some of the only comics I have ever read, these are, with the possible additions of Iron Man, Batman Begins, The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the far back-end, the best superhero films I have seen thus far. So nailing me as a Marvel fanboy would be problematic.

And the third and final point, it’s a trailer, screamed with vitriol through the streets (as fanboys post trailer analysis packages online), “you can’t judge a movie by that litmus”! Damn right I can, at least at this point. I can assure you, when Batman v. Superman comes out, I will be right there in the theaters on opening night but until then, I am going to judge this film like I have the Star Wars and Avengers films (I savaged Marvel on their overly revealing Age of Ultron material, which you can see in its entirety here). Trailers are no longer to get butts in the seats; that era has passed. As we have seen from the recent Avengers, Jurassic World and Terminator trailers, these little snippets, once revered for their mystery, are rapidly becoming tools to mold your perception of a film. The length of the new Batman v. Superman spot and the excessive rumors, set photos and Comic-Con reveals only fuels that.

Here’s a halfway decent superhero film trailer

So let’s get to it. To frame the debate, we need some markers to remember. At this point, the bar is low for Superman. Man of Steel was anything but unbreakable with the critics and fans, who have all but forgotten Cavil’s bland presentation and the uninspiring nature of the film, which brought nothing new to the table.

I am Superman. Fear me and my singular, soulless expression.

Conversely, the bar is impossibly high for Batman, as we come off what most would agree are the greatest Batman films of all time, with The Dark Knight representing perhaps the greatest superhero film of all time (and a movie I have seen well over 20 times). Our other factor is director Zack Synder, who has only a single certified fresh film in his career (his Metacritic ratings are even harsher) and has twice angered comic fans with his presentation of Man of Steel and Watchmen. Already, I have my doubts about what is undeniably his most important film yet.

On the monetary side, this is a film with as many characters as The Avengers and a similar budget. Monetarily, it would be reasonable to assume that this film needs to pull in similar box office numbers while simultaneously hooking fans for the next 37.5 DC Cinematic Universe movies.

With those caveats in mind, I am going to start with the nitpicks and end with some commentary on the larger implications and assumptions we can make about Batman v. Superman and the DC Cinematic Universe as a whole.

The mood from both teasers was dark and broody, almost in the extreme. The neo-noir look, exemplified in the bleak city shoots and ghetto-ed out set pieces, is pretty prevalent, to say the very least. As is the case with many Snyder films, the atmosphere has been laid on and then laid on again. While I certainly understand that DC has always gone for a darker tone, this seems like too much of a good thing.

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As we examine the characters, Cavil as Superman, who I have my beef with, looks as bland as ever facially, although his suit is somewhat improved. He isn’t a terrible actor, he just lack the facial range and emotion to really connect with the audience. Not much to see there.

The Batman side isn’t really much better, featuring the star of such prestigious films as Gigli, Daredevil, Pearl Harbor and Runner Runner. Although Affleck has found a niche in directing and even managed to somewhat revitalize his acting career as of late, his awkward persona and uneven facial expressions make him an odd choice for Batman, especially after his failure with Daredevil (that’s on you Marvel). Not only does he lack the strong personality, killer looks and intelligent demeanor of Bruce Wayne, but Affleck simply doesn’t bring the same ability and acting chops that Bale brought to the table in The Dark Knight.

Although comic nerds are liking the new suit generally, I see a host of issues, again relating to the translation to film. In a comic book, the traditional Batman suit works just fine, fitting the exaggerated, storybook world perfectly. In the real world, especially the supposedly realistic and gritty DC universe, we need something more substantial than the Duct Tape Man. The suit has an odd texture and although it makes Affleck look larger, it sacrifices the realistic look that Bale’s armored, practical Batman brought, not to mention the coolness of the realistic Batsuit.

The new Batman suit, available at your local hardware store.

Ironically, a recent costume created by the renowned cos-play crew over at Order 66 and inspired by Arkham Origins videogame was released to the interwebs a few weeks ago and looks significantly cooler and more practical than this new DCU suit, not to mention the fact that it could have provided Affleck with the same increased mass needed to fight Superman.

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Close-ups haven’t been helpful either and most obtrusive of all is the childishly large bat on the suit and now the Batsignal, a symbol that clashes strongly with the gritty look DC seems to be going for (something that has me thinking that on a greater level, DC isn’t sure what they want from these films). On the flip side, I have enjoyed Batman’s gear so far, although the over-weaponizing of the vehicles and equipment seems to be at odds with the Batman we know and love while fitting well with the bigger and boomer mentality most studios bring to films these days (think Jurassic World/The Amazing Spiderman 2).

batmobile

Speaking of The Avengers, the metal Batsuit is especially obnoxious. While comic book nerds will jump to the canon as defense, in a world where the majority of revenue lies outside of the diehard comic demographic, what will appear to casual fans as a copycat Iron Man is the last thing we need and besides betraying DC’s desperate desire to compete with Marvel’s poster child, it also seems to be setting up a head-to-head fight with Superman and Batman.

bat suit metaloriginal ironmaniron man mark ii

Again, bleeding hearts will defend this as a time buying measure but Snyder and the DC team haven’t really given us any reason to trust that sentiment. The newest trailer is continuing to beat the god vs. man battle over the head. There is nothing to suggest that Batman will be outsmarting the Man of Steel (as I hear he does in the comics), which is, realistically speaking, his only chance against a super powered alien, with the trailer-mentioned ability to destroy the entire world. The tone here does not bode well.

Wrapping up the characters, even the die hards are concerned over the Jesse Eisenberg casting as Lex Luthor. One reviewer pointed out that his tone matches more closely with the Riddler than it does Lex Luthor, who has always struck me as more of a Kingpin type villain, brilliant and rich, but with a physically intimidating appearance. The most recent trailer reveals this distinction perfectly, as Eisenberg delivers a few cringe-worthy lines with an inflection more suited to an Arkham resident than to a powerful billionaire.

The awkward lines are coming!

Additionally, Eisenberg’s Eisenberg-ness is painfully evident here. While successful in films like The Social Network, I find it unlikely that this persona is going to create an excellent villain (Marvel’s one major weak point). Amy Adams as Lois Lane was always a bad choice, with her awkward and hesitant performance in Man of Steel contrasting sharply with the old animated Superman versions I saw as a kid. Jeremy Irons as Alfred might be the best casting of the film but again, the bar is Michael Caine and Irons’ age seems out of place with the more elderly Batman we see in Affleck.

And finally, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. With perhaps the best scenes so far of the three major superheroes in this film, Gadot is still an odd choice for a relatively empowered female character in the comic universe. Her model-like physique seems to clash with her on-screen character and there is nothing in her filmography that indicates that she will be anything more than a pretty face. Did anyone think to have a chat with Ronda Rousey?

What other issues do we need to address here? The crowded nature of this film, for one thing. As Age of Ultron just proved, not only will crowding (and its evil twin, tedious set-up) take a chunk out of your reviews and/or box office haul, but it also takes the stakes out of the film and waters down the importance of each character (why care about Quicksilver if there are hosts of cooler heroes waiting to take his place?). With Lex Luthor, Batman, Superman, Lois Lane, The Joker (rumored), Robin (some form(s), rumored), Aquaman, Alfred, Superman’s mom, Batman’s family (dead but still a storyline), Wonder Woman, Perry White, political figures, General Zod (again, yes he’s dead but that’s still a storyline), Cyborg, The Flash (actually excited about this casting as well, as Ezra Miller has proven to be very capable) and Doomsday (rumored) all taking up space, this film is as crowded with backstory as Age of Ultron and that isn’t a good sign.

Also concerning is the sudden attempt to address the massive failures of Man of Steel. Although fans have taken this as a good sign, a movie that has to start from the position of fixing past mistakes is usually bound by that premise (see X-Men: First Class/Days of Future Past, both excellent films but limited by previous disasters) and as DC’s answer to Marvel, Dawn of Justice cannot afford to be bound. The conveniences of the trailer also present a problem, as Snyder is now taking geographic liberties with the DC universe to conveniently place Wayne in the aftermath of Superman’s reign of terror in Metropolis (setting up an extra cheesy Batman vs. falling building scene).

Perhaps the most worrisome part of everything that has released so far is DC’s obsession with pitting these two characters against each other. The excessively long title, which could have effectively been reduced to Dawn of Justice, betrays the focus here. What I find interesting is that neither character can die and in fact, they spend most of their comic book days as good friends and allies. That leaves us with several unenjoyable possibilities for Batman v. Superman.

In the first outcome, DC may just decide to spend 20-40 minutes on a low stakes, action heavy fight sequence similar to the opening scene in Age of Ultron. This will undoubtedly end with these two intelligent heroes realizing their manipulation at the hands of Lex Luthor. This outcome is essentially a lie on DC’s part and a draw for both Superman and Batman fans, failing to really bring us a battle between the heroes and probably failing to capture audiences expecting an all out Civil War (see what I did there).

In the second outcome, DC may spend the majority of the film on backstory and/or the final battle, as the fight between the heroes is pushed to the side in favor of the complicated dialogue needed to develop Batman’s grouchy attitude, Superman’s transformation into a god, Lex Luthor’s entire character arc, the Joker’s role in all of this, the political intrigue surrounding the situation and the backstories needed to introduce the droves of other heroes and villains making appearances here, with everything culminating in an all out good vs. evil battle at the end. Sounding a little tedious?

The third and least likely outcome is the DC actually makes a bold move, killing and/or creating a clear winner in the Batman v. Superman fight. While bold, this move would undoubtedly anger fans on both sides of the fight and divide moviegoers, while also distracting from the battle the heroes will be engaged in at the end of the film. Bold=unlikely.

What conclusions can we make here? By no means am I saying that Batman v. Superman won’t be enjoyable. At the very least, the trailers have convinced me that watching this will be fun. But in a world where $1 billion in revenue is accomplished 3-5 times a year and our quality bar is the nearly perfect Dark Knight, I don’t think fun is what anyone wants to hear. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 brought us some fun (and an overly large cast), but that doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t sick of that series. DC has to bring more than fun, more than just a large cast. When they decided to remake Batman, they took on a massive challenge. Unlike when Marvel made everyone forget about the past and took on Iron Man, a hero untouched by most of film history and untarnished by immediate prequels, DC has to contend with the critical masterpiece Nolan created and the critical failure Snyder created. Just that task alone puts that reasonable doubt in my mind. Fans shouldn’t be drooling mindlessly over the new DC offerings (don’t be that guy that still loves The Phantom Menace), but instead asking the questions of the critically minded; namely, how the hell does DC expect to pull this off? The answer remains unknown until release, but if the trailers are any indication, DC might not even know the answer.

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There is joy. There is sadness. There are many other kinds of emotions that were running through this reviewer’s head as he sat down to watch the latest animated extravaganza from Pixar Animation Studios, Inside Out. But mostly, as the film drew to a close, there was profound indifference.

I used to love going to see a Pixar film in theaters, especially on opening weekend if the parents would allow it. Starting in 1995 with Toy Story and up until about 2009’s Up, the Emeryville, CA-based company would thrill me and my fellow friends & filmgoers alike with their technical mastery of animation, endearing characters and unconventional storytelling that usually provided a breath of fresh air against whatever else was playing in the multiplex that day. My personal favorite Pixar films, including the first two Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and especially WALL-E, all possess a distinct tone and filmmaking voice that is rare to find in mainstream entertainment geared toward children (I also have a certain predilection for the first Cars, an opinion not that popular with Pixar aficionados but one I am certainly willing to stand my ground on; the film’s dichotomous themes of the natural landscape vs. industrialized convenience still stick with me years after release).

“No, seriously, why do people hate us?”

Nowadays, however, I’m just as likely to spend my time catching up on great films that were made before I was even born, like Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, two vastly different films in different genres which provide the same kind of confident tone and technical excellence that previously endeared me to Pixar films. I will say, however, that I don’t think either Touch or Blade warrant full-on classic status; while there is much about those films that has been influential in Hollywood filmmaking ever since they were released, I find narrative and structural problems present in both at times that are hard to overlook. But I digress.

If there is said to be a “turning point” in the quality of Pixar’s films when the ship started to turn south, it may be (controversial opinion incoming) Toy Story 3. While the idea of a trilogy-capping entry in the franchise that deals with series character Andy heading off to college and leaving the toys behind for good sounds like a surefire winner that will bring all the feels (is that #feels?), in practice, it became a film that, in the words of Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips, “looks and plays like an exceptionally slick and confident product, as opposed to a magical blend of commerce and popular art.” For me personally as a lover of all things Woody & Buzz since I first saw the original Toy Story in theatres when I was only 2 years old, the film’s famous (infamous?) final act where the toys are nearly burned alive in a garbage incinerator only to be rescued at the last minute by the Little Green Men (THE CLAWWWWWWW) struck me as emotional pandering and a classic example of what is now termed the “Disney Death”, wherein a main character looks to be in life-threatening peril, only for a deus ex machina or other plot machination keeps them alive, because, y’know, this is a kid’s film (sigh). I am constantly reminded of the viral video prank a young teen pulled on his mother a couple years after the film’s release on DVD wherein he edited the copy his mother was watching so that the film bleakly seems to end just as Woody and pals are consumed by the fire. Say what you will about taking responsibility for practical jokes; in my view, Toy Story 3 couldn’t (and shouldn’t) have ended any other way. Whether that makes me a cruel-hearted sadist out to toy with people’s emotions or just a believer in consistent storytelling is up to you.

You’re right, Buzz. You were always right :_;

Regardless of whether or not you agree that the third Toy Story was disappointing or not, perhaps we can all agree that what came next represented an even larger crisis of confidence in Pixar: Cars 2. Even as a fan of the original Cars, I will attest to the fact that a sequel was not something anyone but studio heads and toy-loving little kids really wanted. The first Pixar film to ever acquire a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it reportedly doubled down on everything the majority of Pixar fans hated about the first one: more weird world-building (how did the cars come to be sentient creatures?),  a slight emphasis on conservative values (yeah, NASCAR!) and more Tow Mater (“ew, Larry the Cable Guy”). I myself never saw the full film; I watched the first 10 minutes of it with a group of kids at a daycare I was supervising, and that was enough to make me realize that this would be just another generic sequel.

Besides Up, Cars 2 was the first Pixar film I wasn’t entirely interested seeing in theatres. I completely skipped Brave even after it was released on home video, and due to reports of behind-the-scenes hand-wringing about replacing the director’s original vision with a more generic story, I remain just fine without another Disney Princess in my life. I did catch Monsters University with my folks on DVD, and despite its positive message with regards to being OK with being ordinary, I considered the film in the line of Cars 2 as a sequel that did not need to be made, and a slight stain on the legacy of the first Monsters, Inc. film.

I am Mike in this picture

So when Pixar first announced the trailer and concept of Inside Out, I was more cautiously optimistic than usual when it came to the studio’s output. I found myself with critics who had written about “Pixar’s sad decline” and even the state of computer animation as a whole.  I wondered whether Pixar still had it in them to produce an animated masterpiece on the level of WALL-E or even a less serious movie like A Bug’s Life. After Inside Out debuted at various film festivals earlier this year and received the highest critical praise the studio had received since Toy Story 3 five years prior, I became genuinely excited at the prospect of adding another great piece of cinema to my Blu-ray collection.

Alas, when I finally sat down to watch what was supposedlyreturn to form for the studio, my excitement gradually turned to boredness, which slowly turned to slight annoyance. The concept of five different emotions who control a young girl’s brain contains so much potential, but my mind started to wander as more and more questions about the plot’s mechanics started to weigh on me. The five emotions are Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear, so the viewer would expect that these anthropomorphized emotions would solely act like… well, themselves. Instead, at multiple points throughout the runtime, Anger acts calm, Fear acts relieved and Joy acts annoyed, all at the convenience of the plot. Think of it this way: if you were the personification of Joy, wouldn’t you be all sunshine and rainbows 24/7, nonstop? If you were the personification of Fear, wouldn’t you be constantly afraid of everything all the time? The animators make the emotions act more like humans with human life’s constant ups and downs, but this essentially kills the very concept the movie is founded on. Other viewers may say that this is a weak criticism because how else is the audience supposed to relate to the girl’s emotions, but who says the audience must relate to the emotions? A more daring Pixar film would have taken things to greater extremes, challenging viewers to identify with characters who may not be all that pleasant to be around. I’m definitively NOT saying that a Pixar family film needs to go all postmodern anti-hero Taxi Driver on viewers, but there is some middle ground to be played with here, and the studio could have delivered a more creative film in the process. As it is, things are pretty much played straight, to Inside Out’s detriment.

The main criticism I have for the characters here are the tag team of Joy and Sadness. During the first 30-45 minutes, Sadness performs an action (I won’t spoil what) that Joy must constantly fix in order to keep Riley’s emotions in check. The first time Sadness does this, it’s understandable that Joy would reprimand her for doing so. The second time, OK, people make mistakes more than once. By the fifth or sixth time, I wondered why Joy (or, more appropriately, Anger) didn’t blow a fuse and lock Sadness in a cage for constantly disrupting events. It was like watching a toddler break a nice vase, a parent giving him or her a slap on the wrist saying “Don’t do that!”, and then the toddler continues to break five or six more vases, each time only receiving a slap on the wrist. It gets boring and then grating, and you wish you could enter the world of the film to cap a couple of bullets in Sadness’ face (OK, I kid, I kid). Again, this is poor characterization on the part of director Pete Docter, who I honestly expected better from after directing Monsters Inc. and Up, not to mention co-writing the story for WALL-E (did I mention how much I love WALL-E?).

Finally, Inside Out never quite tickles the viewer’s own funny bone or onionize their tear ducts (is that a word?) in the way the advertising and critics may suggest. There actually are some genuinely hilarious moments scattered throughout the film’s 102-minute runtime, including a dinner scene where viewers get a peek inside more than one human character’s mind and an end-credits “blooper” reel that possibly drew the biggest guffaws at the screening I attended. But for every joke that lands, there are 2 or 3 that completely miss or just provoke a brief “heh”. A character that shows up at the movie’s midpoint is humorous the first time viewers meet him, but subsequently infects the film with more kid-friendly slapstick humor than I would’ve expected from a studio that frequently targets their output for kids and adults. Likewise, the third act where events come to an emotional head and a main character sits down and cries in close-up in front of the camera didn’t turn on my waterworks at all. I found myself straining to feel as sad as the filmmakers wanted me to feel, and the emotions (both on the screen and in the audience) felt forced. This happens again during the last 10 minutes of the film, and I still didn’t really feel like crying. Yes, it’s sad when a child cries and lets out pent-up emotions, but simply sticking a crying child or other cute character in front of the camera and expecting the audience to feel something strikes me as more emotional pandering, of the aforementioned Toy Story 3 type.

It’s OK, Joy, don’t cry. You’ll live another day when Pixar inevitably makes a sequel.

Make no mistake, I did not hate Inside Out. On the contrary, there was much to like about a film that ultimately sends a message of the fact that Sadness must be just as much a part of our lives as Joy is. In this way, it is much like Monsters University, providing both child and grown-up viewers with an empowering mindset after they leave their theater seats. But also like Monsters University, Inside Out struggles to cross that finish line during the first three-quarters of its runtime. For a film that is all about what goes on inside people’s heads, the story of Inside Out is ironically not all that well thought out. As Pixar moves forward with the upcoming The Good Dinosaur and next year’s Finding Dory, I find myself still wishing for the studio that once was. Until then, I can only deal with watching animated films that have me leaving the theater with a mixed bag of emotions.

I felt all of these emotions while watching this movie. ALL OF THE EMOTIONS

Catch The Showbiz on University Pulse on our Soundcloud or visit our Facebook page.

The University Pulse has teamed up with Adam Wright Media. Adam Wright is a local musician, photographer and videographer. He has started the In The Valley Sessions which highlights local and touring bands with a special acoustic performance set in miscellaneous Boise locations.

In this In The Valley Session, Caleb of Sinai Vessel performed “Died On My Birthday” in downtown Boise after their show at the High Note Cafe.

The University Pulse has teamed up with Adam Wright Media. Adam Wright is a local musician, photographer and videographer. He has started the In The Valley Sessions which highlights local and touring bands with a special acoustic performance set in miscellaneous Boise locations.

In this In The Valley Session, Topshelf Record’s Prawn performed two songs in Boise’s Hyde Park district.

Straight out of sunny Los Angeles, California, alternative band The Absolute have been making waves in their local scene and are ready to bring their music and progressive image to the nationwide stage. Here, in an extended interview with University Pulse Music Director Ryan Hoffman, lead singer Phil Ross discusses personal growth, impromptu album cover shoots, rock band web promotion, and getting a bunch of junk thrown on you in the name of art.

Q: The new record is titled Grow. “Grow” in what way?

A: The band has lots of personal mantras, whether it be “smile”, “grow”… we have always globbed on to this whole idea of “positive apocalypse”, just because today’s music and social outlook on life has become very lethargic and gotten stuck in this rut of copy[ing] what came before you.

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How often is it that a sequel is better than its original, even when the original was fairly mediocre? Just this year, we’ve had cinematic failures like Taken 3, The Divergent Series: Insurgent and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, all of which doubled down on their respective original entries’ lackluster filmmaking, yet all still managed to be box-office successes. These films also share a trait of excessively catering to their built-in audiences’ expectations, mostly to the films’ detriment.

Add Pitch Perfect 2 to that list. The original film wasn’t any great shakes; it’s plot followed your standard musical comedy formula (college a-cappella group attempts to win national competition, and of course does) and the humor could be hit-or-miss, as well as ironically mean-spirited, racist, sexist and fat-shaming (the entire character of Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” was designed for nothing less of a joke than “ha-ha, look at the fatty”). Still, the performances by the cast were great for a genre film, including Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Brittany Snow, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who could forget?) and Elizabeth Banks. More importantly, the a-cappella musical sequences remain the highlight of the film, including the famous “Riff-Off” sequence, and the soundtrack sold like gangbusters.

The sequel, on the other hand, is basically a diluted form of the original, now with even more dramatic musical sequences, more cringe-worthy humor, and a more disjointed plot. This time around, the Barden University Bellas are under national and public scrutiny after an embarrassing mishap performing in front of President Obama (here appearing in completely obvious stock footage). The Bellas must rebuild their image and win the A Cappella World Championships if they want to remain a group in the first place, since the University nearly dissolves the group entirely. The viewer, of course, knows that they’re going to win by the end of the movie; this isn’t going to be some deep exploration of what it means to work hard at a chance to be the best and still lose, with dignity.

Beyond the obviousness of the plot, though, Pitch Perfect 2 strains for inciting laughs in the audience in the worst, most offensive way possible. The Bellas’ main competitor in the Championships, the German group Das Sound Machine (hardy har, really funny guys), play up “perfect German” stereotypes by being tall, beautiful and excessively synchronized in their performance routines. Near the end of the film, the a- cappella commentators at the Championships, played by returning actors Banks and John Michael Higgins, crack jokes about the German team that would get a seventh-grader sent to the principal’s office. “This could very well be the greatest conflict between America and Germany in our nation’s history!” Groan. Screenwriter Kay Cannon, who wrote both films in the series, also writes for shows like 30 Rock and New Girl, two other media products whose sarcastic sense of tone alienates viewers who are simply looking for a good, funny story with characters the audience can actually relate to.

Banks actually makes her first-time directing debut here as well, which created pre-release buzz around the film since women directors in Hollywood are so rare, much less ones that handle sequels to major-grossing films. Unfortunately, her directing acumen here is similarly not up to par with the first film. Scenes move from one to another without any real flow between images and this just adds to the haphazard feel of the plot. Jason Moore, who directed the first film, at least made that entry feel more tightly constructed; here, the execution is just slapdash. It will be interesting to what Banks creates next time she steps in the director’s chair. Hopefully, it turns out better than this.

The most egregious aspect of Pitch Perfect 2, though, is it’s pandering to the people who made the first film a success. In story, humor and musical sequences, the sequel follows the original nearly beat-for-beat. In both iterations, an outrageous gag opens the film, Kendrick’s character Becca shows off her musical talent, the Bellas have a crisis of confidence, and by the end of the film, everyone learns how to get along and win the competition. This doesn’t even mention the shameless copying of the first film’s most successful sequence, the aforementioned “Riff-Off”, except this time it takes place in an underground dance club hosted by one of the most annoying characters David Cross has ever played (and that includes Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked).

The film isn’t a complete disaster, and that’s mostly because of the music here, again following the first film. Becca’s mashup sensibility saves what is otherwise a by-the-numbers sequel, and the performances are the only time Perfect 2 provides the audience with a sense of joy.

Of course the film has already debuted at #1 at the box office and of course there’s already another sequel being considered (ugh). Catch this one on streaming services if you must, but be warned: Pitch Perfect 2 is much less perfect than its title suggests.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

Showbiz Rating: 5 out of 10 Pulses

Catch The Showbiz on Fridays from 2-3pm on bsupulse.com.