2011’s phenomenal Goon was one of the first movies to attract a cult audience on Netflix. It only earned $4 million at the box office, but within a few months of it hitting Netflix, it seemed like everyone I know had seen it (regardless of their feelings about hockey). It was a vulgar, sweet, and hilarious underdog story and a total celebration of the violence, featuring some of the most wickedly brutal fight sequences I’ve ever seen in a sports film. It was just straight-up fun, as Prisco wrote in his original review of the film: “From the opening shots of blood splattering ice as a tooth slowly tumbles to the rink, ass-kicking abounds, and from opening buzzer to final bloody duke-out, Goon pummels you with gleeful abandon and you’re left dazed and smiling.”
Five years later, and five years older, Goon: Last of the Enforcers opens in theaters this weekend and proves that wiser is not always better. The profane, almost juvenile spirit of the original has evaporated, and the sequel better reflects our increasing awareness of violence in sports. That makes Last of the Enforcers a more socially responsible film, but not a particularly good one, unfortunately. You may leave feeling dazed, but there’s much less to smile about.
Set several years after the original, Last of the Enforcers begins with a lock-out that forces some of the better hockey players into the minor leagues, meaning that Seann William Scott’s Doug “The Thug” Glatt is pitted against an even more brutal enforcer, Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell). In the season opener, Cain pummels Glatt so badly that he’s forced to retire from the game. Cain, meanwhile, is brought in to replace Glatt on the Halifax Highlanders (his Dad is the owner), while Doug — whose wife (Alison Pill) is pregnant — is forced to confront reality and the real world, where he turns to a job in insurance.
The gig is a dispiriting one for Glatt, however, so despite a bum shoulder, he continues to train for a comeback with Liev Schreiber’s Ross “The Boss” Rhea as his mentor. Rhea, meanwhile, has been relegated to a version of hockey Fight Club: No skating, no scoring, no pucks: Just fighting. Rhea, however, is one concussion away from a life-threatening injury, but he — like Glatt — can’t shake hockey from his system.
Elisha Cuthbert and Jay Baruchel (who directs and co-writes along with Jesse Chabot) return again for a few scene-stealing roles, and they’re fine, but the movie is missing the exhilarating energy of the first one. In part, that’s because Baruchel wants to have his cake and eat it, too: He wants to feature the same bone-crunching violence, but there’s a dark undercurrent to it. The movie is an indictment of hockey’s brutality, so instead of rooting for Glatt to beat the shit out of other players, it comes with a weird sense of guilt. Instead of pumping our fist, we flinch. It’s a better message, but it’s not nearly as fun.
That said, Goon: Last of the Enforcers is not a bad movie by any stretch; it has its moments, and it’s still punctured with profane one-liners, a fun supporting cast, and a good deal of sweetness. But it also feels like a retread, navigating the same already worn formula of the first film. It’s fine, but ironically, while the first film found unexpected success on Netflix, Last of the Enforcers is a movie better suited to the streaming service, and by that I mean: Not worth seeing in theaters.