Thursday, May 18, 2023

Review: "Fast X" is fun, and that might just be enough

You know what? Maybe there’s some gas left in this tank after all. 

I wasn’t sure after the last two entries in the Fast & Furious saga, 2017’s The Fate of the Furious and 2021’s F9, the two worst films in the franchise. The former had its moments, but with a dark and miserabilist story that split Vin Diesel from the rest of the ‘family’ right at the moment the franchise first had to craft a film from the ground-up without his on-screen best buddy Paul Walker, it miscalibrated how grim the series could go before it became dull and off-putting. F9 inherited many of these problems, once again sending Dominic Toretto off on his own in a too-dour plot, but it floundered even harder because it felt like a movie being made by someone who was fundamentally unhappy to be making it. Justin Lin made the series the singularly silly (but deeply lovable) international success it is today with his run of entries from Tokyo Drift through Fast & Furious 6, but with F9, any joy he once had smashing these characters and cars together felt like it was long gone, and it wasn’t particularly surprising when he walked off the set of Fast X a week into production. Whether Diesel had simply become too demanding to work with, or Lin just didn’t have another one of these movies in him (both perfectly understandable, and both probably true to varying degrees), a change had to be made. 


Fast X (eventually helmed by Louis Leterrier, of Transporter fame) is not the series in its prime – even as it makes copious references to the most beloved entry, Fast Five – but it is a surprisingly solid return to form. While Lin’s fingerprints are still all over the film – he co-wrote the screenplay, and surely had most of the set-pieces thoroughly mapped out – Leterrier does seem happy to be here, and there’s a general energy to the finished film that was sorely lacking in the last two installments, an energy that can only be described as ‘fun.’ Diesel glowers less, and has some real human interactions (with Dom’s son ‘Little B,’ with Michelle Rodriguez’ Lettie, and a few others over the course of the adventure) while the supporting cast has a greater pep in their step, and the action feels invigorated by its physics-defying stupidity, rather than weighed down by the labor of it all, as I felt watching F9. The film successfully recaptures at least some of the scale and insanity of the series’ best entries (Fast Five and Furious 7, if you’re asking me), and while it has its fair share of issues, by the time we make it to the bonkers, go-for-broke cliffhanger ending, I was on board again. This is, at least in part, the series I fell in love with; the spark, which I feared completely extinguished this time two years ago, is still flickering.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Review: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" hits the right notes

Depending on how you look at it – and how the next few years of superhero movies turn out – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is either a strong return to form for a Marvel that’s been mostly creatively wayward since Avengers: Endgame, or a stirring eulogy for the kind of movie the studio simply has no interest in making anymore. Either way, James Gunn’s return to this corner of the MCU brings with it all the things Marvel’s post-2019 films (and Disney+ shows) have been missing: Color (literally and figuratively, in that it’s a film filled with both many rainbow hues and a lot of personality); texture (real sets, real costumes, amazing make-up and prosthetics, and CGI that is used smartly and judiciously and displays real artistry); humor (not machine-generated ‘quips’, but actual character-driven gags that are authentically funny); craftsmanship (there’s actual blocking and choreography and cinematography and honest-to-god production design here, not just confused actors standing in front of blurry video walls); and most of all, heart and humanity. This is a movie made because somebody had a story to tell and a passion for realizing it, not because somebody in Disney’s C-suite picked an IP out of a bucket and put it up on the calendar years ago. It is arguably overlong and definitely shaggy in places, but what it isn’t is a soulless sequence of loosely connected events filling in boxes on a checklist or setting up future stories for the content mill. It’s a real movie, warts and all, and Marvel hasn’t made one of those in a while. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

Review: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 is an absolute action masterpiece

God. Damn. 

Calling John Wick: Chapter 4 one of the great action films in the history of the cinema feels like underselling it, somehow. It’s bigger than that. It’a a tour-de-force of kineticism on par with the silent film greats that inspired Germaine Dulac to declare ‘movement’ the essence of cinema, the definition of cin├ęgraphie, or Jean Epstein to declare animism the soul of cinema. It is a testament to light and color and shapes in constant motion, in a breathtakingly synchronized dance, the possibilities of the art form itself made manifest in the incredible images captured here and the relentless momentum with which they are strung together, pushing the viewer into a powerful out of body experience. 

Put less prosaically: It’s possible no movie has ever kicked more ass than this one.