Friday 19 May 2023

Fast X (Movie Review)

Dominic Toretto and his family of street racers return in Fast X, the tenth entry in the mainline Fast and Furious franchise. And after watching them literally fly a car into orbit in the last film, my immediate question heading into this one was what new ridiculous stunts could the filmmakers possibly have planned to top that. The keyword here is ridiculous of course, because these films clearly left the realm of plausibility behind several entries ago. But does their pursuit to up the ante with this latest installment come at the price of a sensible script with tangible stakes, or was it redeemed by the power of family?

As is now a tradition in these Fast and Furious movies, Fast X begins by retconning a new villain into the current timeline. So cue a flamboyant Jason Momoa as Dante, son of slain drug lord Herman Reyes from Fast Five, who like those that came before him now seeks revenge against Dom and the rest of the family. But unlike prior adversaries, Dante would quickly prove to be unhinged enough to do whatever it takes to get that revenge, even if it means eliminating all and any that stand in his way.

A film like Fast X almost demands to be appraised by its own rules. Either that or you'll constantly find yourself struggling to grapple with its disregard for basic inconveniences like the laws of physics, or the way our heroes tear through cities full of people without batting an eyelash at the stacks of bodies they leave in their wake. The last film explored the idea that our main characters might even be godlike beings who can perform superhuman feats, and it seems that this one fully embraces that idea, for better or worse.

I guess this is my way of saying if you weren't a fan of the prior entries, then there is nothing in this new one that could possibly work to win you over. You are either along for the ride from the very beginning or you'll feel like you are being dragged along against your will. I find myself somewhere between those two extremes, having enjoyed past entries like Fast Five and Furious 7 while completely hating Fate of the Furious. So I was indeed very surprised by just how much enjoyment I was able to glean out of Fast X.

The plot is just as nonsensical as it has ever been of course, don't get me wrong, and the script almost feels AI-generated at points, with cheesy dialogue and leaps of logic galore. There is a near-constant barrage of meaningless fight scenes that end just as abruptly as they began, making one wonder if they were simply inserted into the movie to keep viewers engaged. The sound mix was also messed up during action scenes, making it hard to hear what characters are saying over the sound effects and music, although I'm not sure if that was from the movie itself or the particular screening I went for.

But it was clear to me that in the midst of all that madness that the all-star cast was simply having a blast hamming it up in those scenes. And it was their enjoyment that I found most infectious, almost making the cheesiness excusable. Notice I'd said almost because there is simply no excuse for some of the atrocities I had to endure during the movie. If you've watched any of the trailers then you probably already know what I am talking about. But believe me when I say that none of those trailers were enough to prepare me for what was to come.

At nearly two hours and thirty minutes, the movie feels overlong. The worst part is that it doesn't even manage to tell a complete story in all that time, as it quickly becomes apparent that this was all set up for another inevitable sequel. And if what Vin Diesel himself had alluded to during the recent premiere of the film is to be believed, then we might be getting not one but two of those sequels. But if you enjoy watching CGI cars and explosions get thrown around the screen with reckless abandon, then maybe that's the exact type of news you want to hear.

Fast X can be summed up in three words: fun but exhausting. It ticks all the requisite boxes that make for some good, mindless action but does so without managing to move the franchise forward in any meaningful way. It makes the most of its worn-out premise by leaning heavily into the star power of its cast members, especially Jason Momoa. The decision to end the film with a literal cliffhanger might not bode well for those that like to have some closure in the films they watch though, but there is a mid-credits scene that will all but ensure that fans will be back for the next round of vehicular madness.

Saturday 6 May 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Movie Review)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a mixed bag of late. For every Spider-Man: No Way Home, it seems we've gotten at least three less competently put-together sequels like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. This is primarily why I approached Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 with a measure of uncertainty. The first film had taken the MCU in a bold, new direction while its sequel had served as a somewhat worthy follow-up. But given the current direction of the MCU or its lack thereof, the third film definitely feels like it's got its work cut out for it. So does it manage to right a ship that is clearly veering off course or does it succumb to the growing sense of superhero fatigue?

The film picks up right where the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special left off with the eponymous team now taking up residence in the severed head of a dead celestial known as Knowhere. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is still struggling to come to terms with the death of the original Gamora (Zoe Saldana), spending his days drinking himself into a stupor. But after Rocket (Bradley Cooper) becomes the target of a mad scientist called the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), through a powerful mercenary named Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), Peter must work together with the rest of the Guardians to protect their good friend and comrade.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that a lot was riding on James Gunn to deliver another homerun with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. You only need to look at the box office performance of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to see just how dire a position the MCU is in. Gone is the magic that once drew fans to these movies in record numbers or at least so it would seem. Basically every sequel since Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has seen diminishing returns compared to its predecessor. But I would put that down to the quality of the storytelling in the recent crop of movies, which appears to have taken a nosedive, than any actual sense of superhero fatigue.

The real question then is how does the new Guardians of the Galaxy compare to the old ones. Well, I am happy to report that it compares quite favorably. I might even go as far as declaring that it is a return to form for the overall MCU, although I'll hold off until I've gotten a chance to see The Marvels before making such a declaration. The film not only captures the essence of what made the previous Guardians movies great, namely the top-notch characterization and killer soundtrack, but it also isn't afraid to take audiences to some very dark and disturbing places.

The film functions as both an origin story for Rocket, whose existing ties to the High Evolutionary are explored through flashbacks, as well as a final outing for the current iteration of the ragtag team. So do with that information what you will. Just know that the movie tugs on your heartstrings from the very beginning and it doesn't let up until the very end. It is also one of the most violent movies in the MCU and I could definitely see a lot of James Gunn's sensibilities on display. But it is how he is able to balance all that out that makes him one of the more gifted directors of superhero films working today.

The action scenes are as sharply stylized as they've ever been especially one extended beatdown sequence that was set to the Beastie Boy's "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." Likewise, the entire soundtrack feels meticulously curated by hand, with each song lending the on-screen drama and action additional weight. Considering that this is most likely James Gunn's final contribution to the MCU, having since taken up the position of co-CEO at the newly-minted DC Studios, I would say that he has managed to go out with one hell of a bang.

About the only thing that I can really fault the movie for is that it doesn't always appear to make the best use of some of its characters. The core team of Guardians get to shine of course, even newer additions like Kraglin and Cosmo. But characters like Adam Warlock barely get enough screen time, making them feel tacked on or written into the story after the fact. Some others were just thrown in for a quick cameo with no real bearing on the plot. And while I was never a fan of the decision to bring Gamora back after Avengers: Endgame, I was at least surprised by how her inclusion in this movie had played out.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a near-perfect sendoff for the MCU's most unlikely heroes. The film earns every minute of its two hours and thirty minutes runtime and somehow still leaves you wanting more. This is the most fun I've had with a Marvel movie since Spider-Man: No Way Home and that's including the various highs that came with entries like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. It serves as a stark reminder as to why I'd fallen in love with these MCU films in the first place and it shows that there is still some magic left to be found in the aging franchise.