The Fate of The Furious (Fast and Furious 8) – Review

Just as the trouble finding a title that works across all markets is a problem for those that run The Fast and the Furious franchise, it has become hard to recall a standout identity on screen. The Europeans have been given the simplified version of adding a number eight to the title. Such a high rollout is usually the reserve of horror movies. Has director F. Gary Gray been able to avoid slashing up the moneymaking car-based property?

First off, let’s spare a thought for the man replacing James Wan. With each movie, it becomes harder to justify the fanfare (buckets of cash aside). Also, he is the first man to tackle a plot that has to exclude Brian’s role entirely following Paul Walker’s death.

The main problem is how the series hasn’t felt gripping since Michelle Rodriguez reappeared from death in a post-credits scene. It took ten minutes into the latest instalment, with her character Letty and Vin Diesel’s Dom enjoying a honeymoon in Havana, to realise these answers had already been fully explored and a full adventure had taken place in London since.

That’s the problem with “new” Fast and Furious films: they are great for the two hours you watch them, but are instantly forgettable.

This one starts with a street race reminiscent of simpler times, when it was good old street races, a bit of undercover work, and not big set-pieces. It can’t last in a modern version of a film bearing the name (in any guise) connected to this franchise. It is now Bond on Wheels, and we all remember what happened to that series when the stunts became too far-fetched…

Because they are brains-out movies, no spoilers or hints will be dropped here. It’ll remove the ten seconds of reveal you may be interested in. The main premise is how Dom goes rogue and is recruited by cyber terrorist Cipher, played by Charlize Theron.

He’s hunted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Luke Hobbs, himself now an outlaw from his own government after the initial mission went tits-up when Dom went rogue. He’s aided by Dom’s own team, and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw.

Yep, you read that right. Far from me to be a cynic, but the baddie gets a new backstory added where he was a decent captain in the SAS but his government sold him short – just like The Rock’s! Forget that he then became a ruthless murdering bad guy.

The thing is, there’s no need to care. Believability is suspended, so why not just enjoy the characters as they come? Also, it gives us Helen Mirren popping up as Shaw’s mum. In the process, we see a posh bird trying to sound like Peggy Mitchell from EastEnders.

A special mention should go to Kurt Russell. This was a screen-stealing edition of Mr Nobody and when you compare his turn in Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and this, you appreciate just how diverse his range is.

The same cannot be said of Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey. The Brit needs to drop the overaccentuated well-spoken words and be more natural in the role. With a screen awash with warm characters, she is the odd one out. The static, cold, sterile (pretty) face.

The plot has been criticised for being bloated, long, and dull. That’s a major knife in the back, it’s actually okay. The cliched parts aside, and the massive suspension of disbelief required (and that’s a great thing, otherwise we’d be robbed of Shaw’s comedic shoot-out toward the film’s end), it does reach the scope it aims for.

Okay, it is best served as a hangover film when you need a quiet Sunday afternoon, perhaps not what the studio want to hear, but with two sequels planned, their cash cow has some milk left in it.

There’s rumours Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel clashed during this movie’s production. From a marketing point-of-view, that is ironic because moving forward the franchise Vin started might have to become The Rock centric in order to survive.

6/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

It’s time for another addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, thankfully, we get served a film that still feels fresh when the monotony of the rest of the market pounds relentlessly forward. This is highlighted from the start, with – probably – the best opening credits sequence ever seen in any film. Ever.

The Guardians are well established now, and fighting a massive pink beast fishy thing. But that’s all going on in the background while Baby Groot is dancing away to ELO. It’s immediate relief that the humour from the first film remains, it’s just the scope that is getting upscaled.

The main cast all return, even Vin Diesel to “voice” Groot. This time they actually feel like a better fit. We see them on the run after Rocket (the Racoon Bradley Cooper) steals from the Sovereign race moments after receiving applaud for completing a mission.

These folks feel at first, like a novelty cameo before the real story starts. Just a planet of gold skinned and haired, genetically engineered perfectionists. As it happens, they are involved throughout as they seek to avenge the stolen batteries and make an example of the Guardians.

As with all films of this nature, we have subplots on the go. Rocket’s is how he pushes people away when he feels them getting too close. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have the “unspoken thing” going on. Best described by Quill (Star-Lord) as Sam and Diane in Cheers. Gamora reminds Peter, she doesn’t know what Cheers is.

Gamora also has sisterly love going on with Nebula (Karen Gillan, not ginger, now shaved and blue). She was the prize from the Sovereign race and prisoner-turn-accomplice.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. See, the Guardians do the classic team-up movie trick of running separate missions. After badly crash landing on a planet, where Drax (Dave Bautista) is dragged behind the ship like a water-skier gone wrong, hitting every tree in sight at speed, resembling Wile E. Coyote (suspend that disbelief or the film ends at this point), the group are visited by Ego.

No, no, no, not Kanye West, but Kurt Russell, a god claiming to be Quill’s dad. So, leaving Rocket behind with a tied-up Nebula and Baby Groot in order to carry out repairs, Drax, Gamora and Quill head to Ego’s home planet.

As they dash off, Yondu’s Ravagers arrive to capture Rocket. They’ve been hired by the Soveriegn to find the Guardians. But that all goes bad when the Ravagers rebel and Yondu himself loses his men and his freedom. Seems some thought he always protected Peter back when he worked with them, and still gets favouritism.

On Ego’s world, his empath helper, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), shares a closeness with Drax and starts to drop the hints that Ego might not be an entirely good god.

This is where the generic, overly simplistic plot is showed up for what it is. Kurt Russell as Ego is great at playing the larger-than-life, slightly untrustworthy father figure Peter craves. His explanation of how he started as a consciousness millions of years ago and created a world before deciding to walk as a man is grand without being grotesque.

The problem is, it all starts to feel very two-dimensional. The movie only holds together at this point because of Zoe Saldana’s performance. She gives the picture its heart and direction. Without her, it would have been a bland mess. And with a film with so much neon, that would have been a neat trick.

Gamora Vol 2

The values of family, companionship, are the main drive. It should also be noted, that Marvel deserve some credit for allowing this part of the MCU to remain largely untouched by the main series. The Guardians still feel special and protected from the oversaturation of the superhero market.

Weak plot aside, by the movie’s end – and long closing credits with multiple scenes – just as you can’t deny Baby Groot is cute, you can’t help but feel a warmth inside. It’s a feel-good factor movie, that shouldn’t be able to trade with so little substance – but does. Maybe we’re all suckers for classic songs, 80s references, and cameos of digitally restored David Hasselhoffs?

7/10

Baby Groot

Kong: Skull Island – Review

“Let’s face it baby, these days, you gotta have a sequel,” to paraphrase Stu from the 1996 film Scream. If that was remade today, it’d be something like this: “‘cause let’s face it baby, these days you gotta have a shared universe.” Thanks to Marvel’s unprecedented success at juggling many balls in one massive shared cinematic universe, every studio and its dog is trying the same trick.

The latest Ghostbusters was supposed to launch a shared series of films. It failed. Of course, DC is trying the same. It’s struggling. Legendary is trying its hand with a MonsterVerse, which brings us to the relaunch of King Kong. This trip to Skull Island is primarily to familiarise the audience with King Kong in the universe that 2014’s Godzilla took place in.

The opening credits use the same montage technique as the Gareth Edwards monster film but there is no direct connection, Godzilla showed the years 1954, 1999 and 2014. Kong’s tale predominantly takes place in 1973 (after seeing a US pilot and Japanese dogfight counterpart crash land on the island in 1944).

The premise being John Goodman’s Bill Randa wants to travel to an island that defies detection. He’s convinced – because of something he saw as a child – that prehistoric animals exist in the modern day. He thinks Skull Island is a haven for them. Of course, he’s correct, and the island isn’t just home to a massive monkey. There are things that make the dinosaurs look fluffy.

Randa uses the end of the Vietnam war to leverage the powers that be to use the returning military for a little excursion. Enter a team. Shared universes need teams, even if the decades that divide the movies means it’s a onetime shot.

Tom Hiddleston is James Conrad, a former SAS man turned mercenary, reminding us why he can never be James Bond. Brie Larson turns up as photographer Mason Weaver. She is a do-gooder that has been on the cover of Time and is looking for the next big shot, regardless of the danger. And we have Samuel L. Jackson playing Preston Packard, the leader of the squadron assigned to land on the island.

Brie Larson Hiddleston Kong Skull Island

Along for the ride are a few scientists, their biggest contribution is discovering we live in a hollow world. Yep, we can forget science when given massive monkeys with five fingers. Do we need pseudo-science to makes sense of it? Clive Balls does believe the world is flat, so perhaps some people will buy into this. Plus, it could explain the appearance of further beasts in upcoming Godzilla films.

Because the scientists need to probe, they dropped seismic charges to determine the composition of the land mass. Or as they appear to Kong: bombs.

There is no slow build-up and a big reveal to Kong like in all of his previous outings. Here, the King is front and centre from the off. He takes out the incoming helicopter squadron with ease. The moment is perhaps to pay homage to the original battle from 1933 on the Empire State Building. If so, all it does is alert us to the fact there is no tension or investment.

The survivors meet up with that crashed 1944 pilot, he turns out to be Hank Marlow, played by comic actor John C. Reilly. He provides relief in a film that doesn’t really need any. Godzilla (2014) was criticised for being too dark. It literally lacked a colour palette. This movie goes too far in the opposite direction.

The banners on buses and building gave us the hint. Those garish colours fill the big screen. What it loses in mood swings it toward cartoon. In doing so, the characters follow suit. Samuel L. Jackson, as well as reusing his own lines from Jurassic Park, and paraphrasing himself from Pulp Fiction, becomes the single-minded human antagonist.

He’s miffed Kong killed his invading crew. Hank Marlow explains, Kong keeps the dangerous monsters at bay and the island’s indigenous people safe. Jackson doesn’t care. It’s as unrealistic as his pouch – something a soldier returning from years of war in Vietnam just wouldn’t have.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts must have had a checklist of classic Kong shots – like the blonde woman lay in King Kong’s open palm – but he missed the vital element. Kong’s powerful scenes work when you feel for the character. In this outing, we don’t have time to care for the big guy.

And Brie Larson, arguably the most talented actor in the film, can get the damsel in distress and looking up in awe facial shots down to a T all she wants, it means zero if the world she’s working in is soulless.

The action is visually perfect, the actors do their best with a limited script, but it lacks the intelligence Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla strived for in pursuit of a more accessible action flick. I hope to see Kong again, next time I hope he reminds us why we used to care.

6/10

Passengers – Review

With taglines like: There is a reason they woke up, and, Nothing Happens by Accident, you have every right to expect mystery and intrigue. Passengers soon reneges on these empty promises.

The concept is a decent one and visually the film gets off to a great start. The sets wouldn’t look out of place in an Alien film. Everyone aboard the starship Avalon is heading to a Homestead II, a new Earth, a fresh start. It takes 120 years, so by the time they are removed from suspended animation, their loved ones back home will have long passed.

Bad news for Chris Pratt’s character, Jim Preston, is that the ship hits an asteroid field. Or more like, half the field hits the ship. It causes damage to multiple systems, breaking his pod’s sleep cycle. Just his pod, mind. Bad, bad (writing?) luck.

It means Jim spends a year trying to fix the problem, get access to the crew and bridge rooms, and eventually face suicide. Until he happens across Aurora Lane’s (that’s Jennifer Lawrence) sleep capsule. With nothing else to do, he looks into her story. She’s a writer so he reads her back catalogue and watches all her induction videos.

“She’s so funny,” he exclaims.

She’s about as funny as a white girl sat on a BBC chat show talking about desecrating sacred artefacts.

Jim’s only company has been Michael Sheen’s Arthur, an android barman. He’s like a really friendly version of Lloyd from The Shining. He is at pains whether or not to wake Aurora up or not.

Well, he does. And suffice to say, that secret gets out. So you see, there was a reason they woke up: to drive a stagnant story on. No conspiracy, no experiment, no sabotage.

In a movie of convenient moments, it is no surprise that Aurora falls for Jim. Their class difference aside (he gets better breakfasts now she’s around from the computer), chances of meeting a soul mate based on assumptions, and the strain of the situation have no bearing. They’re just perfect for one another.

Later in the film, Laurence Fishburne pitches up when another pod fails. Convenient that this occurs when the story needed another plot device and equally handy that it’s just a single pod again.

The closing section sees Jim and Aurora forced to work together to save the damaged ship. What they can’t save is the weak script. Okay, it’s a harmless romantic movie but a waste of an imposing set, good actors, and a solid premise.

The studio didn’t spend $110m and bring in two hot box office names for the sort of experience that will be relegated to lazy Sunday afternoons on the sofa. The poor results and box office performance won’t hurt any of the stars, they’ve enough credit in the bank, but it’s an inexcusable disappointment.

5/10

The Lego Batman Movie – Review

After 2016’s flurry of superhero films, this year promises to keep up the trend. Before the world feels burnt out with them, Warner Bros. hand over their prime property to The Lego franchise. Before we get more of the Ben Affleck Dark Knight, we get Will Arnett’s light-hearted brick version.

Criticism Marvel fanboys aim at their DC counterparts is they are too serious and dark, that comic books should be fun. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with The Lego Batman Movie. Sure, it’s not a canon entry. It’s aimed at the kids’ market (some would say, this is Marvel’s core audience) but if you need the exact opposite of “serious and dark” then this is it.

Like the best of modern animation movies – looking at you Toy Story – there’s action for the kids and jokes for the parents. Lego Batman pleases the children with explosive action sequences, Lego being used and reshaped to create unique outcomes, and behaviour they can relate to. When The Joker fires his weapon, he makes little shooting sounds just like kids playing with Lego need to do.

The Lego Gotham City does feel authentic. You can tell what world we’re in. All the rogues are here too, proving that a good film can survive with an overflow of enemies. It’s clear from the start the movie’s makers are willing to point fun at the source material, and at first, having nearly every conceivable Batman villain on screen seems like a quick pun. But they stick around and The Joker manages to recruit even more bad guys.

Thanks to the Lego tie in, anyone that can be made from the little bricks appears. Even the Daleks show up, although never referenced by name.

The main story is how Batman is too withdrawn and refuses help. Cue Robin and new Commissioner and soon to be Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. Alongside this is how he breaks The Joker’s heart by denying him the title of main villain. He says he fights around, that there isn’t an “us.” It’s great humour that will probably fly over the heads of younger members of the audience.

To make Batman appreciate him, Joker hands himself – and all the villains in Gotham – over to new Commissioner Gordon. Batman, easily manipulated by his nemesis, doesn’t sit tight and starts a sequence of events that sees Joker release all the baddies from Superman’s Phantom Zone.

Suddenly Gotham needs Batman again but he can’t do it alone.

Usually kiddies’ films like this are big on the moral message and speed up the slower adult scenes. Here, even though the ideas it’s trying to tell are plainly obvious, they blend into the background. Early on the plot building will lose some younger viewers. Even when having fun, Batman has to be moody.

The Easter eggs, often in the form of one-liners, come thick and fast, and clearly are designed for older ears. The fun is bright and outlandish, satisfying the kids. The flashy sequences aren’t to cover any deficiencies in the cast either.

Ralph Fiennes does a great turn as Alfred, Michael Cera is back to form as Robin, and it’s a compliment to say you won’t realise (although, you will now) Rosario Dawson plays Barbara Gordon. Even the cameos go to big names.

It doesn’t pull on heartstrings like some animation movies nor is it a film made just for children. It’s not perfect but it works well and Bat-fans and kids alike will enjoy it.

7/10