Reliving the Past: ‘The Hangover’ Franchise
Can one movie make a franchise a franchise? Is that even a question? The answer is obviously “yes” because financial success is the number one priority in Hollywood. It helps when the film is actually good, but it’s not necessary. Hey guys, look, Grown-Ups is getting a sequel!
In the case of The Hangover franchise, one legitimately funny film, which yes amounted to a lot of money (almost $500 million), can catapult a film into a franchise. Although the sequel ultimately made more money, it was the first movie that started things off.
In front of The Hangover: Part III this weekend, I’ve compiled a cumulative review of the franchise. A review of the third film will be up after its release.
2009’s The Hangover seemed to come out of nowhere. Today, in retrospect, it seems obvious it would be a hit. Director Todd Phillips had previously directed plenty of movies, but he hadn’t landed a real winner. I’d argue Old School was a winner, but it certainly isn’t one of the greatest modern comedies.
The real reason The Hangover became a franchise-starter was because of Zach Galifianakis. Even Bradley Cooper, an A-lister now, wasn’t a household name. Galifianakis, though, was the real highlight of the film, lending a seriously hilarious hand to a truly uniquely funny character. Alan is a now famous character most people could point out (if for some reason that was a thing).
Who is Alan, though? At the beginning of The Hangover, he is the soon-to-be brother-in-law of Doug (Justin Bartha). Doug’s friends, Stu (Ed Helms) and Phil (Cooper), let Alan tag-along as they throw Doug a bachelor party in Las Vegas.
The film cuts to the ensuing hangover…
When the “wolfpack” (what they call themselves) loses Doug throughout the night, the plot becomes them trying to find him in time for the wedding.
As it might sound, the slow revelation of exactly what happened over the crazy night is truly hilarious. The R-rated humor certainly isn’t for everyone – I’d be surprised if any movie was truly for everyone – but it’s certainly funnier than a majority of movies.
Again, the real reason The Hangover had staying power was because of Galifianakis. Alan single-handedly carried the film with his social awkwardness and memorable one-liners. If he wasn’t enough, the legitimately Rated-R photos probably had you rolling in laughter…or groaning in disgust.
Historically speaking, there aren’t a lot of great sequels out there. While some movies radicalize the formula and deter audiences, others, like 2011’s The Hangover: Part II, just recycle it completely. Personally, I think this is the worst form of sequel because it’s not only uncreative, but it seems like a major cash-grab.
Plot-wise, Part II switches the groom – instead of Doug, it’s Stu – and location – instead of Vegas, it’s Thailand. After another crazy night, it again cuts to a hangover morning. Stu’s soon-to-be brother-in-law Teddy (Mason Lee) is the one missing. Now the “wolfpack” has to search for him (instead of Doug) before the wedding.
Besides the plot structure, the similarities between the first and second movie are almost endless. Off the top of my head, there are at least fifteen direct (or slightly indirect) similarities. There is a big difference between winking or nodding at the audience and completely reusing the plot. From Stu’s likeness to strippers (albeit much different ones) to Leslie’s (Ken Jeong) penis, the story is pretty much the same.
Sure, there still are plenty of laughs to have. However, much like a blacked-out haze, The Hangover: Part II is not really worth remembering. Stu himself has plenty of character development – if you think about it, he has shown the most growth in both movies – but it’s too little, too late.
So, can one movie make a franchise? If it had stopped after two movies (hardly a franchise), I’d emphatically say “no.” While The Hangover is genuinely hilarious, the same cannot be said about something that completely imitates the original.
This hinges the success of The Hangover franchise on Part III, which releases starting this weekend!
Follow me on Twitter @jmacle