While a smirking ingendude, Seann William Scott snagged our notice as the bully bro Stiffler in the American Pie movies. But he won our hearts years later as a brawny and bone-headed hockey hooligan with a heart of gold in Goon. Inspired by the true story of Doug Smith, this scrappy sports flick celebrated the brutal blows of hockey's bareknuckle brawls, the f-bomb-laded crassness of its camaraderie, and above all the remarkable resilience of these men who get lips split, teeth knocked loose, and bones cracked, yet rise to fight again.
"Goon" was a word whispered among hockey fans and film lovers like a secret code of cool, growing this edgy but heartwarming sleeper-hit a ferocious following, that spurred a sequel, Goon: Last of the Enforcers. With this fought-for follow-up finally hitting theaters in the US, I beg you to first catch up on the original, because Goon 2 was made for the fans. (Seriously, you can watch Goon right now, right here. Do it. Join us!)
The first film followed Doug 'The Thug' Glatt (Scott) to his epic on-ice battle with the legendary ruffian Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber in a handle bar mustache, spitting blood and insults with a musky allure). The sequel picks up with Doug a beloved and respected member of the minor league team the Halifax Highlanders. But his career is abruptly cut short when vicious up-and-comer Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell, bearded and wild-eyed) delivers a beating to shocking, you'll yelp from the first spurt of blood. With his wife Eva (Alison Pill back and bold) pregnant, Doug decides he must move on to a "safe" job, like filing documents. But he can't shake the thirst for the rink and his loyalty to his team.
In a winking montage thumping with an '80s-like anthem, Doug covertly turns to his nemesis-turned-mentor to get him back into fighting shape. But their training sessions are cleverly intercut with what Eva is up to while her husband's off leading a double-life. Forced out of the party girl life she once relished, she's massively pregnant and clearly bored, plunked in front of a TV looking lonely. Rather than shunting her to the side as the "naggy wife," the script by Jay Baruchel and Jesse Chabot leans into Eva's struggle to become a parent as a parallel to Doug's. When you have a kid, you might fear you're losing your identity. And both Eva and Doug have to fight back against that, but without losing sight that they're on the same team.
As for Doug's Highlander teammates, many of them are back, and up to their old tricks, including the crude Yakovlena brothers who relentlessly harangue the oft-appalled Belchy with deeply perverse "your mama jokes." The wildly profane comedy from the first film returns, spouted not just by these goofy galoots, but also from a spunky Elisha Cuthbert, who joins the cast as Eva's rowdy sister who can talk dirty with the best of them. But the fun of the locker room is rocked when the villainous Cain invades, barking orders, demanding wins, and rejecting the kindness and candy of his new teammates.
When Doug finally does return to the Highlander's turf, it's clear that this is a battle between the old guard of goons and the new. But this time, instead of a haggard old titan facing off against a tenacious rookie, that rookie is now older, battered, and fighting for relevance against a new school of goon than hits with no mercy, and can actually play hockey to boot! To survive, Doug will need to evolve. And whether or not you care about hockey, Baruchel--who writes, directs, and reprises his role as the foul-mouthed bff--has a love for the sport so radiant that it's contagious.
Of all the action movies I've seen this year, no blows have hit as hard as Goon: The Last of the Enforcers.' Stripped of showy cinematography, pared down to bare fists pummeling jagged-grinned faces, it's jaw-dropping in its simple, perfect violence. These are gladiators, giving their blood, sweat and sneers for us. And are we not entertained!? By showing us the stories, hopes and heartbreaks behind these rousing fights, Baruchel grabs us by our jerseys and doesn't let go.
When I first heard Goon was getting a sequel, I groaned. The first was so succinct and perfect for what it was, why mess with it? But Baruchel knows exactly why audiences rallied around the first film. He does honor to that with every bit of casting, every dropped f-bomb and eye-poppingly obscene joke, and every punch to the face so intense your teeth rattle in sympathy. Better yet, he and Chabot clearly considered how to advance the arcs of every character they brought back -- not just Doug and Eva, but also the still-raging Rhea, the humbled and aging Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin), and even minor characters like Parky (Larry Woo), a Highlander who mentioned in the first film he's a doctor, and now works as the team's dedicated medic.
In many ways, Goon: Last of the Enforcers feels like a welcome reunion. But Baruchel keeps things fresh by weaving in a Shakespearean drama as Anders backstory. For he is not some two-dimensional foe, but a bruiser grown in the shadow of his cantankerous hockey great father (Callum Keith Rennie), who now owns the Highlanders, and plays with Anders' reputation and well-being as if he's a fly on a string. Rennie deftly swings his glinting grin like a weapon, and Russell spins back and forth between the feral enforcer his father pushes him to be, and the angsty, achy son whose hurting to be seen. Just as the ruthless Rhea before him, Goon 2's villain is more than menacing monster, he's a man, too.
Sadly, not every addition is welcomed. Wedged into an ill-fitting suit and behind a grandiose desk, T.J. Miller plays an unhinged sportscaster who pops in for exposition about league lock-outs and team trades, but mostly to make antagonistic jokes at the expense of actual sportscaster James Duthie. It's a one-note gag that's repeated about four times too many, but it's also the sequel's only notable misstep.
All in all, Goon: Last of the Enforcers is an incredible sequel, scoring big with laughs, heart and thrills. But none of this would have worked if it weren't for Scott, who made Doug The Thug one of the greatest characters a sports movie has ever offered. He's no standard issue nice guy or tough guy. He's dopey, but thoughtful. When appointed team captain, his speech winds into the time he dreamed he was "the captain of monkey ship," and then loops blithely into "I hope one day I could be the captain of your dreams." He's violent, but caring. It's his job to beat the snot out of his opponents, but when facing off with Anders off the ice, he scolds the hothead that it's bad form to do more damage than is necessary. Movies often paint those who are dumb and/or violent as the bad guys. But Doug is a good guy who is both, yet also loyal, compassionate, and self-sacrificing, sometimes to a fault. He's a complicated character who we can laugh at, worry over, and cheer for. And we're lucky for any more screen time with this wonderful goon.
Goon: Last of the Enforcers opens Friday.