With the first live-action Scooby-Doo movie pulling in $275 million worldwide, a sequel was never in doubt, and with director Raja Gosnell, screenwriter James Gunn, and the rest of the cast back for more, one could have expected more of the same this time out. Sadly, our predictions were true and we don’t find much in the way of improvements as this live-action installment still misses the mark more often than not.
In this movie, we find the members of Mystery Inc. being hailed as local heroes of their hometown of Coolsville with the grand opening of the Coolsonian Criminology Museum, which commemorates their past solved cases with various monster costumes on display. The night does not go quite as planned as an evil masked figure appears and uses the reanimated Pterodactyl Ghost costume to steal two more of the exhibit’s costumes. This Doctor Doom knock-off crossed with the Phantom of the Opera announces to the Scooby gang that, “This time you will be the ones unmasked, as the buffoons you truly are,” and with Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby-Doo’s (Neil Fanning) incompetence leading to much of the museum’s exhibit being trashed, things aren’t looking good for our heroes.
Local investigative reporter Heather Jasper Howe (Alicia Silverstone) immediately starts a smear campaign to discredit Mystery Incorporated, stating, “It’s my job to unmask those who pretend to be who they’re not.” Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is quick to point out that her agenda seems to align perfectly with what the Evil-Masked-Guy was stating, which moves Heather to the top of the suspect list, but then the Evil-Masked Guy appears standing on the roof of the Coolsville museum and we all know a villain can’t be in two places at the same time.
In the previous live-action movie, there wasn’t much of an actual mystery for the Scooby gang to solve, it just had the “surprise” reveal that Scrappy-Doo was behind everything, but in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, writer James Gunn at least pretends there is an interest in giving us a good Scooby-Doo mystery. Unfortunately, most of the film’s run-time is spent dealing with each of the gang’s existential crises. We have Daphne wondering if she is just a “pretty face” with nothing else to offer, despite the fact that in the last movie, she had already shown us she was a badass fighter (and in this one, she even takes on the Ghost of the Black Knight and is able to figure out how to get the gang out of a locked cage by using the contents of her purse). It’s as if the film wants us to ignore the evidence before our own eyes to justify character development that had already been established.
Daphne isn’t the only one having a personal crisis as Shaggy and Scooby-Doo come to the startling realization that through their entire career as members of Mystery Incorporated, they’ve been a couple of screw-ups — which means they aren’t only idiots but rather obtuse ones — and this leads them to decide to solve the mystery on their own. Then we have Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.) who is losing his confidence as a team leader even to the point where he considers himself to be a wimp. Finally, we have Velma (Linda Cardellini) trying to change herself into a more “glamorous, mysterious, adventurous jet-setter hot babe” in an attempt to try and get museum curator Patrick Wisely (Seth Green) to like her.
Now, even though it’s clear to even most five-year-old viewers that Heather is the true villain of this piece, we still have to introduce a few more suspects. The first costume to come to life was that of Pterodactyl Ghost who was originally unmasked by the Scooby gang to be mad scientist Jonathan Jacobo (Tim Blake Nelson), who was stealing money to further his research into creating real monsters. As Jacobo died years ago while trying to escape prison, he gets removed from the suspect list… well, his body was never found so maybe keep him on the list. Then we have Jeremiah Wickles (Peter Boyle), the original Black Knight Ghost’s portrayer, who just so happened to have been Jacobo’s cellmate and is newly released from prison. Finally, we have Velma’s love interest Patrick, whose personality seems a little unstable and is revealed to have a secret shrine to Jonathon Jacobo. Why Patrick Wisely has a shrine to Jacobo or why it would be located under the lair of the Evil-Masked Guy is never explained, but this movie doesn’t really have time to make sense — they have a mystery to solve. And just who is the culprit hell-bent on destroying the Scooby gang?
Wait… what? That’s right folks, the guilty party is none other than a character we were told was dead earlier in the film — but didn’t I state earlier in this review that Heather Howe was this movie’s villain? So how could it be Jacobo? Well, this movie uses the double unmasking joke that has been used half-a-dozen times throughout Scooby’s history. The Evil-Masked-Guy is first exposed to be Heather, but then a second mask is pulled off to reveal that Dr. Jonathan Jacobo and Heather Howe are one and the same person and that her cameraman Ned (Zahf Paroo), who we were barely introduced to, had time to don the Evil-Masked-Guy costume to appear on the roof of the museum to give Heather a perfect alibi. Jacobo would have been better off investing his technology into possible military applications rather than obsessing over a bunch of kids and their dumb dog.
• Mystery Incorporated is seen to have a tricked-out crime-solving headquarters, but we’ve still never seen them get paid for solving a crime. Is this whole thing being funded by Daphne’s rich family?
• Velma being afraid of dating is a character trait that comes out of the blue in this movie; even in the previous live-action film, Velma had no problem talking to guys.
• Scooby and Shaggy sing Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” a song that features the improvised scat lyrics, “Scoo-bee-doo-bee-doo” which was the original inspiration for Scooby-Doo’s name.
• The “Faux Ghost” bar is a hangout for Mystery Inc.’s unmasked villains which could be a nod to “Noonan’s Bar” in Gotham City where many of Batman’s villains hang out.
• This being a Raja Gosnell movie, we are, of course, subjected to a terrible musical number.
• Daphne trying to karate kick the 10,000 Volt Ghost has to be one of the dumbest moments in this movie. There’s being a badass and then there’s being a jackass.
• The idea of a hot Velma briefly seen in the previous movie is amped up in this installment.
The biggest problem I had with Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed was the completely unnecessary moments of an identity crisis amongst the Scooby gang. In the last film, we already had the drama of them breaking up and having to discover how to be a team again, so we certainly didn’t need more character strife as depicted here. The first live-action movie could be considered a light-hearted parody of the Scooby-Doo cartoons — a bit too light-hearted, and where the dream of an R-rated Scooby-Doo movie died — but it at least tried to poke a little fun at the tropes of the original cartoon. This movie, however, was more of a case of “Remember that episode?” without much else going on, relying heavily on the nostalgia of the original cartoon instead of trying something new.
The returning cast all do fine, with no earth-shattering performances, but the film gets major points taken away for completely wasting Tim Blake Nelson. Why even cast such a great actor if you’re only going to give him one bloody line of dialogue? There was to be a sequel to Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, with James Gunn on board to write and direct, but the box office returns were not good enough to greenlight a third film and thus, the subsequent live-action endeavours have all been made-for-television.
You can find all my reviews of the various Scooby-Doo shows and movies collected here: The Wonderful World of Scooby-Doo.
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004)
Movie Rank - 5/10
It was nice that writer James Gunn tried to give us an actual Scooby-Doo mystery this time out, and this installment is an improvement over the previous film, but we are still stuck with too many lame fart jokes and inconsistent character development.