Director: Daniel Fabelo/Matt Hullum
Writer: Burnie Burns, Daniel Fabelo, and Matt Hullum
Starring: Burnie Burns, Gavin Free, Michael Jones, Colton Dunn, and Nichole Bloom
Rooster Teeth Productions have been producing online content for more than a decade and a half. Last year, they successfully made the transition into feature filmmaking. Their fun, low-budget action-comedy Lazer Team was an inspiration to young filmmakers the world over since it was a kick-starter success story and a love letter to long-time fans. With one film under their belt now the studio that brought you the blockbuster success stories Red vs Blue and RWBY has finished their second feature film. With the success of the fledgling studio on the line, how does it hold up compared to its predecessor?
Violence/Scary Images: An alien creature dies brutally with subsequent gore.
Language/Crude Humor: Severe language throughout including the f-word and s-word as well as recurring jokes centered around fecal matter.
Sexual Content: A scene of graphic descriptions of sexual activity. None is shown in the film.
Drug/Alcohol use: Some references to alcohol.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Themes: None.
Positive Content: Positive portrayal of teamwork and understanding the consequences of one’s actions.
One point of contention that comes up often in film history is the general disdain of movie sequels prior to the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. In modern discussion, the idea seems antiquated considering how much of modern Hollywood is completely obsessed with sequels, prequels, spin-offs, reboots, and the ever-contentious continuity of reboots. It took the one, two punch of the aforementioned Star Wars sequel and Francis Ford Coppola’s critically acclaimed second chapter of The Godfather to fully break the stigma. In hindsight, the magic trick for writing sequels seems obvious: reevaluate your first film, determine what makes it work, and offer a logical continuation of the story of the main characters. Though seemingly obvious now, we mustn’t overlook how frequently modern filmmakers regularly fail to heed the lessons of history. Consider the curious case of Lazer Team 2.
The original Lazer Team released merely a year and a half ago. As a film, it doesn’t quite work as a solo picture but it does fit well into a facet of pop culture that does make the film more valuable than an unsolicited viewing might suggest. The movie is one of the best examples of what I like to call the Inside-Joke movie. The film is not dissimilar from other recent Internet funded films such as The AVGN Movie or Red Letter Media’s Space Cop. The underlying emotional thrust of the film comes from the fact that the viewer recognizes the stars and creators involved in the production and enjoys the experience of watching them run around on the big screen. As such, Lazer Team feels like the financial and creative height of one of the Internet’s most beloved groups of comedians.
For nearly two decades Rooster Teeth has been churning out some of the best content available to view on the Internet. Their long-running web series Red vs. Blue has produced 15 seasons and is currently the longest-running web series in history. Their in-house anime RWBY recently became the first anime in history ever exported to Japan from the United States. Additionally, their gaming channel Achievement Hunter has continued to grow into one of the most popular gaming networks on YouTube. The growth from a small group of comedians to fully functional film studio was a cathartic one for long-term fans of Rooster Teeth. With the success of the first Lazer Team under their belts, a new film production was due and a direct sequel to their successful first film obviously seemed like a logical place to start. As much of Hollywood frequently does, Lazer Team 2, unfortunately, suffers from trying to fully develop an identity separate from the first film.
The story picks up years after the conclusion of the first film. Following their successful defeat of the Worg champion and their unintentional defeat of the Antareans, the four members of Lazer Team have gone their separate ways into new lives as has-been celebrities. When the only active member of the team Woody is kidnapped through a wormhole into deep space, his partner and fellow scientist Maggie Wittington are left to gather the remaining members of the team for a rescue mission.
Right off the bat, the film makes the mistake of immediately undoing the progress of the first story for the sake of artificially creating a new story for the sequel. This sin is especially serious considering that it conflicts with the themes of the first movie. Lazer Team works as well as it does because the subtext of the film is about teamwork and self-sacrifice for the greater good. We see this idea play out through our characters as the four members of the team struggle to get along and make the disparate parts of their suit function together. This is contrasted by the film’s secondary antagonist Adam’s story of learning to let go of his destiny and work with the team to save the world. If Lazer Team 2 does have a thematic undercurrent it’s about the team coming to understand the unintended consequences of their victory.
Throughout the film, we come to learn about the widespread subjugation of the galaxy at the hands of the Antareans and how the team’s victory caused an unintended slaughter throughout the cosmos as their overlords cracked down on widespread rebellion. In a thematic sense this is an interesting place to take the story but from a character writing/plotting perspective, we lose the entirety of the film’s emotional core watching the interesting ideas play out in the background while our heroes are bickering. What charisma the film is able to bring to the table is brought forward mostly from the strength of the film’s performances and the audiences’ familiarity with the actors playing them.
Lazer Team had the benefit of being the first film from a small studio. Its low budget production design and mediocre acting were elevated for fans who got to enjoy seeing their favorite Internet celebrities get their own movie. With neither the benefit of the doubt of a first-time production nor the storytelling chops to expand the story of Lazer Team to new heights, Lazer Team 2 is merely a gag sequel to a film that was able to accomplish significantly more with less. If the mid-credits scene ends up coming to fruition there is reason to fear that Rooster Teeth has nowhere else to take this franchise without falling into horrifying gag movie sequels going forward. It may be best to quit while their ahead.
The Bottom Line