The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Released: April 14, 2017. Directed by: F. Gary Gray. Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

After being a series primarily about street racing, The Fast and the Furious franchise is now a different beast entirely – featuring heist films, revenge stories and everything in between.

The franchise keeps things fresh as they display huge action set pieces that defy logic and gravity – but they’re high-octane fun because they’re so ridiculous and it embraces the insanity.

When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

The Fate of the Furious, though it pleases, is the weakest film since the franchise shifted direction after the fourth outing. Old characters are brought back that never felt super important, but others like Mia (Jordana Brewster) are left out. She’s off-the-grid with Bryan O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) raising their baby, as Bryan’s alive in the movie universe. They’re in retirement now after the beautiful tribute to Walker at the end of Furious 7. It’s just strange not to have Mia there since she’s actual family of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s always saying he doesn’t have friends – he has family.

A new female’s introduced in the form of Charlize Theron’s Cipher, the franchise’s first female villain. She’s a malicious hacker and mastermind who gives hacker Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel) a run for her money.

She’s generic in motivation in generally wanting to see the world burn. Everything she says is also a bit of a cliché. It’s totally fine because Theron gives the character such a presence, which makes her a good villain. She’s one of those enemies who does things from the comfort of her high-tech plane and has minions do her bidding, and gets peeved when she needs to leave the office. It doesn’t give her a lot to do, though.

The Fate of the Furious - Charlize, Vin

Charlize Theron and Vin Diesel in The Fate of the Furious. (Source)

She’s able to lure Dom to the dark side, make him betray his family and do her bidding. The story packs surprises in characterization, especially since it’s surprising he’d betray the people he loves. I won’t go further into that, because, spoilers.

Films in the franchise between Fast Five and Furious 7 have good stories, but the eighth offering is the most generic plot in recent years, as the villain endgame is so familiar. The story just feels slapped together to work as a frame for the amazing stunts and nutty action.

The story dissatisfies but it’s not the most important part. The big, glamorous action makes this worthwhile and it’s still a lot of fun. From a street race in Cuba that offers a short trip to the series’ roots, a getaway in Berlin, to a fists-flying prison break, the action is great. Hacking plays a cool role in a big action scene in New York City, the film’s main setting.

After things calm down after the New York action, the finale is where things get most exciting and the crew learn that in Soviet Russia, submarine chases you! The franchise also keeps things interesting with diverse settings, as the globe-trotting team spans three continents this go around.

The Fate of the Furious makes Dom feel fresh by giving a new look at the character, but other characters are becoming stale after eight outings – namely Letty. It makes me wonder if they’ll have enough gas left in the tank for two more films.

Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) returns and is good again, and a new character includes Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Comic relief Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) rip on him a lot and they’re generally funny, per usual. Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw is really awesome and even outshines Johnson’s Hobbs, who’s trying to fill the leader role of the good guy team.

Hobbs has memorable lines as talks in puns and silly dialogue. He sees something particularly gruesome at one point and his response is simply “Hmm, nasty.” When he often has such vivid threats and comments, you can’t help but feel disappointed because it’s such a perfect opportunity for a laugh or a pun. It’s almost like the writers stop trying.

Score: 65/100

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Title: Mad Max: Fury Road. Released: May 15, 2015. Directed by: George Miller. Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult. Runtime: 2 hr.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the fourth film in the popular Australian post-apocalyptic franchise. It’s a sort-of  reboot and a solo installment, merely referencing films previously in the franchise. It’s a re-imagining from George Miller, updated to where Max’s deceased child is a few years older than in the original.

The child actress is creepy, assisted with visuals – especially when her head flashes into a skull. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Max Rockatansky (portrayed by Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson), he used to be a police officer in this post-apocalyptic world where his wife and child murdered.

George Miller simply portrayed Max’s past in the film’s prologue. It’s a time-friendly idea where we learn that the world is run by blood and oil, where Max operates on the most basic human instinct, to survive and evade the scavengers that occupy hostile territory of The Wasteland.

Max - Fury Road

Tom Hardy as Max. (Source)

Max searches for a righteous cause, which he finds after he is captured by war dogs of the ruthless leader of Citadel, Immortan Joe – portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also starred as Toecutter in 1979’s “Mad Max.”

Joe’s a wicked villain – ruling over Citadel’s people with water, which he calls Aqua-cola. It has been in serious decline since the apocalypse, where it has turned his people into dehydrated near-humans. They have decaying skin, something a bit worse than those in “The Book of Eli.”

His motivation is to keep power over his people, which is threatened when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a war rig driver who takes a run to Gas Town to trade Aqua-cola for guzzaline, betrays him and takes his wives with her. What ensues is an amazing series of chase sequences to get Furiosa and his most prized wives back to Citadel.

Max gets in the mix by also wanting to evade his capturers and was transfusing blood to Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, who steals a few scenes. I also thought the fact that the war dogs wanted to go to Valhalla in the hall of Asgard was a great concept.

Max’s character doesn’t seem to be strictly the Max of the ‘70s and the ‘80s, prolonging the initial chase for about a minute before toppling over and being captured; where the Max of yesteryear would have gave a bigger fight. It seems like a way to preserve time and get right into the heart of the plot. His character is interesting, being hunted by scavengers and haunted by those he couldn’t protect. They come to him in visions, which adds an intriguing quality.

Humour is added to the film occasionally – in the form of simplistic visual gags and one hell of an awesome guitar player called the Doof Warrior (portrayed by musician iOTA), shredding a fully operational flame-throwing guitar on an 8-wheeler, while sporting a red onesie. Suffice to say, the character design is so creative. The score is also super fun.

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. (Source)

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. (Source)

Even though Max’s name is on the film, Theron’s Furiosa absolutely rules this movie. She’s defiant, independent, and mercilessly bad-ass.

Her intentions are noble – to search for redemption, as well as bring hope and a brighter future to the wives in Citadel that haven’t seen a good life. Their hope takes form in where they’re going, a place called the Green Place.

Furiosa’s an empowering female character and her relationships with the wives and between the wives – including actresses Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough – adds a heartwarming quality that has been absent from the “Mad Max” franchise. Furiosa’s character occasionally reaches poignancy, which is effective for a film with limited dialogue.

That’s because the sole focus of “Fury Road” is being one gigantic car chase, and it’s a cinematic, visually pleasing spectacle, where by the end of the chase, people rarely end up on the same vehicle they started on.

There’s about 15 minutes where someone isn’t in a car and there’s rarely a time to rest from the non-stop action, as even when the rig needs to take a break, the oncoming enemy convoy just makes the need to keep going more urgent.

Some may be turned off by the fact that there isn’t a ton of dialogue. The storyboard and action sequences were created before the screenplay, and then it seems the writers figured out the logistics. But the stunts are magnificent and the narrative is compelling. It’s creative and the ride is pure madness, and Miller’s universe immerses.

4 stars

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Snow White and the Huntsman

Release Date: June 1, 2012

Director: Rupert Sanders

Stars: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron

Runtime: 127 min

Snow White, the daughter of the late King, escapes from the clutches of the wicked Queen Ravenna after years of imprisonment. She has just escaped when the Magic Mirror informs Ravenna that Snow is the only one who could defeat her, because of her innocence and purity. If the Queen obtains and eats Snow’s heart, she won’t have to feed on any being’s life source ever again, and she will achieve immortality. The Queen sends a squad of men, led by the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), into the dark forest to get her back. When the Huntsman learns he is being played like a fiddle, he turns against the Queen’s men and teams up with Snow in the process. Meanwhile, Snow’s childhood friend, William, learns that she is alive and he sets off on the road to find her and offer some assistance to the situation.

Ah, Snow White and the Huntsmen, you fulfill your purpose, and you do it well. Snow White’s purpose is to offer a nice twist on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, and it does just that. Almost so well, that I forgot what happened in the general source material (but that may because I haven’t seen it for a while), and this became a film of its own. It’s so convincing, that this may as well be the source material itself.

The character of the Huntsman is okay, because one could understand his motivations, but he wasn’t anything special. He was pretty sweet in war, and he’s likeable enough that one would be upset if he died. Hemsworth offers an okay performance at the same time, and says, “Hey! Forget Thor’s hammer, I’m pretty good with an axe, too!”

Ughck, why couldn’t the filmmakers have found a better person to cast as Snow White? Oh yeah, that’s right, Sanders wanted a good candidate to sleep with after the film finished. Seriously, Stewart is such a boring screen presence. As for the looks, she’s pretty fitting as Snow, but as for the acting skills and presence, not so much. What happened to her potential flare in 2002’s Panic Room? She has gotten so boring since that time, and she really should not have had the chance to be in another potential teen franchise. Please, Bella, stop it, and no one believed that phony accent (whatever the Hell it was) for a second. It’s sad that I liked her best when she was sleeping. Two battles were being fought in this one: the obvious one, Ravenna’s forces vs. King Magnus’ forces; but, there was also a not-so-obvious battle between Kristen Stewart and Sam Claflin (William), entitled “Who’s Going to End up Being more Boring?”[.] I think Claflin won, but not by much. That one scene where it was just those two, I almost fell asleep. The real person who truly shines through is the always-fantastic Charlize Theron. She’s just great and sometimes truly eerie as the wicked Queen Ravenna.

Most of the characters are just okay for me, Ravenna is the best. Snow White in the source material is great, but she isn’t as good now, mostly because Stewart is the face of her. The dwarfs were pretty great. There’s a number of known actors as the little people (like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, the great comedic presence Nick Frost, and Toby Jones). It was sort of cool how they made them look so small, too. I like the characters of the dwarfs, but I wasn’t a fan of the appearances. I just couldn’t help but pick on their hair. As a kid, their parents must have given each of them a bad haircut. And to add onto that, they went to Kindergarden class and a class bully took safety scissors and thought they were a hairdresser, and he made the hair even worse, and it never grew back. At least, that’s my theory.

Snow knows where it’s going, but at times it feels like it’s a struggle getting there. It does get there, but after some effort. I must add, the finale was great. It’s a little better than that battle scene of Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but it pales in comparison to any battle scenes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The make-up is great, the finale is great, and the characters were just okay. The action, when it comes, is purely great, and the human Mirror thing was actually very cool. Charlize Theron steals the show, and at times, she’s almost as ugly as she was in 2003’s Monster.

70/100