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REVIEW: The Fast and the Furious (2001)

I’ve decided that on the run up to Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw this summer, I’m going to rewatch and review all the previous Fast & Furious films. Any of the films I’ve previously reviewed, I’ll link to at the start of the new review.

Undercover LA cop Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) must decide where his loyalties lie when he becomes enamoured with the street racing gang he’s been sent to destroy.

Everything about The Fast and the Furious is so early 2000s it’s ridiculous – the clothes and the music make it like a miniature time capsule. But in some ways that kind of adds to the films charm especially when you look back on it as this was the foundations of an unexpected franchise juggernaut.

The Fast and the Furious is rightly known as Point Break but with cars. The undercover cop becoming close to the suspected criminals is not a unique plot but, for the most part, the film handles it well. It’s not just Brian having a romantic relationship with Mia (Jordana Brewster) that makes him questions things, it’s her brother Dom (Vin Diesel) who pulls people to him like gravity. The chemistry between the three of them, along with other members of Dom’s crew, make all the clichés work.

The car races and chases are pretty good, the with last 30 minutes of the film being truly gripping and entertaining as everything that’s been building between these characters come to ahead. The techno music that plays during one of the last chases is a bit much though.

The Fast and the Furious is a bit cheesy, with the dialogue being on the nose and the performances not always that confident, but it’s the chemistry between the leads that made these characters ones you’d want to revisit. 3/5.

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REVIEW: Battle Los Angeles (2011)

As a squad of U.S. Marines attempt to rescue a group of civilians during an extra-terrestrial invasion of Los Angeles, they become the last line of defence for the city.

There are a lot of characters in Battle Los Angeles and they spend most of their time in full tactical gear including a helmet, so it is often difficult to tell them apart. Plus, as there’s so many characters who have only the bare minimum of character traits to make them stand out, it’s hard to keep track of who has just been killed and who is still alive.

The squad is led by 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) but the real main character is Aaron Eckhart’s Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz. He’s the one that has more than a superficial backstory and has some dramatic moments too – he gets a rather good speech where everyone else looks at him with respect.

Michelle Rodriguez’s Tech Sergeant Elena Santos is one of the more memorable characters, that that could be because she’s one of two women in the main cast of characters. The actors all do as well as they can do with what they’re given. The characters are all pretty one-dimensional, the dialogue is full of military clichés and there’s expository dialogue every ten minutes or so.

While Battle Los Angeles is an alien invasion film it plays out more like a war film with the aliens attacking the squad from a distance, and each side taking cover, so you never really get a good look at them. When the aliens do become clearer, the creature design is not that imaginative or interesting.

There are some exciting shootouts in Battle Los Angeles but they’re unfortunately few and far between, and the slower, more serious moments seriously bog down the film. It’s also far too long and had at least three moments where you felt like it was coming to a conclusion but then things kept happening. 2/5.

REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

After the events of Avengers: Infinity War the universe is in chaos as half of all life has been wiped out. Those that are left behind struggle to move on and assemble once more to try and undo Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) actions and bring back those they’ve lost.

Avengers: Endgame is incredible. This film is so impressive in terms of plot, character and spectacle. There are so many surprises in Endgame. There’s twists and turns and what you could call fan service moments, but the way the film never manages to lose its way is admirable. It is three hours long, but you don’t notice that runtime at all. There are quieter moments in the film but that’s when it’s more character-focused and they are no less compelling than when these characters are trying to save the universe.

Compared to Infinity War which, while there were stakes it was also a lot more jovial film, Endgame is definitely more character focused. That’s not to say there isn’t action sequences or jokes or exciting moments, but after the events of Infinity War, the characters who survived are not who they once were. They have all experienced loss, they are all hurting, and they are all going through the various stages of grief – with some getting stuck on certain stages longer than others. The characters don’t just brush off what happened and that makes the catastrophic loss of life even more affecting.

The entire cast are amazing. The relationships these actors have made in real life, make the character relationships even more poignant and every character gets their moment in the spotlight. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) gets more screen time and character development compared to previous films, and Renner really gets to show not only what a great actor he is, but also what a layered character Clint Barton is. Captain America (Chris Evans) is more central to the story compared to Infinity War and Paul Rudd gets to show off his dramatic skills as Ant-Man while still never losing who that character is.

Avengers: Endgame is the finale to an eleven-year, twenty-two-movie saga. It’s the culmination of all the films that have come before it and it manages to pay homage to them while still being a satisfying conclusion – the third act really is indescribable and is unlike anything we’ve seen before in a film of this scale.

Really Avengers: Endgame does mark the end of an era. While the MCU will no doubt continue, Endgame is the finale to this story arc and what a finale it is. 5/5.

FYI I will post a probably very long spoiler-filled review of Avengers: Endgame in the next week or so. I have a lots of thoughts and feelings to get out.

REVIEW: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

In the near future Major Mira Killian (Scarlet Johansson) is the first of her kind; a human brain inside the perfectly made machine body means she’s cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier. When a terrorist known only as Kuze (Michael Pitt) begins to kill important figures in a huge corporate business, Major faces her biggest challenge yet.

Ghost in the Shell is based off a popular manga, which in turn was made into an even more popular anime in the 1990s. I have not seen or read the original source material and I can see this adaptation going one of two ways with the fans of the manga or anime; one, it’s got a tonne of cool references and is very faithful to the source material, or two, it’s not faithful at all and fans don’t like it. As someone who knew nothing about Ghost in the Shell going into the film, I found it to be intriguing on the surface but lacking any real depth or emotional connection. It also felt like the film had a lot of information and world-building to give to the audience which then made it surprisingly slow-paced for a film with so many shoot outs.

The world of Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning one with the high-rise buildings, ginormous and colourful holograms, and futuristic technology. It’s a world where cyber-enhancements are the norm, whether that means you get new eyes, a robotic liver, or new limbs – if you don’t have some form of technology implanted in your body, you’d be the odd one out. With a character like Major, who is so different from humans, even with their technological enhancements, and robots, she doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Like the setting, the dilemma of the line between human and artificial intelligence is an interesting one but the film never delivers on its promise to examine that.

There’s a lot of cool action sequences, shoot outs and fights but they all pad out a plot that’s pretty boring. You do not spend enough time with the victims to care about them, nor do you get enough information about the corporate entity they are a part of to see why or how their deaths are important. Neither the mystery nor the overarching plot is interesting meaning the action sequences are just there to look good and rarely add anything to the characters or their motivations.

Ghost in the Shell seems to be trying to be two things. The first is a character study of Major and the world she’s apart of and the second is an action mystery story with bad guys to find and take down. The film gives neither of these elements time to breathe meaning that Major is (excuse the reference) a shell of a character, and the detective side of the story isn’t interesting. The third act is rushed as a lot of things are revealed and then new foes are brought to the forefront, however as there’s been no time dedicated to foster proper emotional connections with the characters, you do not care about what they are going through.

Ghost in the Shell has lots of cool visuals but the one-dimensional characters and a lack of a compelling story, means the finished product is ultimately forgettable. 2/5.

REVIEW: Hellboy (2019)

Hellboy (David Harbour) works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence a secret agency whose aim is to keep the human world safe from the supernatural. When ancient sorceress Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) plans to rise from the dead and wreak her revenge, Hellboy and his reluctant allies must do everything to stop her.

Hellboy is reboot/reimagining of the comic books and has nothing to do with the Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films in the early-mid 2000s. This film focusses more on the horror elements that come with Hellboy and there’s more bloody violence and swearing too. There are many different creatures, some have pretty interesting character designs, but unfortunately some of them suffer from bad CGI. Now bad CGI doesn’t make a movie bad, but when it’s there and the rest of the film in terms of story and characters aren’t so great, it’s definitely more noticeable.

There’s a lot going on in Hellboy and as it keeps jumping between characters and locations, it’s clear that the overall plot is far too convoluted. Characters seemed to get to different locations too quickly to be possible, and one way they get there is by having a character become unconscious and then wake up somewhere else. The editing is very messy as well. In action sequences and fight scenes it’s sometimes hard to follow and the editing is so quick that when there’s scenes of characters just standing and talking, you don’t get proper reaction shots to a joke (which means they don’t often land) or some big important piece of information.

As I mentioned there’s a lot of different things happening in Hellboy, with lots of different characters doing different things. Unfortunately, just because there’s a lot happening, it doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. It became rather boring watching these different fights because there’s not enough to make you care about the central characters. The dialogue is often at it’s most generic, and many scenes aren’t there to develop any of the characters personal arcs.

David Harbour made a good Hellboy, but the script he had to work with didn’t really give enough emotional depth to his fight to be good. Psychic Alice (Sasha Lane) and special forces agent Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) are both fun characters and they and Hellboy bounce off one another really well when the script allows it.

Hellboy is messy and unfortunately rather dull. There were sparks of fun and interesting things with some of the characters but it’s not enough to make this film enjoyable or worth watching again. 2/5.

REVIEW: Shazam! (2019)

After being chosen by a wizard, foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) becomes an adult with superpowers whenever he says the word Shazam.

Shazam! is so much fun! It fully embraces the concept of a child who can suddenly be an adult with powers, because it’s still 14-year-old Billy even when he looks like a grown up. This means there’s a lot of joyful wish fulfilment but naturally, as he’s still a kid, he can use his powers irresponsibly or selfishly. The balance of Billy learning and maturing, while still being a kid at heart is done very well.

Zachary Levi is brilliant as adult Billy/Shazam. He’s got this enthusiastic and youthful charm that works with comedic moments and is very much a believable kid. Billy’s foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) is the only person who knows about Billy’s powers and, because he loves superheroes so much, helps him figure out what his powers are. The way Freddy and Billy’s friendship grows is great and while it should look weird this kid hanging out with an adult in a cape, Levi’s performance makes you see past his appearance, so it seems like two friends the same age are hanging out.

The first half of Shazam! is mostly the antics Billy and Freddy get up to once they discover Billy’s powers, but when the action and fight sequences really kick in, they’re dynamic and well shot. Having a hero that’s not particularly heroic, at least to begin with, provides some very fun fights.

There are so many surprises to be found in Shazam! with the third act being something different to what you tend to see in these big superhero films and it’s all the better for it. There are lots of laugh out loud moments in Shazam! and cheer-worthy moments too, but there’s equally lots of sincere and heart-warming moments about family, friends and figuring out who you are and where you belong.

For being a film that’s very much geared towards kids and feels like a good, family-friendly film 95% of the time, there are some surprisingly dark moments. When bad guy Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) gets his powers and seeks revenge on those who hurt him, it gets quiet dark and violent and there’s a character death that’s shockingly grim.

Besides from those darker tonal shifts, on the whole Shazam! is fun film with a lot of heart. The entire cast are great, the characters are realistic and relatable, and it’s just funny and charming. It’s a superhero film that’s full of childlike wonder and it’s just a very entertaining film. 4/5.

REVIEW: Bumblebee (2018)

On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, and tries to keep him out of the hands of the US military.

I’ll be honest, the first Michael Bay Transformers film is one of my go to comfort films and I really enjoy it. The rest of the films in the series are varying degrees of quality to say the least and I was very apathetic about The Last Knight. But I’m happy to say Bumblebee is like a breath of fresh air compared to the latter Bay films.

Bumblebee’s plot is so much simpler compared to some of its predecessors, and that allows the story to build on the characters and their relationships naturally. There are two Decepticons (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux) searching for Bumblebee who enlist the US military to help them search for them. The main guy in the army you follow is Agent Burns (John Cena), he’s very much a shoot first, ask questions later kind of guy but weirdly, probably due to Cena’s charisma, the way he delivers jokes is more entertaining and almost more believable than the tough guy persona.

Hailee Steinfeld is wonderful as Charlie. She’s a bit of a loner and she’s even an outsider in her own family as she doesn’t feel like she fits in any more. Charlie is smart and caring and her relationship with Bumblebee is wonderful.

Bumblebee is charming and does a brilliant job of combining heart with spectacle. Like the previous Transformers films, there’s still battles between Autobots and Decepticons but this time the characters on both sides are seriously stripped back leaving those who are present more room to grow. When there are fights between robots, they’re easy to follow and entertaining.

It’s perhaps a bit on the nose with the 80’s inspired soundtrack, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The music is like a comforting hug and that, along with a story about a kid and an otherworldly creature, makes Bumblebee feel familiar and heart-warming. There are similarities to be made between Bumblebee and E.T. and The Iron Giant, both in terms of the plot but also because at its core is a wonderful friendship between a young person and a powerful creature.

Bumblebee is such a fun and lovely film, with so much heart and humour, that it feels almost old-fashioned in the best possible way. 4/5.