When I posted my way-too-long-in-the-making review of The Mighty Ducks, I was told in no uncertain terms by the always intelligent and insightful commenters of Lighthouse Hockey that the sequel, D2: The Mighty , was superior to the original.
So I watched it. And for about an hour and 15 minutes, I agreed with the consensus.
Then the third act happened. And the wheels came off. And I was left far more confused and disappointed than I expected to be while watching a kids hockey movie.
But we'll get to the ending in a little bit. For most of its running time, D2 is better than its predecessor, dialing back the cute and bringing a slightly more interesting story concerning not a regional small town competition but an international event. This time around, coach Gordon Bombay and (most of) his Ducks are off to the Jr. Goodwill Games in Los Angeles, where they will represent the United States and face off with and against a host of global stereotypes.
Added to "the core" of the inaugural Ducks - Charlie Conway, Goldberg the goalie, Fulton Reed, Adam Banks, those two French kids and unscratcable itch Les Averman - are new recruits from easily identifiable corners of the U.S. Mendoza from Miami is introduced to Mariachi music. The kid from Texas wears a cowboy hat, calls everyone "y'all," and has a lasso as an extra appendage. The Asian kid is a figure skating perfectionist because of course he is. Julie "The Cat" Gaffney gets no cliche because she is from Maine. Instead, she gets a cool nickname and a spot at the end of the bench until she is conveniently necessary.
The final free agent is Dean Portman, who apparently was John Scott before John Scott was John Scott. So now we know who to blame for John Scott. Portman first shows up in a hockey jersey with the sleeves cut off (seriously), wearing a Walkman and pushing every kid, adult and vending machine in sight out of his way because that's what movie bullies do. The other thing movie bullies do is eventually reveal they have a heart of gold, and it takes just a few practices for Portman to go from intimidating boogeyman to invaluable teammate. Kind of like John Scott, I guess.
After the inexplicably interminable credits sequence, the pace of D2 is pretty remarkable. In just about 30 minutes we find out that Bombay (again played by Emilio Estevez) was hurt in his foray into minor league hockey and he returns broken to his home in Minnesota. He's convinced to coach again by magical immigrant Jan, the brother of the first movie's magical immigrant Hans, who is back in Sweden for somesuch reason.
Bombay's love interest from the first movie, Charlie Conway's mom, is remarried and the Ducks are scattered across America's most rollerbladeable city. After Bombay gets an offer from an equipment company to coach Team USA at the Jr. Goodwill Games in exchange for an endorsement deal, the Ducks are rounded up, the new kids are added, the whole team gets a tutor who will serve as Bombay's new love interest and it's off to L.A.
Part of the reason the movie chugs along at such a speedy clip is that over a quarter of its running time is told in montages. I counted six separate collections of shots set to music in which the Ducks learn or do something important to the plot.
- The rollerblading round-up.
- Linedancing and getting lassoed on the ice by the Texas kid.
- Bombay at a photo shoot selling his soul to his corporate masters.
- The four horniest Ducks infiltrating a haughty Beverly Hills store and watch ladies try on clothes.
- The Ducks reigniting their love of the game by playing street hockey with some locals.
- Finally, training for the big final showdown against cold, villainous Team Iceland.
The bad guys are infinitely more interesting than the heroes. They're from Iceland, a country not often seen in movies, but they exhibit all of the classic qualities of the Soviet villains seen in Cold War era films. Their coach is a former NHL enforcer that has drilled his kids mercilessly and expects total ruthlessness. He even dispatches a comely assistant coach lady to put the moves on Bombay in order to throw the Ducks off their game. That is playing dirty. Even the Russian guy in Rocky IV didn't send Brigitte Nielsen to seduce Rocky before he fought Ivan Drago. And Nielsen and Sylvester Stallone were actually dating in real life at the time.
That the Ducks end up beating Iceland in the Jr. Goodwill Games final is expected and understood. But how they do it challenges a viewer's suspension of disbelief, especially when that viewer is a dedicated hockey fan. No matter how focus grouped or cynically commercial a movie is, it still has to make sense. And in its final third, D2 simply stops making any sense.
The gold medal game alone includes scenes of Portman and Reed - now dubbed "The Bash Brothers" because of their hard-hitting style - strutting and hollering around the ice like pro wrestlers and the Texas kid coming off the bench to literally hogtie an opponent with a lasso because the Icelander was picking on one of the Ducks girl players. Not to mention some of the most incredulous, nonsensical refereeing ever seen in real life or cinema.
Bombay sees the shenanigans and says it's "not a hockey game. It's a circus." In the locker room, he admonishes his team for their individualistic sideshow gimmickry and encourages them to come together as teammates to win the game using organized sideshow gimmickry.
Down 4-1 (or, as Bombay says in an affront to hockey everywhere on the planet, "they're still up three points"), Team USA takes the ice for the third period wearing Ducks jerseys, specifically the jerseys of the NHL's then-expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Ditching one sweater to wear another one with a game two thirds over is so out of the ordinary that play-by-play man Bob Miller actually explains that there is no rule preventing it, as if telepathically anticipating audiences across the country all saying simultaneously, "Wait. What the hell? That's ridiculous."
But the jersey switch is just the tip of the iceberg since apparently patriotism isn't that important at the Jr. Goodwill Games and the whole crowd doesn't mind changing their U.S.A. chants to Duck ones. The Ducks eventually tie the game when the newest new recruit - added from the South Central street hockey team - disguises himself as Goldberg the goalie, takes a trick shot from beyond his own team's blueline and scores over a helpless Iceland goalie's outstretched glove.
In the shootout, the teams trade goals and it's up to Julie "The Cat" to make the kind of incredible save she could have conceivably been making throughout the entire tournament if she wasn't stapled to the bench so that Bombay could cater to one of his favorites. See? And you guys complain about Jack Capuano and Matt Martin. It happens everywhere.
Despite his rousing speech, Bombay getting his team to abandon trick plays that don't work for ones that do isn't very satisfying and really distracts from what has been, until that point, a fairly enjoyable and well-made kids sports movie. Similarly, scenes such as the brutish Iceland team suddenly learning a lesson in defeat, the stock Animal Planet-style footage of wild ducks flying and the titular team enjoying a random camping trip together over the closing credits make me wonder if the film's ending wasn't rushed just to get it in into theaters.
I also wondered if the team's plane had crashed on the way back to Minnesota and the campfire scene would devolve into them deciding which player they were going to have to eat in order to survive. That's how jarring and out-of-the-blue I thought that scene was.
The Real MVP
Now having watched the first two Mighty Ducks movies, it's clear who the true star of the series is: Bob Miller.
The legendary Los Angeles Kings play-by-play man is the compass without whom the movies would have no direction. He calls games in Minnesota peewee leagues, the minor pros, the NHL and the Jr. Goodwill games all without missing a beat or changing his style. Miller reiterates every single on-screen action just in case someone in the audience isn't paying attention. He even explains rules that make no sense so that everyone can put their mind at ease and just enjoy the photogenic child actors.
Both movies might as well be audiobooks narrated by Miller with occasional speeches by Estevez and cheering by the kids.
So while I thought the two movies were polished commercial crowd-pleasers, they really helped me gain an even greater appreciation for Miller, the voice of a generation of hockey fans that grew up wanting to be Ducks. Finding out that he actually works for the Ducks' biggest rival in real life must have been as crushing as finding out that the pretty blonde assistant coach from team Iceland just isn't that into you.