Derek Zoolander may be known for his looks—Magnum and Blue Steel especially—but his real charm is his personality. He’s a male supermodel without artifice. He’s genuine and genuinely stupid and genuine about being genuinely stupid. Derek Zoolander is a good-hearted man who truly wants to help people. Some of his methods may be a little unorthodox (and ineffective), but his heart is in the right place. He believes the best about people and is truly shocked when they prove otherwise. He may use the wrong words and phrases and speak in double entendres (constantly), but he doesn’t realize it, because he is blessed with innocence. He also happens to be ridiculously good looking.
Ha! “Good looking.” I just got it. Derek Zoolander always looks for the good in everyone and every situation instead of being suspicious of the worst even when it’s ridiculous to do so.
The movies that feature Derek, Zoolander and now Zoolander 2, are similarly guileless. They are ridiculous and good-looking—I get as much delight out of the costumes and lighting and set design in these films as I do the dialogue and performances—and stupid. A lot of movies are stupid, but most of them think they are smart. The Zoolander films know they’re stupid, and they assume the audience is there for a fun, ridiculous time, like kids playing nonsense games on a Saturday afternoon. The Zoolander films’ belief that their audience is capable of just having a good time for a couple of hours is endearing. “Don’t take us too seriously,” they say, “We don’t, but we do take you, our audience, seriously enough to craft this movie-world with care.”
In Zoolander 2 someone is killing pop stars, and as they die, they each take a selfie while making one of Derek Zoolander’s signature looks. Derek, for reasons you must discover for yourself, is holed up in a remote cabin. The chance to reclaim the catwalk he abandoned fifteen years ago and regain his son’s affection prompts him to got to Rome where espionage-esque shenanigans, like those in the first film, resume.
The espionage movie genre is essential here, because Zoolander 2 is a sequel in the James Bond tradition. Though the plot details are altered somewhat, the film’s structure is essentially the same as the first film in the series. Zoolander’s style of humor—copious, meaningless celebrity cameos; double entendres and malapropisms; zany set pieces; blissfully unaware, unorthodox sexuality; innocently politically incorrect assertions; and surprising non-sequiturs—are the accessories in Zoolander 2’s wardrobe as well. The characters that return in this film—Derek Zoolander, Hansel, and Mugatu—haven’t experienced any character growth either. They didn’t learn anything from what they experienced fifteen years ago. Like James Bond, they never change, but while Bond remains stagnant in his misogyny and propensity toward violence, Derek Zoolander maintains his sweetness and lack of guile. I like that.
Derek Zoolander is perpetually innocent in a way we can’t hope to emulate. Maybe we don’t want to, because his innocence is a product of his stupidity. We should grow wiser. We should mature, but it’s wonderful to encounter child-like innocence at the movies from time to time to remind us that we ought to be maturing in the right ways. We ought to be growing in trust and playfulness and optimism about the world. That kind of maturity requires a child-like faith we cannot instill in ourselves. It has to come from God.
The original Zoolander film was released on September 28, 2001, a mere two and a half weeks after September 11th. In a time of great uncertainty and fear when we all felt as if a piece of our innocence had been stolen, Derek Zoolander reminded us how to be guileless again. Zoolander was ridiculous and good-looking and came from a place of optimism about humanity. In the years since, Zoolander has grown in popularity as more people have discovered this off-kilter, uniquely funny film. Zoolander 2 may never earn similar esteem, but if it doesn’t, it won’t be because of anything the film did wrong. It will be because we either don’t want or don’t think we need Zoolander’s brand of ridiculously good-looking fun anymore. I still need it, because I often take myself too seriously. I distrust the world and sigh resignedly when it lives up to my low expectations. Derek Zoolander may be a male model whose looks are easy to mimic, but as with the kids at Derek’s eponymous Center, Zoolander and Zoolander 2 are helping me learn how to do other stuff good, too.
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