Joker Review

I don’t know that I’ve seen a better made bad movie. It is a movie wearing the darkness and grit of late 70s-early 80s Scorsese as cosplay, without attempting to understand what movies like King of Comedy or Taxi Driver were trying to say. Essentially, why is not a question Joker ever considers. It does things because those things seem dark and provoking, but there is nothing behind them. It is vacant posturing, a movie hoping its darkness will mask its emptiness.

Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck. Fleck works as a clown, scraping out a life in what appears to the early 80s Gotham City for him and his invalid mother. Fleck suffers from mental illness, taking numerous medications and still being prone to bouts of irrational laughter. He dreams of being a stand up comic, like his idol Murray Franklin. In the opening minutes of the movie, Fleck is beaten by a handful of kids who were harassing him as he worked as a clown. From his already abject starting point things get worse for Fleck. The funding for the social services that helped him pay for his medications gets cut, so he goes off his meds. He gets a gun from a coworker after his beating, but having while working gets him fired from his clown job. After another beating on the subway, Fleck fights back, shooting three men who were accosting him. The lone bright spot in his life is his budding relationship with a single mother living a few apartments down from him and his mother.

As shit keeps being piled on Fleck, he begins losing his hold on rationality. Many people treat his subway killings as a call to action, since the three men were well off money men, working for Wayne Enterprises. Thomas Wayne, exploring a potential run for mayor, calls the poor people reacting that way clowns, inspiring clown make-up at the protests arising all over the city. Things finally come to a head when Fleck gets the chance to meet Murray Franklin.

Joker pulls scenes and shots straight out of movies like Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, and A Clockwork Orange. It seems desperate to appear to have something to say. But as the movie attempts to unravel Arthur Fleck goes on, it becomes more apparent that there is nothing there. That is despite some all caps ACTING from Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. Fleck starts delusion. The movie maybe wants to show why the character finally broke and became the Joker, but it doesn’t come to a better answer than that he was crazy. The movie can’t seem to help but show its contempt for the people protesting in the streets, but they are contrasted with the selfish and corrupt like Wayne or Franklin. Everyone is venal and self-serving.

The movie was numbing. Its desire to shock, to provoke radiates from every scene. But the movie doesn’t actually have anything provoking to say. It is utterly bleak, but that bleakness isn’t expressing anything. It isn’t a black comedy; there is nothing funny here. This is just two hours of ugly posturing that has nothing to say.

**

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Ad Astra Review

Ad Astra joins the ranks of a rash of hard-ish science fiction movies. They present plausibly realistic futures and show people dealing with the harsh realities of the unforgiving nature of space. Movies like The Martian, Gravity, and Interstellar. I don’t know if this is the best of those, but does it really matter when the end result is another thoughtful, interesting space movie to enjoy.

Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Major Roy McBride. The movie introduces him as the coolest man in the US Space Command. His heart rate never cracks 80 bpm, not even when he is falling off a space antenna back to earth after a strange energy surge causes disasters all over the world.

The accident that send McBride plummeting back to earth is what sets up the plot of the movie. That energy surge came from the Lima Project, a research mission to the outer edge of the solar system that was captained by Clifford McBride, Roy’s father and one of the most decorated astronauts ever. They were reported lost years ago, but this surge is the first communication with them in 16 years. So mission command wants to send Roy to Mars to get a message to his father to stop whatever is happening, and to get a precise location for the Lima Project.

So Roy goes to space. The movie presents an interesting dichotomy between the physical journey and the emotional one. Roy’s trip is a Heart of Darkness-esque trek into the unknown, getting further and further from anything he recognizes. There is a lot of pulpy action, with a car chase and zero-g fights. This is presented with austerity and solemnity, but it is really stuff that verges on silly. The combination works, the presentation really sells the wilder stuff happening.

It dovetails nicely with the emotional journey that Roy goes on. At the start, he seems to idolize his father, but also resent his absence. As long as he is on, or near, earth he can maintain his balance. As he travels further from his home, and closer to the father he didn’t really know, the more unbalanced he becomes. This is doubly true as he begins to learn more about his father and The Lima Project. He has to deal with finding out that his father may not be the hero he has been portrayed as as he journeys further and further out into space.

What makes the movie work is Pitt. He is at first somewhat inscrutable; his is cool and cut off from his emotions. He keeps his cool by essentially cutting off his emotions, not actually dealing with his emotional problems. Pitt plays the coldness perfectly, as he does the slow unraveling of Roy’s emotional state as he gets closer to a reunion with his father and as that eventual reunion becomes more conflicted. When the big moment finally happens, you’ve been on this emotional journey with Roy and know where he is.

The movie is a bit too somber and spare at times; it feels like it could be a much more fun movie and still accomplish its central journey. But in my experience that looseness and fun is anathema to James Gray’s filmmaking. But that is a criticism of what this movie is not, not what this movie is. I found it to be one of the most moving film watching experiences I’ve had this year. Ad Astra is a must see.

****1/2

Hustlers Review

Another review I read of Hustlers described it as “Goodfellas in a g-string,” and I cannot think of a better description than that. Hustlers is a crime movie that puts the focus on women. A group of dancers pull a scam on their odious clients, at least until a few of them can overcome the shame and tell the police what happened. It is one of the better movies to come out in the last few months and a good kick off for fall movies.

This is a true crime story of a group of strippers who stole tons of money from their clients. They did this by drugging them and stealing their credit cards. Constance Wu stars as Destiny, who comes under the wing of experienced dancer Ramona, played by Jennifer Lopez. Ramona teaches Destiny how to dance. Eventually, they split up, but after Destiny’s relationship fails and she tries to go back to dancing, they meet back up. The early part of the movie takes place before the financial collapse, the latter half after. The money just doesn’t flow like it did before. So Ramona assembles a crew for a new venture. They go to bars and find men and entice them to go to the strip club. But eventually that well runs dry. So then they hatch a new plan; drugging the men, bringing them to the club and robbing them blind.

Hustlers does a great job of playing with the audience’s sympathies. The first hour is all about getting you to sympathize with its main characters. You see the women’s struggles and their dreams. Those dreams might be somewhat ridiculous–I am not sure about Ramona’s clothing line of denim swimwear–but the movie never asks you to laugh at them. It also goes out of its way to portray the men who are coming into the club as absolute creeps. They are mostly wall street traders just before the stock market collapse. The movie gets you on board with them, and when their efforts turn criminal the movie makes it easy to follow their justifications. Then the movie pushes further and further. The marks become less odious, the women less justified. Then the movie pulls it back once it closes in on the ending.

The movie lives by the performances and relationships of its crew. Lopez is the standout as Ramona, a force of nature in the club, whose drive leads to the plan and whose foibles lead to their inevitable capture. Wu doesn’t appear quite as comfortable as Destiny; at first because that is the character, but later because her attitude is inconsistent. Other characters move in and out, with Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart rounding out the primary crew of scammers. Palmer in particular steals every scene she is in. The chemistry between Wu and Lopez drives the movie. At first it seems almost romantic, but the real nature of the connection becomes clear later. Destiny was abandoned by her mother at a young age and was raised by her grandmother. Ramona becomes like her surrogate mother. That fits with Ramona’s mother hen tendencies. But Destiny is not the only young dancer she has formed such a relationship with. Ramona’s refusal to cut any of them loose, no matter how untrustworthy they prove to be. Even at the end, Destiny still craves that connection with Ramona.

The other thread, that one that doesn’t quite work, is how this story is being told as a story to a reporter played by Julia Stiles. She is fine, but the storyline only seems to deflate the tension of the main story.

Hustlers is a delight. It is a crime story with a fresh perspective. It is a movie that takes characters that are usually treated as disposable and showing that they are people. It doesn’t quite land every note, but the whole package is a lot of fun.

****

The Goldfinch

The best thing I can say about The Goldfinch is that it made me want to read the book. That sounds like, and is intended to be, damning with faint praise, but I think I liked it more than most people. It doesn’t seem to be entirely deserving of the critical drubbing it has taken. It also not completely undeserving of its reception, either. The Goldfinch feels like a well crafted failure; it has all the ingredients and make up of something great, but the end result is significantly less than the sum of its parts.

The Goldfinch takes place in time periods; in the past with 13-year-old Theo and in the present with adult Theo. The parts with young Theo get a lot more time, and therefore work a whole lot better, even if many of its characters get no development. The inciting incident of the movie is the bombing of a museum that kills, among others, Theo’s mother. During the aftermath, Theo makes off with a painting of a Goldfinch. The movie follows his journey as he lives with the Barbour family, headed by the kind yet distant matriarch played by Nicole Kidman. Eventually he ends up with his father out in the Nevada desert. Along the way, he struggles to process his grief. When overcome, he clutches the Goldfinch, a connection to his mother. As an adult, Theo sells antiques and tries to fit in with the social set he left as a child. There are numerous plots and subplots, eventually building to a conflict around the stolen Goldfinch.

The adult stuff feels like a full movie squashed into less than an hour. There is not enough to get a feel for any of the characters or their relationships. Especially with the time jump, it makes it hard to get a read on the world the characters live in. You see young Theo attempt to process his grief, with him finding some solace living with the Barbours, and less living with his father. He makes some friends that help him cope, if not always in healthy ways. Then it jumps to his time as an adult, and the movie never really establishes who he is. Revelations are fast and frequent, but without knowing what the situation was, it is hard to tell how this new information changes anything. Ansel Elgort tries to do what he can, but adult Theo is a cypher. You see him meet a character for the first time in years. The next thing you know, they are engaged. Then the relationship is on the rocks. The movie never really gives a reason to care.

The movie goes through all the motions, but never gets to the emotions. There is a big scene near the end, when Theo comes into conflict with his mentor and business partner. The movie makes it feel like it should be a big moment, but it doesn’t have the impact because the reasons things matter so much to that character aren’t mentioned until that scene. The movie spends so much time with everything else, it could have spent more time on The Goldfinch. You know, the one from the title.

In the end The Goldfinch feels a bit like the early Harry Potter adaptations. There are a lot they do well, but in the end those movies feel a little like they are marking boxes on an adaptation checklist. All of these scenes need to get in, even if that doesn’t leave the time to actually develop any of the characters or the plot. The Goldfinch gives a look into a story that feels like a modern day Dickens (again, I haven’t read the book) but sapped of most of its humanity. It is a movie about grief, but it shows the effects without really letting the viewer into the minds of the characters to see how it affects them.

**1/2

The Boys

I guess superhero TV shows are my niche. There are a lot of them these days; everyone is in on it. You’ve got DC and Marvel shows all over the place, Netflix is staying in the game with Umbrella Academy, and Hulu having Marvel’s Runaways. Like everyone else, Amazon has made its forays into the genre, first with the recently cancelled The Tick, and now with its adaptation of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys, from Dynamite Comics.

I’ll admit straight up that I am not a fan of The Boys comic. I will also admit I haven’t read a lot of it. I have generally bounced pretty hard off of Garth Ennis’s work and I have never really been interested in forcing myself to acquire a taste for it. He combines some genuinely good observations about human nature with a somewhat cheeky revelry in the most absolute profane imagery or ideas imaginable; I usually end up put off by how gross stuff can get. His approach to superheroes seemed to me to be an extended take on the old “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex” concept. I know people really like his work with The Punisher, but I’ve never really cared for The Punisher in general. I’ve also heard good things about Hitman, but DC hasn’t made that easy to get a hold of these days (If I missed a collection or something, let me know!). What I read of The Boys didn’t do anything for me and I never really felt any need to revisit it.

So I was not exactly excited for The Boys at Amazon. Still, I gave it a shot and I am glad I did. The Boys still displays plenty of the meanness and profanity that turned me off on the comic, but enough has been reimagined here to make it a different story and, in my opinion, a much better story. The bones of the plot remains the same; Hughie’s fiancé is killed by a drugged out superhero in a completely avoidable accident. This leads to Hughie being recruited by Billy Butcher into The Boys, a former CIA team that polices superheroes. In the show, the team is officially no more, but it is unofficially recreated to allow Butcher to seek revenge against the Superman analogue Homelander and against all superheroes in general.

One central level of the satire of The Boys is superheroes as corporate celebrities. It is a direct shot at Marvel and Disney with the MCU. A bold shot from a giant corporation like Amazon, but there is still some truth in it. Most of the “superheroes” operate within this; they are some corporatized failure of the idea of being a hero. It is fine, but nothing particularly new or eye-opening. The same goes for most of The Boys’ story. It is not a familiar tale, but it isn’t a surprising one. Butcher is clearly somewhat unhinged, and the other members are in the group for their own reasons. The show does a good enough job showing how amoral the “heroes” are that most of the awful things that the Boys do feel at least somewhat justified.

The part of the show that worked for me was the relationship between Hughie and Starlight. Mostly it was the character arc of Starlight. It starts off so bad, but by the middle portion of the season has easily become the highlight. Starlight is a young superheroine from Iowa. She had been managed by her mother like a stage mom with a pageant girl. Somehow she had caught the eye of the Vought Corporation and the Seven, the Justice League analogue superhero team. She is called up to replace a departed member. The first thing that happens when she arrives at headquarters is that The Deep, an Aquaman analogue, coerces her into a sexual act. It is a gross way to start things out, but of a piece with the rest of the show. Luckily, things look up from there.

Like Hughie with his girlfriend, Starlight has had her innocence violently shattered. She is the only superhero on the show who is shown to be trying to do good, to actually be a superhero. The other heroes, though, treat her like everyone else, like she is below them and not worth their time. Starlight, with some advice from Hughie, refuses to let that break her. She goes back determined to be a hero. I understand if the start of her story is enough to put someone off; large parts of The Boys seems to exist just to dare the viewer to stop watching. Especially because The Deep goes on to be shown as more of a goof than actually awful like some of his contemporaries. I, however, found sticking with Starlight’s story very rewarding. Because she goes from this sheltered, naive and unsure person to a much stronger one. That journey would be possible without the sexual assault, but that is not the story told. She not only reevaluates her career as a hero, but she also reexamines all aspects of her life, like her relationship with her mother and her religion. For me, it all worked. It also works in tandem with Hughie’s story.

Starlight seems much more focused that Hughie; he doesn’t really have anything to hold on to, personally, after the loss of his girlfriend. So he is more easily swayed by Butcher’s excesses and falls more easily into that quest for revenge.

The show truly won me over near the end, when some characters are forced to make a moral choice, and the show, at least for the moment, rejects the nihilism that had always threatened to run away with the show.

So, The Boys is a show for people who want a cynical look at superheroes that eventually reveals itself to have a sincere heart. I was pleasantly surprised by this show and I’ll be back for season 2.

Angel Has Fallen

A person can derive a lot of enjoyment out of the right kind of bad movie. Angel Has Fallen, while plenty bad, is not that kind of bad movie. It is a mostly competent action movie that somehow manages to be really dumb without being fun.

This is the third entry in the, I don’t know, Fallen series, after Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen. None of them are good. Angel Has Fallen is obvious and completely uninteresting. Mike Banning, Gerard Butler with his trademark shockingly appealing gruff anti-charm, is an aging secret service agent. While he still has incredible agent skills, he is feeling the effects of his dangerous life. He is popping pain pills and suffering from insomnia. This never matters in the plot. He meets up with an old war buddy who went private contractor and his training facility and agrees to put in a good word for him with secret service training. Especially because Banning is up to be the new director. While guarding the President while he is fishing, a drone attack kills everyone at the scene, except for the President and Banning.

Evidence shows that Banning is responsible. The president is in a coma, so he can’t tell how Banning saved his life during the attack. Banning ends up on the run, trying to find out who set him up and who tried to kill the president and eventually stop that person from finishing the job.

You can tell almost exactly how this will play out from the opening minutes. There is never any doubt who the bad guys are. (Hint: it is the old army buddy and the VP.) What you are left with are some moderately entertaining action scenes, some stupid mystery unraveling and themes that are muddled or non-existent.

The Banning is getting too old for this is undercut by his being the best at everything all the time. His struggles go away completely when it is time for the plot to shift into high gear. Who has time for migraines and insomnia when you have to go on the run from the US military. You meet Banning’s dad, who I guess is supposed to be the worst case for what Banning might become, but the movie doesn’t do more than suggest that. The villains motives change over the course of the movie. The FBI characters are a complete waste. The movie is just a bunch of things not done particularly well.

Angel Has Fallen is not a movie to hate; it is hard to summon enough feeling to actually hate it. I can’t imagine too many people actually like it, either. The best case scenario for this movie would be so bad it’s good, but it’s just kind of bad. The plot makes some observations about the use of PMCs that Metal Gear Solid made more than a decade ago, with more intelligence and more nuance. And I wouldn’t say much about Metal Gear Solid is nuanced. This movie isn’t worth anyone’s time.

**

Ready or Not

Ready or Not is not a subtle movie. At one point its protagonist flat out states a succinct version of the movie’s theme: “Fucking rich people.” That theme is on display pretty obviously throughout the movie. It is gory and funny and fun.

The movie opens with Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien) preparing for their wedding. The wedding is taking place on Alex’s family, the Le Domas’s, estate. Grace is an orphan, so while she is nervous, she is eager to be part of a family. The family is a little strange, but happy to have her is she is bringing Alex back, as he had been estranged for some years. After the wedding, Grace learns about a strange family tradition. On the wedding night, the person marrying into the family draws a card and they play a game. It is weird, but since the family made their fortune with board games, it is not that crazy. Unfortunately, Grace draws the hide and seek card. The family believes that they must hunt and kill any person who draws the hide and seek card. The rest of the movie is Grace attempting to evade her new in laws throughout their mansion.

The whole thing becomes a big class conflict. Along with the come from nothing Grace, there are a handful of household servants. The family are all third and fourth generation wealth. They are fortunately not especially talented or parcticed at murder. They are all awful in their own way. Alex’s older brother is a drunk, his wife is a gold digger. Their father is a fail-son patriarch. Their aunt is the bitter widow of the last time this game was played. The daughter is a drugged out wreck and her husband is callous and thoughtless. The hardest one to get a read on is Alex’ mother, Becky, played by Andie MacDowell. She is the only competent member of the family, but she seems somehow both reluctant and resolute.

They come after her with ancient weaponry that they don’t really have an idea how to use. Thanks to Alex’s working on Grace’s behalf, she manages to evade her captors. The movie does a great job of showing Grace’s bravery and determination, which is not undermined by the Le Domas’s incompetence. They have all the power, but no idea how to do anything. Most of Grace’s problems come from her run ins with the butler and the children.

While Grace is the only target of the hunt, there are significantly more casualties. As revealed by the trailers, the maids have a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is also gory. Grace gets quite injured; shot and cut and generally abused. A bullet hole through the hand is put to a some gruesome use.

The movie has more than gore and thrills going for it. It is also quite clever. The dialogue is pretty great and almost all of the jokes land. The disinterest or over-eagerness of various family members play off each other perfectly. The cast is excellent. Samara Weaving is a star, and MacDowell and Adam Brody are likewise terrific. It is definitely some B-movie fun, but as a bit of late summer fun it is hard to beat

****

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

I am way too old to have memories of Dora the Explorer, but I am unfortunately old enough to have memories of babysitting children who are now teenagers who likely have fond memories of Dora the Explorer. For some reason, I found myself wandering into the theater to watch the live action adaptation of a cartoon for toddlers. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. It is still a movie for kids, this time more for the pre-teen set, kids that still have that naivety of youth and are anticipating/dreading high school. This move is just about perfect for them; both thoroughly fun and entertaining and entirely wholesome.

The first place this movie shines is with its entirely overqualified cast. Saving the kids for a second, this is a movie with spots for Michael Pena, Eva Longoria, Benecio Del Toro and Danny Trejo. These adults all have small roles, but they make the most of their short time. The most meaningful presences there are Pena and Longoria, who play Dora’s parents with a just the right amount of encouragement and concern. Dora, played by Isabella Moner, is the engine that drives this movie. She is perpetually upbeat, but not stupid. The movie does a great job of showing her competence in the jungle before uprooting her for the city and having her look like a doof. Then, it flips it again to put her back in the jungle. The other kids, Diego and two new characters (I guess, I’m not a Dora expert) are pretty fun. Diego is Dora after having the exuberance sanded off by years with the more cynical city folks. Randy is a somewhat dorky everyman, who knows the tropes of the adventure stories Dora riffs on. And Sammy is the classic alpha smart girl, who is simultaneously jealous, dismissive and competitive with Dora. It isn’t anything new or groundbreaking, but it is fun. Finally, there is Eugenio Derbez, who guides/is guided by Dora through the middle portion of the movie. He is not quite incompetent but also not quite adept, and mostly serves as the butt of jokes for the kids.

Some of the most fun parts of Dora are how the movie adapts the specific hallmarks of the show into this live action format. There is a big change of perspective scene near the end that plays with this, but there are also moments throughout that do similar things. Dora’s talking to the camera asking 3 year olds to count to 4 is now her talking to her audience (it is unclear if she actually has one) for youtube videos she is making. Boots the monkey is just a monkey, though he is a horrible CGI creation rather than an actual monkey. Inexplicably, Swiper is a talking CGI fox who just so happens to be working for the bad guys. It is weird, but it somehow works.

The plot is just complex enough. To start with, Dora’s parents are sending her to live with her cousin in civilization after she grew up in the jungle with them, a pair of college educated archaeologist. This is both for her development and because they think they found a lost city and can’t take her with them. So the first act has Dora trying to adapt to live in the big city. Then she loses contact with her parents, and is kidnapped during a trip to the museum. Along with her is her group of not quite friends. From there, they try to find Dora’s parents, escape the dangerous jungle and find the lost city. It nails that Indiana Jones like personal bickering while dealing with external threats tone perfectly. It is really just a fun adventure.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is not going to knock anyone’s socks off. It is a perfectly good movie, especially for adults with kids the age of the intended audience of this movie. It is entertaining enough that they will not be bored and good enough that the kids will hopefully be enthralled. There is something to say about selling nostalgia to progressively younger movie watchers, as usually they are selling the entertainment of youth back to adults, here they are selling memories of babyhood viewing to pre-teens, but I am not the one to talk about that.

***1/2

The Kitchen

I wanted to like The Kitchen movie more. I really wish it was better. However, The Kitchen is too muddled and rushed to really be worth seeing. That is despite strong performances from all three of its main characters.

Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elizabeth Moss play the wives of mobsters who in the opening scene of the movie are caught and sent to jail. The family agrees to take care of them, that promise turns out to be less than expected mostly thanks to the general fecklessness of the men. So the three women start to take things into their own hands. It starts with taking protection money for local businesses, but starts to expand from there. Things really take off when Domhnall Gleeson shows up. He had to skip town after doing a hit, but is back now that things have cooled. He also has a thing for Elizabeth Moss and no problem being their muscle. The three women not only survive after taking over, they thrive.

They do so in different ways. McCarthy takes charge and mostly keeps her quiet PTA mom persona, but is clearly more in control. The abused Moss almost gleefully takes to her new power, reveling in her role as the wild card. And Haddish stops playing the mousey little wife starts to show her real intelligence and ambition.

There is a lot of stuff that looks good on paper. It is like a lesser Scorsese mob movie in some ways. Good performances from its central characters. It just doesn’t know what to do with them. We get their evolution, but we don’t really see what that means every day for them. We don’t really know what they were like before. We don’t know what they are like after, for that matter. The movie refuses to show things. Moss was abused by her husband, but the movie doesn’t show it, it shows the aftermath and you have to draw conclusions. It will show a lot of murders, but not that. It is one thing to have twists and revelations, this movie makes every development feel like a twist by not giving the viewer enough information to understand the situation.

One problem with the movie is that it doesn’t seem to know what to do with the fact that for all their power, the women are becoming monstrous. That is no different from their husbands or the people they interact with, but the movie refuses to reckon with this idea. McCarthy’s father starts very opposed to what they are doing. He is the only person in the movie that seems to display any discomfort with crime or murder. Other than blood being gross, I guess. The problem is the movie raises these concerns; in part by having her dad brings them up. We, as viewers, want to celebrate the held down Moss finding some control of her life. But are we not to feel disturbed that she shows her growing confidence by killing people? Maybe I misread the movie, I was watching it as something with one foot in realism, but the way it deals with things is more of a cartoon.

The Kitchen just feels like a big a missed opportunity. Some refinement to the themes or a better focus could have turned into a really good mob movie. Instead, we got this scattered mess

**

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

The best parts of the Fast & Furious franchise have always been the nonsense parts. That is why no one cared about the first couple of entries in the series; they were at least partly trying to be movies. The problem with the last couple of movies isn’t that there was too much nonsense, it was that too much of the nonsense wasn’t as fun as it should be. This was a much bigger problem with Fate of the Furious than Furious 7 (hey, rankings are fun, see the bottom of this post), but some unwieldiness has been creeping into the series since just after Fast & Furious 6. This spin-off is the most ludicrous film in the series yet, but thanks to its two stars and some fun sequences, it also manages to be one of the best in the series.

Two stars is kind of misleading, as this is really a movie with three. Yes, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s characters are named in the title, but Vanessa Kirby is just as integral to the film as the two of them and is a more than credible action star. But back to the named stars. This movie makes me fear for future F&F movies, as the two most charismatic performers in the series are now confined to their own spin-off. I am very on the record for my love of The Rock, and this movie plays hard into his best traits. I am also a big fan of Jason Statham. They are both playing essentially to type, but they are fun in their usual personas. The movie doesn’t quite sell their animosity to alliance as well as it could, but if you want me to not like a buddy spy movie starring The Rock and Jason Statham you are going to be disappointed. Last but not least is Idris Elba as the villain Brixton Lore, a cybernetically enhanced super-soldier.

The plot is pure nonsense, but really no more nonsensical than the average James Bond or Mission Impossible movie. There is a deadly virus, which for complicated reasons Kirby’s Hattie Shaw injects into herself to keep it away from Lore. Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw are dispatched to find her. Soon they do and the three of them have to go on the run from Lore. What sets it apart is just how ridiculous it lets itself be as they solve these problems. The Rock jumps from a high rise to chase villains repelling down. Statham drives a Lamborghini underneath two trucks. There are many other things that I really don’t want to spoil, from cameos to actions bits. Suffice to say, Hobbs & Shaw is stuff with amazing, fun, nonsensical stuff.

The dialogue, mostly, is the same kind of ridiculous fun. They try really hard for banter between Rock and Statham, but their hyper-masculine posturing has fun elements. It still manages to feel like a Fast & Furious movie. Cars play an outsized role in everything. It all comes down to family, though the movie seems to forget that Statham’s character had a brother.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is everything I’ve liked from the recent F&F movies. It is big, dumb, explosive fun. It is a tone that few other movies manage at all. Bring on Hobbs & Shaw 2.

9. 2 Fast 2 Furious

8. Fast & Furious

7. Fate of the Furious

6. Fast & Furious 3: Tokyo Drift

5. The Fast & the Furious

4. Furious 7

3. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

2. Fast & Furious 6

1. Fast 5