Entertainment editor John Turnbull reviews two new blockbusters: the latest in the Fast and the Furious franchise and the sequel to the Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Fate of the Furious (2017)
Directed by F. Gary Grey
In case you were wondering if people really wanted another Fast and the Furious film, consider the fact that this eighth movie in the franchise is rapidly approaching $1 billion at the global box office. While revenue is not necessarily a hallmark of quality, it is worth noting that a series about street racing now matches Star Wars in terms of box office clout.
The thing is, the Fate of the Furious isn’t really about street racing. Sure, it starts out with a street race (during which we are discover that Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto is fireproof, as well as being a totally awesome driver) and has other car-related hijinks along the way, but it really isn’t a movie about car racing like the first few films in the franchise were. Not that this is a bad thing, because the Furious series is one of the few franchises that have got better along the way, chiefly by dropping the focus on racing and making it an old fashioned good guys vs bad guys battle.
The bad "guy" this time is Charlize Theron, a shadowy hacker called Cipher who doesn’t actually seem to do very much hacking. Through a cunning plot twist, Cypher has been able to convince Toretto to turn against his friends and steal a nuclear weapon, and some other stuff, because reasons… Look, let’s be honest; you’re not watching the Fate of the Furious for the plot. It doesn’t matter that many of the character motivations don’t make sense, or the fact that former bad guy Deckard (Jason Statham) is now part of the team, or the fact that Vin Diesel seems to be standing on a box in all of his scenes with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Odds are that you’re watching The Fate of the Furious for the action and it delivers action in spades. There’s action in cars, action out of cars, fight scenes, a prison break and lots of explosions. With a running time of over two hours, there is a lot of waiting around between set pieces, but the ludicrous final sequence of car vs submarine is entertaining enough that you forgive the filler.
From a cast perspective, this is the first Furious film to be without Paul Walker, and his presence is missed. Aside from the promotion of the charismatic Johnson to team leader and the addition of snarky Statham as team antagonist, series regulars Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson provide comic relief, and Kurt Russell adds some class as government agent Mr Nobody. There seems to be an attempt by the filmmakers to insert Scott Eastwood into the "dumb but earnest white guy" role, but it doesn’t really work. Vin Diesel is Vin Diesel, swapping his growly good-guy role for a growly bad-guy-but-not-really role, while Charlize Theron is shows as much personality as her character name would suggest.
The Fate of the Furious is not a good movie, but you probably won’t walk away disappointed.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017)
Directed by James Gunn
The original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was something of a test case for Marvel Studios. Taking a bunch of almost completely unknown characters and putting them in the hands of a hit and miss director, there was a chance that Guardians could have been Marvel’s first major flop. Fortunately, the movie was engaging, funny and charming as hell, resulting in a global box office of over $770 million and the immediate greenlighting of a sequel.
Fast forward three years and viewer appetite for comic book flicks has not declined, with major hype around the upcoming Spider-Man and Justice League movies. Wonder Woman looks fantastic and the Lego Batman movie has proven that superheroes don’t have to be serious. In this over-saturated market, is there really room for a movie starring a pro wrestler in body paint and a talking tree?
Contender for "most charming actor alive" (a title currently held jointly by Matt Damon and Channing Tatum) Chris Pratt returns as space pirate Peter Quill, known to his many enemies as Star-Lord. The former Parks & Recreation actor is appealing as ever, imbuing Quill with a roguish charm and deep-seated nobility. It seems something of a certainty that Pratt will become one of the biggest stars of his generation, able to play both the action hero and the comic relief convincingly.
Of course, Guardians Volume 2 is far from a one-man show, as the supporting cast are all excellent. Former wrestler Dave Bautista is hilarious as the musclebound and literal Drax, while Zoe Saldana brings some balance to a group filled with impetuous man-children. The tag-team of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as Rocket and Groot once again steal the show, while former enemies Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) reluctantly join the Guardians family.
The newest addition to the Guardians cast is Kurt Russell, who really seems to be enjoying a career renaissance at the moment. Here, Russell plays Ego, the long lost father of Star-Lord and also a living planet, with an attitude to match his name. Russell has an enormous amount of fun chewing the scenery, yet displays a considerable depth of emotion when the role calls for it. Now departed from the Expendables franchise, Sylvester Stallone also makes a cameo appearance, possibly setting up some future work within the Marvel universe.
With a running time of 2 hours and 16 minutes, it feels like a few scenes could have been trimmed, particularly Drax’s bonding scenes with Ego’s assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and some of the stuff with the Ravagers, but overall James Gunn has delivered another highly entertaining comic book flick.
There is no question that Guardians Vol. 2 is a better movie than Fate of the Furious. It’s better written, better acted, more evenly paced and somehow more believable, which is odd when you’re comparing a movie about car racing to one about a talking raccoon who flies a spaceship.
Both movies have themes of family, although the car family that has been built across seven films feels disconnected and contrived, while the space family with only one film to date feels warm and genuine.
The connective tissue between the two films (aside from Vin Diesel and the massive box office that both will make) is Kurt Russell — an actor who first leapt to geek attention back in 1981 playing Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. The fact that Russell is enjoying a comeback late in his career is worth celebrating, as the man has more charisma in his little finger than someone like Vin Diesel has in his entire body. Except when he’s playing Baby Groot. I love that little guy…
The Fate of the Furious — 6/10
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — 8/10
Enjoy what you've just read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. Take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe.
Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage.)
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