Review – Fast And Furious 7

It comes to something when the sight of the Furious Gang launching their fleet of souped-up super cars out of a plane is just another crazy day for a franchise that has well and truly gone into overdrive.

Fast and Furious 7 shows there's still plenty left in the tank of this gloriously absurd franchise so don't think, just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride

Fast and Furious 7 shows there’s still plenty left in the tank of this gloriously absurd franchise so don’t think, just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride

Whether by accident or design, the adventures of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and co have hit upon the perfect formula of cars, cartoon action and complete craziness that has proved to be box office gold dust and all-but guaranteed a further sequel.

While the lurid focus on female flesh would make Michael Bay proud, horror maestro James Wan nevertheless takes the wheel with an assuredness that belies any fan fears that he might fail to step out of the long shadow cast by F&F alumnus Justin Lin.

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) encounter the enigmatic Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) in Fast And Furious 7

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) encounter the enigmatic Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) in Fast And Furious 7

Wan’s job was made nigh-on impossible with the tragic death of series stalwart Paul Walker. We’ll probably never know what Fast and Furious 7 would have been had its co-lead survived, but the film we have (rewritten to address his departure from the franchise) is a very fitting send off for an actor who got better with each instalment and provides a genuinely moving final scene that will have anyone invested in the series wiping away a tear.

The spectre of death hangs over the film; from the carnage unleashed by ex-special forces hard case Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) as revenge for what happened to his brother Owen (Luke Evans) in F&F 6, to the quieter moments; most hauntingly when Dom’s crew mourn the loss of one of their ‘family’ and Brian (Walker) responds to Tej’s (Ludacris) plea for there to be no more funerals with the prophetic line: “Just one more…”

Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) in Fast And Furious 7

Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) in Fast And Furious 7

As well as being Walker’s final movie, F&F 7 also takes the franchise in a whole new direction with the introduction of Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell), leader of a typically well-stocked covert ops unit who offers to help put down Shaw in return for Dom, Brian and the others locating an all-powerful computer program called the ‘God’s eye’.

There are teasings of it here (in particular during a covert infiltration of an Abu Dhabi’s prince’s hotel penthouse party), but one can foresee future films following in the footsteps of Mission: Impossible, with Dom’s crew choosing to accept increasingly outlandish assignments from Mr Nobody.

Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) go toe-to-toe in Fast And Furious 7

Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) go toe-to-toe in Fast And Furious 7

The addition of Statham to a heaving cast of alpha males adds an extra spice to proceedings. Shaw’s motivations make him dangerous and unpredictable, while his Terminator-esque relentlessness and seeming inability to sustain injury means he’s also fun to have around.

The film is bookended by two satisfyingly titanic fist fights involving Statham; the first (and best) against Diplomatic Security service agent Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time); and the second with Dom atop a multi-storey car park being besieged by mad-as-a-lorry mercenary Jakande (Djimon Hounsou).

A typically understated scene from Fast And Furious 7

A typically understated scene from Fast And Furious 7

However, it’s the eye-popping motor madness that’s most fun, what with the aforementioned flying cars sequence (nicely referencing an earlier moment when Brian, having spotted his son throwing a toy car out of the window, says “cars don’t fly!”) and an equally unlikely scene when Dom drives off the side of a mountain and thinks nothing of it.

Even this pales in comparison, though, to the truly outrageous sight of Dom and Brian jumping a sports car from one Abu Dhabi skyscraper to another… before doing it again. Quite how they’ll top that one in F&F 8 is anyone’s guess.

Fast and Furious 7 shows there’s still plenty left in the tank of this gloriously absurd franchise so don’t think, just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride.

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Review – Guardians Of The Galaxy

The Marvel Cinematic Universe lives up to its name in this star-spanning space opera that puts the fun back into a genre that had disappeared up its black hole.

A genuine pleasure, Guardians Of The Galaxy should give JJ Abrams something to think about for the next installment of  that other well known space opera

A genuine pleasure, Guardians Of The Galaxy should give JJ Abrams something to think about for the next installment of that other well-known space opera

The fact that Guardians Of The Galaxy is drawing so many comparisons to Star Wars is not only a testament to the high esteem it’s being held in by so many critics, but also to the fact that it’s so refreshing to watch a film of this ilk that resolutely refuses to take itself too seriously.

Too often, sci-fi filmmakers get bogged down in blindsiding their audience with Midi-chlorians, flibbertigibbets and unnecessary solemnity at the expense of an intriguing narrative and engaging characters. Although Guardians… isn’t averse to a spot of Basil Exposition (understandable considering it’s the first in what will undoubtedly become another Marvel franchise), it does so with a light and breezy air that avoids spoon-feeding the audience.

The A Team - Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) in Guardians Of The Galaxy

The A Team – Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) in Guardians Of The Galaxy

Abducted from Earth as a young boy following the death of his mother, intergalactic thief Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, (Chris Pratt) incurs the wrath of the super-evil Ronan (Lee Pace) when he steals a mysterious orb. With Ronan’s henchmen, and women, hot on the trail of the orb, including his lieutenant Nebula (Karen Gillan), Peter forms an uneasy accord with assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), genetically engineered racoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the tree-like Groot (Vin Diesel) and warrior Drax the Destroyer (WWE star Dave Bautista).

When the extent of the orb’s power becomes clear, and Ronan’s diabolical plan reveals itself, Peter must turn his ragtag associates into a full-on fighting force to save the galaxy from destruction.

The heroic Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) in Guardians Of The Galaxy

The heroic Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) in Guardians Of The Galaxy

Marvel’s policy of trusting its multi-million dollar products to leftfield directors (Edgar Wright’s departure from 2015’s Ant Man notwithstanding) once again pays off. The edgy comic touch of James Gunn’s previous flicks Slither (2006) and Super (2010) is a perfect fit for Guardians‘ tongue-in-cheek sensibility.

The film takes great pleasure in sending up the clichés of the genre, such as the team’s slow motion walk towards the camera in which Gamora can be seen yawning. Gunn and Nicole Perlman’s meta script goes off on tangents, some funny, others less so, and concentrates on the relationships between the lead characters. This is a bunch of misfits we can believe in and the bond they gradually form is convincingly handled by the cast.

The evil Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and his loyal lieutenant Nebula (Karen Gillan) in Guardians Of The Galaxy

The evil Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and his loyal lieutenant Nebula (Karen Gillan) in Guardians Of The Galaxy

One of the more successful elements of Guardians… is its soundtrack of 70s and 80s classics, ingeniously crowbarred into the film as they form part of Peter’s beloved mix tape from his mother. Setting aside the fact that his Walkman wouldn’t probably survive 26 years and that AA batteries would likely be a little hard to come by in outer space, the music serves as a reminder that Peter, like Buck Rogers and John Carter, is a human in an alien environment and our way into this universe.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) learns more about the mysterious orb in Guardians Of The Galaxy

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) learns more about the mysterious orb in Guardians Of The Galaxy

Despite trying a bit too hard at times to be Han Solo’s slightly less cool brother, Pratt is a good fit for Peter and proves a likeable lead. Saldana may look like a character from Star Trek, but she kicks ass and is proving a formidable presence in the world of big budget sci-fi, what with the Trek and Avatar franchises already in place. Cooper’s energetic, fast-talking voice work for Rocket is nicely played, while Diesel manages to give a new meaning to each new utterance of his singular phrase “I am Groot” and even non-actor Bautista does some solid work as meathead Drax.

Elsewhere, Gillan is impressively alien as Nebula, while Gunn makes sure to give his other supporting cast members something to do, especially Michael Rooker’s blue-skinned alien Yondu and John C Reilly’s corpsman Rhomann Dey.

A genuine pleasure, Guardians Of The Galaxy should give JJ Abrams something to think about for the next installment of  that other well-known space opera.

Review – Fast & Furious 6

For a franchise so long in the tooth, Fast & Furious is still firing on all nitrous-fuelled cylinders and showing no signs of slowing down as it shifts into sixth gear.

Fast and Furious 6 is unbelievable, ludicrous (or Ludacris) and absurd, but when brainless full-throttle action entertainment is done as effortlessly well as this it hardly matters

Fast & Furious 6 is unbelievable, ludicrous (or Ludacris) and absurd, but when brainless full-throttle action entertainment is done as effortlessly well as this it hardly matters

Although no slouch at the box office, 2009’s Fast & Furious accelerated the downward critical spiral of a series that had become weighed down by its underground car-racing roots. Realising the franchise needed a major jump-start, returning director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan expanded their horizons and delivered the most successful entry to date in 2011’s Fast Five.

Essentially Ocean’s Eleven on wheels, Fast Five managed to attract a whole new audience while still keeping the core fan base happy with plenty of turbo-charged vehicles.  Thankfully, Fast & Furious 6 is far from the car wreck that Ocean’s Twelve turned out to be; instead we get a high-octane joy ride that revels in its crazy stunts but doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) discuss where to go next in Fast and Furious 6

Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) discuss where to go next in Fast & Furious 6

After pulling off the heist of their lives, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and the rest of the A-Team are enjoying the spoils. That is until Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) turns up unannounced offering to clear their criminal records in return for bringing down a highly professional and deadly gang of mercenaries led by criminal mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), whose second-in-command is Toretto’s presumed-dead lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).

The team realise they've taken on Mission: Difficult in Fast & Furious 6

The team realise they’ve taken on Mission: Difficult in Fast & Furious 6

One of the things that really worked in Fast Five was the addition of man mountain Johnson to the cast, a far better actor than he’s given credit for as well as an imposing screen presence. We not only get Johnson back for Fast & Furious 6, we also get the ‘face of women’s MMA’ Gina Carano, who proved her chops in Steven Soderbergh’s under-appreciated 2011 action flick Haywire and stars here as Hobbs’ right-hand woman Riley. With so many bad-asses on screen it wouldn’t have taken much for the film to become one long (and ridiculous) fist fight; however, the narrative, much of which takes place in London, and characters are more than engaging enough for the fito work.

Another believable action set piece in Fast and Furious 6

Another believable action set piece in Fast & Furious 6

That’s not to say it’s shy when it comes to action, which is both fast and furious. The fight scene between Riley and Letty in a London Underground station is one of the best you’ll see this or any other year, while the demolition derby involving Shaw and Letty in a tank and Toretto, O’Conner, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) in souped-up motors trying to stop his dastardly plans is utter lunacy. Although it can’t match that other epic highway wig out in The Matrix Reloaded for sheer over-the-top spectacle, it’s still jaw-dropping stuff (although the lack of interest given to the civilian casualties along the way is somewhat troubling). Likewise, the final stunt-filled set piece staged on what must be the longest runway in the world doesn’t reach the heights of Fast Five‘s joyously pleasurable denouement involving a bank vault being dragged through the streets of Rio, but it’s another fine example of how every penny spared is on screen.

Agent Luke Gibbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Riley (Gina Carano) look on impressed in Fast and Furious 6

Agent Luke Gibbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Riley (Gina Carano) look on impressed in Fast & Furious 6

Diesel (who now looks set to stay after realising this is his best bet at a regular pay cheque) is hardly the world’s greatest actor, but then he doesn’t need to be to play lunkhead Toretto. The same goes for Walker, although there’s no denying they work well off each other and with the other members of the ‘family’ (as we’re constantly reminded), tech whiz Tej (Chris Bridges, aka rapper Ludacris), street racer Han (Sung Kang) and former Mossad agent Gisele (Gal Gadot). It’s also good to see the return of a few old faces, including Shea Whigham as O’Conner’s former FBI colleague Agent Stasiak.

The post-credits coda is becoming one of the franchise’s staples and this time delivers its most dramatic final twist yet, promising a great villain for next year’s follow-up. That being said, neither Johnson nor director Lin have signed up for Fast Seven due to it being rushed into production which is a big shame.

It’s unbelievable, ludicrous (or Ludacris), absurd and if you had a drink for every time someone changes gear you’d be slaughtered half an hour in, but when brainless full-throttle action entertainment is done as effortlessly well as this it hardly matters.