So, first thing’s first: the movie is definitely funny. It received a lot of genuine laughs in the theater, with some – ahem – boundary-pushing/went there bits and rehashed but-never-gets-old physical gags. But again, just like the first movie, the film rocketed into the story without taking time to set much foundation for character motivation, a choice that leaves the audience in a place where they don’t know why the characters care, or why they should care either. So again, I wasn't very invested in the story; it went from laugh to laugh without much build. The writing soccer team made some meager attempts at character work, mainly with Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) and college freshman alternative sorority girl Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), although most of it was completely vapid.
Speaking of every Disney kid’s teenage dream, Efron is totally and repeatedly sexualized in the movie, which I assume is supposed to be the women-as-object foil. And may God bless him for taking on that role (*valley girl voice* I mean, he’s just like so brave...). But all literal drools sexualizing aside, Efron’s spot-on portrayal of frat dude forever Teddy, tragic and comic, is the most successful, watchable, and salient aspect of the whole movie (And he like can actually act, too! #talent!), the only character with the arc that’s not only relevant, but also effective, in a way.
Where the film somewhat failed lies in the writers’ attempts to shoehorn in quite the handful of thematic elements, including modern day feminism and female empowerment, sexism in college Greek life culture, bad parenting, and aging. These elements were heavy-handed and somewhat over-present, yet underdeveloped in a way in the film- definitely relevant and worthy issues, but not particularly done well here. It seemed like the writers had something to say, but never really said it. Maybe one could argue that this is purely an irreverent movie, and things like this don’t really matter in gauging its success; if that’s the case, then that’s fine. But if you’re going to try to make a point, then do it and do it well. Because not doing it well almost renders the attempts as exploitative or mocking. There was also a lot of villainizing of the “youths,” in general: they were rendered thoughtless, shortsighted, unreasonable, and just plain stupid in the film. I mean, I’m not arguing that experience and wisdom doesn’t come with age: I’m just saying that the portrayal in the film was incredibly unilateral, and seemed to focus more on generating laughs than creating believable characters with any depth. At some point, the whole “kids are dumb and selfish and destroy everything and must be stopped” schtick became – dare I say – just plain annoying (In the spirit of millennials: #eyerollsoneyerolls).
All in all, Neighbors 2 wasn't bad; it was funny. And in the land of failed sequels, it was actually a pretty good one, delivering similar spirit and laughs as its predecessor. However, it was like a rocket ship that runs parallel to the ground: it shot out of the gate, but, never rose or fell and, in essence, went nowhere. Moreover, the whole youth vs age thing, not even considering the bevy of other themes, was kind of heavy-handed, while still being short-sighted, undeveloped, and unwarranted. People of all ages are complex, and have complex thoughts and opinions and relationships with mortality and age. At the end of the day, college kids aren't children and 20/30-somethings aren't old. I would argue that the writers over-simplified a great and rich topic. All of us have some growing up to do, and no one ever quite figures it all out.