Taika Waititi’s last release, Thor: Love and Thunder, failed to impress MCU fans and general moviegoers alike. The movie disappointed at the box office and received negative reviews from critics. This failure shifted the focus to his next directorial feature, Next Goal Wins, with Michael Fassbender in the lead role. Armie Hammer was also cast at one point but was recast following sexual assault accusations against him. It started production in 2019 and faced multiple delays, but the movie finally premiered at TIFF 2023 and is set to be released in theaters in November of this year.
Waititi fans will be glad to know that Next Goal Wins is a lot of fun. It is charming and breezy, which is exactly the zone where Waititi has thrived historically. It takes inspiration from true events and follows the national football team of American Samoa, and their quest for World Cup qualification. Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender), a hot-headed football coach who is recently fired from his previous job, takes on the role of the team’s new head coach. Together, the players and Thomas embark on a hilarious rollercoaster ride, striving to work as a cohesive unit and achieve their goal of World Cup qualification.
Michael Fassbender is enjoying himself immensely as he fully embraces the character of Rongen, who is recently separated and experiencing a declining career. He effortlessly portrays a range of emotions and exudes passion in his performance. Elizabeth Moss, although not given much screen time, fails to leave a lasting impact. The squad members, while decent, do not stand out individually. The characters lack depth and proper character arcs, but their collective performance as an ensemble is commendable, with the actors providing strong support to one another.
The script embraces its silliness and doesn’t hold back on delivering numerous ridiculous, over-the-top moments. The dialogues shine as the true stars of this ride, as they maintain a sharpness that keeps the pacing engaging. The audience found themselves laughing throughout the film, thanks to scenes that were absolutely hilarious. However, the humor relies heavily on references and character traits. Luckily, the movie runs for approximately 100 minutes and never becomes boring at any point.
On the flip side, the lack of depth and freshness in the script is mainly what holds it back from a great movie instead of a good one. The story is familiar and does not bring anything new to the table except the setting of American Samoa and the use of its culture. To some, it may feel like a sillier and goofier version of Shaolin Soccer and Campeones, which are both iconic sports dramedies themselves. Next Goal Wins doesn’t quite reach the levels of those classics, but it is still a good movie. Don’t expect it to get a lot of love from at the Academy Awards next year.
Next Goal Wins is an absolute crowd-pleaser. With its hilarious moments, heartwarming story, and energetic passion, it stands out among other films. Taika Waititi’s direction shines through, making it a significant improvement over his last feature. While it may not revolutionize the sports dramedy genre, it offers plenty of enjoyable moments. If you’re looking for a film that combines laughter and heart, this one is definitely worth checking out.
Next Goal Wins releases in cinemas on November 17.