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It’s all resting on his shoulders now!

It’s late, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t a chance to see The Fast and the Furious 8 or otherwise known as The Fate of the Furious (I’ll refer to it as Fast 8 as we go) when it first came out. Weird time of year for me, what can I say? I’m seeing more movies now, though, and I finally got around to the latest entry in one of my absolute favorite franchises. This is a key entry, too. When Paul Walker died, everybody asked “how the fuck is this thing gonna work from now on?”. Many critics wondered whether the series would focus more centrally on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) with the beloved ensemble taking a back seat. The central relationship of the series was always Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) and it seemed like there were two possible directions for this to go: try and replace Brian, or center it on Dom alone (at least for now). It looks like they decided to focus on Dom after all, and the results are just fine though that central relationship is certainly missed.

In many ways, Fast 8 feels more thematically grounded and focused than the last few. This was a bit of a surprise, and worked better than I think a lot of people might have expected given the general attitude about Diesel’s ability to shoulder a movie. I think he’s pretty good, though, and while he isn’t stretching the emotional range of Dom much here, there are a few nice subtler moments and we’re definitely seeing Dom in a new situation. With the key relationship of the series missing, Fast 8 decides to trouble the very thing that has kept the characters and the audience along for this very bizarre and now very lengthy ride: fambly.

Is Fast 8 better than the last few movies? Not really. As always, the highs are pretty high but I think this is maybe the least light-hearted of all of them and offers less of the jokes, camaraderie, and goofy warm heart the series is known for. Of course, all this stuff is still here, but this is also the entry where Fast 8 goes darker. That’s not going to work as well for some people, but I think this movie is less uneven than Fast 7 was (particularly the action). The important question isn’t even really if this movie lives up to the rest of the franchise, because of course it does, it’s more about whether it leaves you with a sense that this franchise can keep going without Paul Walker. I think it can, but I think Fast 8 is unable (and probably this is intentional) to fully get to a new stable dynamic on its own. There are seeds of it, but it’ll probably take the next movie before we see where they’re going with certain elements, which this review will explore in detail.

DOING SPOILERS A QUARTER-MILE AT A TIME Read the rest of this entry »

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Is there a more instantly iconic cast in Hollywood?

I am pleased to report that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (I’ll refer to it simply as Vol. 2) is, as many of you have found out for yourselves over the past week, every bit as good and in some ways much better than even the first one. Vol. 1 was a great surprise and still the boldest movie Marvel has yet made. Vol. 2 doubles down on the world it created and the characters that inhabit it, losing the freshness a little (which is being overstated as a complaint) but managing to improve on those few significant weak spots the first one did have.

One of those is the way certain characters were shorted much of an arc as the plot took over the movie. In Vol. 2 this never happens and no character, and there are so fucking many of them, gets shorted. They all have satisfying arcs, even Kraglin (Sean Gunn), wisely depending on interactions with each other. For people who like Marvel movies and fans of The Fast and the Furious franchise, this will feel familiar. It’s in pairings, parallels and polar opposites, that juggling so many characters and arcs becomes possible. Vol. 2 pulls this off with aplomb and manages to weave through tonal shifts, some of which are pretty shocking and risky. A stronger commitment to the sadness and loss hinted at in Vol. 1 is also demonstrated here, giving this goofy space movie an emotional core that is hard to find even in serious dramas. If I could compare that to something, it’d be a Pixar movie, where they definitely understand that the juxtaposition of light heartedness, humour, and fun against deeper, darker, and unresolved feelings provides a strong base for engaging drama and characterization. Not only this, but James Gunn managed to infuse this one with some pretty heavy existential and philosophical weight, which I’ll get to later on. I didn’t expect that.

All the way back when testing revealed that Vol. 2 was the MCU’s first movie that scored 100s (whatever that means), the hype has been real. There’s already a pretty misguided mini-backlash against this movie, fixated on gags that don’t quite land or the way the second act dismisses the overarching plot in favor of briefly becoming a shaggy hangout movie, but this stuff seems nitpicky to me. At the same time, I totally understand just how hard it is to deal with a movie as anticipated and hyped up as this one was. Your mind always wants to find that one thing wrong with it, so I take these nitpicks as a great sign personally. If the worst someone can say is that the space fruit ripeness joke feels a little forced then this is one helluva movie, right? It so is. Read the rest of this entry »

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Silly Brian, have you even seen a Fast and the Furious movie? This is just natural evolution, baby.

The Fast and the Furious is the most bizarre beloved franchise since there were franchises to be bizarre and be beloved. Much commentary has been made about the odd trajectory of these films, which started out as earnest but mostly braindead “car movies” and evolved to become a sequence of mythos-laden homages to unexpected and awesome cinematic sources. Each Fast movie is like what they’ve been doing with Marvel’s Phase Two: an experiment in pseudo-genre riffing within a consistent fictional world with its own rules. Also like Marvel, each entry evolves the world and its rules, so that we can go from street racing undercover cops to street racing, globe-trotting, drone-fighting superheroes without ever doubting that consistency. Just as Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political/techno-thriller within the superhero framework, Furious Seven is basically Mission Impossible/G.I. Joe within the Fast and the Furious framework.

But is it a good movie? It would be very difficult indeed to surpass Fast 6 as the pinnacle of the franchise (although many would say the best one is Fast 5), and I’m sad to report that Seven doesn’t quite get there. What’s lacking is the sense of “surprise! we can do this stuff too!” which charactized both 5 and 6 and basically reignited this franchise with a renewed sense of momentum and fan appreciation. The Fast movies keep you with them, totally non-judgemental about the cheesy machismo, ridiculous physics, and earnest inclusive themes. I once compared them to friendly puppy dogs. If that’s what they are, collectively, then Seven is the dog having a bit of a sad day. That sadness, sense of finality due to Paul Walker’s untimely death, hangs over the movie in both good and bad ways. What they managed to craft out of the wreckage of both Walker’s death and the movie they were making ends up being perfectly great on its own merits, but lacking just a bit of that special something that makes each of these movies stand out from each other, for good or bad. It’s basically a direct sequel to Fast 6, and one with a familiar and somewhat unfitting theme for this franchise: revenge.

That Seven is a revenge movie somewhat conflicts its big cast, global scope, and huge action. At the same time, Fast 4 was basically a revenge movie and its lack of a big diverse cast of people we know and with relationships we’re invested in made that film suffer. Seven is a much better movie mostly because it still contains the sense of camraderie, fun, and yes: family which has characterized the franchise both on and off-screen. Read the rest of this entry »

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