Where the first film dealt with the issue of cliques, this one deals with the issue of class. Sharpay and Ryan's family is very, very rich (they own the country club) and Sharpay wields the power her status provides like a knife. Far from the stuck-up girl in the original film, Sharpay is a mean, Paris Hilton-in-training here as she gradually turns Troy away from his friends and dangles the potential of a college scholarship as bait. At the same time, Ryan is depressed as Sharpay and even his parents take a liking to Troy and start to forget about him. While Troy moves up in status thanks to Sharpay (and becomes a jerk in the process), Ryan finds friendship in the very same people he looked down upon in the first film.
The performances in High School Musical 2 are pretty good. A couple in real life (at the moment), Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens have real chemistry as Troy and Gabriella. The other actors also do a good job and it's nice to see minor characters from the first film (especially Ryan) get beefed up parts. However, Ashley Tisdale steals the show. Her Sharpay is not only vicious and self-absorbed, but also hilarious. Tisdale's performance is over-the-top, but she gives the character enough depth that you can almost understand her actions by the end of the movie.
The choreography in the film is top-notch. The musical numbers are bigger, bolder, and full of energy. The opener, “What Time Is It?” is massive as it combines elements of dances from the earlier films (there is a portion with basketballs) and new twists of its own (the seemingly neverending wave). “Work It Out” takes place in a kitchen and features a Stomp-esque portion with pots and pans. “I Don't Dance” is this film's “Get'cha Head In The Game,” replacing basketball with baseball.
The music in the film is comparable to (and sometimes better than) the music of the first film. Unlike the first film, Zac Efron does all his own singing here. Two tracks stand out from the rest. “Fabulous,” a song for Ashley Tisdale's Sharpay, is great fun with a sophistication that almost equals the ironic “Stick To The Status Quo” from the first film. However, “You Are The Music In Me” (performed by Efron and Vanessa Hudgens) is arguably the best song that's appeared in either movie. The ballad version (as opposed to the hilariously bad version performed by Ashley Tisdale) is a surprisingly good pop song. This is a song that, remade by the right artist, could possibly crossover beyond the tween demographic of the movie.