If you're like me then you were probably VERY disappointed with The Hangover Part II. While it was funny and had some exciting moments, it was basically an uninspired cut and paste of the original film with the word "Bangkok" replacing any instances of the words "Las" and "Vegas." It was also a bit disgusting and mean-spirited and left me with a bad taste in my mouth (I feel so bad for Stu). But thankfully The Hangover Part III is exactly what the first sequel should have been, an original sequel with it's own story that doesn't copy beat for beat the story from the first film.
The Hangover Part III begins with the escape of lunatic criminal Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) who, if you will remember, was imprisoned in Bangkok at the end of the last film. We then go back to America where a minor character dies. The death sort of sparks everyone to decide that Alan (Zach Galifianakis) needs an intervention to help him get back on his meds and stay off of any drugs he may be taking. The Wolf Pack, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) are then tasked with driving him to a healthcare facility where he can get his life together.
As they are driving Alan however, they are abducted by Marshall (John Goodman), another dangerous criminal who has been wronged by Chow. Marshall tells them that Chow stole $20 million in gold from him and he wants it back. Because Chow is so difficult to find, Marshall takes Doug hostage and tells Alan, Phil, and Stu that if they want Doug to live they must find Leslie Chow and recover the missing gold. All sorts of shenanigans ensue.
Because the story was such an issue for me last time I'll start there. As I explained above, the last film was basically the first film but set in Bangkok. A wedding is about to happen, they all get drugged, they lose someone, the spend an entire day trying to find that someone, they realize at the 11th hour where that person is, and then they find them and rush to the wedding and everything is hunky-dory. And while this film once again has a character go missing/get kidnapped for most of the time, the formula is much different. There's a manhunt, a heist, and more manhunt. It's a lot of fun and honestly it's pretty exciting. I really am glad that Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin listened to the criticism of the last movie and fixed the problem as they wrote the screenplay.
There's also a nice little character arc for Alan throughout the film as he realizes he may finally have to grow up. Stu and Phil are largely left out of any character development however. While it would have been nice to see some growth from those characters, I don't think anyone was really expecting that from a film like this. It's more like a nice bonus when it happens.
I also have to point out that all of Todd Phillips's recent comedies, the three Hangover films and Due Date, have been very beautifully shot films. Most comedies just don't look this good. But Phillips, who also returns to direct, and his cinematographer Lawrence Sher have photographed a beautiful movie. The desert pops, Las Vegas shines brighter than it usually does, and even Tijuana looks kind of magical. In fact the whole movie looks like a Chevy truck commercial or something, just without the trucks.
As for performances, Galifianakis is once again hilarious as the man child that is Alan. He continues to make us laugh at his ridiculous appearance and even more ridiculous dialogue. Cooper and Helms are also great but don't have nearly as much to do. It's basically more of the same from the last two movies. Phil is confident and believes everything will work out while Stu is hesitant and worried that everything will not work out. Ken Jeong is also fantastic as Chow. He steals most of the scenes he's in. It's still amazing to me that he is a medical doctor AND a Hollywood movie and television star. Makes me realize just how much of an underachiever I am. The rest of the cast is fine too. Goodman doesn't get to do much but play the angry gangster but there are some fun appearances from characters from the first film.
Going in I had a small bit of reserved optimism about this film. I knew there was no way they could do another copy and paste but I also wondered if these characters were still interesting or funny even with an original story. Thankfully what I saw was great. The Hangover Part III is everything that The Hangover Part II should have been. A fresh story with all of the humor and charm that was there in the first film. 4 out of 5 stars. That's right, I enjoyed it more than Star Trek Into Darkness. SMH.