Superheroes, dystopian young adult books, and sometimes even monsters are the subjects of a seemingly never-ending stream of franchises these days, all jostling for attention, looking for the next smash hit in a competitive marketplace. Sometimes the hits come from the most unexpected places though, which was the case for the $10 million budgeted The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2012. Going on to rake in $140 million worldwide, the band of retirees finding themselves in the bustling, vibrant landscape of India is back less than 3 years later.
There seems to be a trend for sequels these days – make it self-depricating and referential, and who needs a plot? If it’s like 22 Jump Street, where it makes for some occasional jokes, the wink-wink, nudge, nudge “it’s a sequel, guys!” is a welcome addition, but if it’s like Muppets: Most Wanted, where it’s in place of a narrative, it starts to feel lazy and forced. That’s the case with the second visit to the Marigold Hotel, which revolves around the loose conflict of Sonny (Dev Patel) trying to purchase a second hotel, which spells the arrival of two new guests (Richard Gere and Tasmin Greig) who each bring their fair share of romantic entanglements and blunders. Its self-depricating isn’t so much direct “hey, we’re back again!”‘s, but instead an odd serious angle that makes for jarring viewing.
Like past breakout hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, lightning rarely strikes twice quality wise in these breakout hits. What felt fresh in the first outing starts to feel recycled in the second, the funny, happy-go-lucky, go-getting energy that made the first a delight replaced by a foreboding cloud of death that suddenly reveals itself after the first hour. It’s not uncommon for second installments to be more introspective, but here it’s an weighty, morose approach that is so markedly different from even how death was handled in the first film that it quickly sucks all the, well, life out of it.
While what felt fresh in the first outing feels recycled by the little effort put into making a plot, there are plenty of failsafe trappings of British comedic charm that make it an entertaining watch. Maggie Smith has plenty of grouchy, sharp one liners to deliver with bite; Judi Dench and Bill Nighy are charming; I just wish that Celia Imrie would get more lead roles; and Dev Patel is again gloriously screwball. Joined by Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle, they’re all given a subplot that is equally convoluted and detracts from the central narratives of Dench, Nighy, and Smith, extending the film to a two hour runtime it doesn’t need, but all carry the film with a great deal of commitment that is difficult to overlook. Also, we finally got a Bollywood dance sequence. It’s hard to overlook that.