Fate of the Furious /Fast and Furious 8 (‘F8’ hereafter) and Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 (‘G2’ hereafter): These two movies make the ideal double bill. I will try and explain just why.
It is worth catching BOTH G2 and F8 as guaranteed value for money via laughs, action, actors’ performances and stunning visuals /effects. Neither film is perfect, but one cancels the other’s flaws and supplements its strengths.
G2 is a solid and polished product. Alas, it is is nothing like as charming as its predecessor (Guardians of the Galaxy: 2014’s surprise hit). It lacks that film’s simplicity and coherence of pitch and tone.
There is no sleeper hit surprise factor at play; the underdog has become a slightly surer staple of the film franchise market. Consequently, it plays by that formula rule book, including the drawbacks of many a sequel nowadays (confused tone / purpose, resulting in a somewhat muted pace).
There is an attempt at introducing a profound motif about fatherhood, a la Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. That film was a one off product of Spielberg and Lucas’ imagination and their genuine insights to generational conflicts of ethos. Their own Dads survived WW2, only to then see sons face the legacy of Vietnam but honour their heritage through commercial and creative innovations in cinema.
The raw materials for Indiana Jones were therefore quite powerful and profound, all acted out with precision by once in a generation movie stars (Harrison Ford /Sean Connery). But the motifs were conveyed through snappy dialogue between action sequences, never compromising a tense and thrilling chase for a mcguffin against the Nazi baddies. Clear goals. Linear logic. Charm. G2 tries to match that and fails, whether consciously or unconsciously: the parallels are there, as is the deficit in comparative standard of execution.
It’s an apt comparison. Pratt’s Starlord himself referenced Raiders of the Lost Ark in the first Guardians film. And many have suggested Chris Pratt as the new Harrison Ford, going as far as assuming he will take on the Indiana Jones mantle. Indeed, it’s a probable outcome, especially now ‘Indy 5’ is, like Guardians, a Disney property, but has therefore been pushed back to 2020, thereby taking Harrison Ford’s age to 78 once said film is released. To be fair: Pratt is funny, clever, charming and competent in action. He COULD do it and take on the role of Dr Jones. I’ve seen worse re-casting suggestions.
Pratt’s not quite Harrison, though: the reality is that he is closer to..Kurt Russell..who plays..his Dad in G2, (without spoiling too much). And the G2 script is nowhere near as literate, cerebral, mature or thrilling as anything we got from the Indiana Jones brand (yes, even the Crystal Skull had its moments).
The whole father/son dynamic in G2 is laboured and leaden, lacking finesse or pace or precision and punctuated only by some 1980s pop culture references; themselves now a tired trope from a generation that simply failed to grow up and move on. Russell and Pratt are a good double act and charming with it; they just cannot fill holes in a script that lacks focus.
You just KNOW they did not craft the plot enough when you get extended sequences of people wandering through a landscape. An arid absence of actual material to justify the duration. Shame. Oh and topped off with a tasteless reference to what might have caused the cancer which killed the hero’s mother. You WENT ‘there’? Seriously? Tonally: a major misfire that left me feeling awkward at best. And I don’t care if that’s a ‘spoiler’: don’t be so precious.
And YET: The COMEDY, ACTION, FUN? ALL PRESENT AND CORRECT. You will laugh your head off. Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer deserves an Oscar. Seriously. He is a GREAT support here. His comic timing is impeccable and the man is rapidly becoming a major movie star in his own right.
Bradley Cooper’s voice work on Rocket Raccoon is hilarious and charming, to the extent that it is this furry animal who appears to have the machismo and charisma anchoring the franchise here, every bit as much as Pratt as Star-Lord.
Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel: another G2/F8 connection) is a thing of beauty and special effects alchemy and Elizabeth Debicki, painted in gold, is as sexy and powerful and mesmeric as Tilda Swinton was in last year’s other Marvel effort, Doctor Strange. So, it remains an ensemble piece, within which Kurt Russell fits very well as a guest star, (just as he does in F8; another connection!).
Visuals, effects, design, music and even the end credits are all stunning and brought together with competent craftsmanship by Director, James Gunn. Above all: an emphasis very much on the theme of FAMILY and how we grow best within that unit. It does not mean that every relative will meet expectations and neither will the bond prevent malevolence. But it anchors and explains the patterns of life, punctuating both triumphs and setbacks. It is that sheer joy and innocence that both redeems G2 and bonds it to..F8.
Where G2 references the 1980s, F8 actually embodies and resurrects the whole entertainment ethos of that decade, whilst fusing to a more comforting present day morality. The movie refreshingly relishes the joys of being a big, bald, muscular, macho, petrol-head.
Average line: ‘I will beat you like a Cherokee Drum’. Probably misquoting, but you get the gist. One ripped colossus (Dwayne Johnson) faces off against an old enemy come reluctant ally played by Jason Statham. Think action heroes as shamelessly simplistic muscle bound masters of the universe, who solve the world’s problems with fists, car chases and one liners. But then meet up for a cozy Barbecue en famile. Best of all possible worlds.
Nominally, this is the Vin Diesel show. His Dominic Toretto character is the street racer with a code of honour whose antics launched the series (NOW I get why all those students I taught KEPT writing stories with that motif; and I thought it was my inspirational creativity 😉 ). Diesel’s Toretto is effectively the face of a generation: bald, big, boy racers in tight t-shirts, but with nowhere to drive to other than some quasi gangland skirmish to vent pent up machismo and testosterone.
Diesel has also shrewdly evolved Toretto’s character into a kind of super-spy action hero, by stealth, over the previous 3 films up to F8. There is of course a street-race or two on offer (a quite spectacular set-piece shows Cuba in all its glory). But it all builds up to a quasi 007 battle in which Diesel’s Toretto outruns a submarine. Pure hokum, camp and fun. Harmless and hilarious, though probably a tad sanitised and exaggerated to genuinely qualify as ‘fast and furious’.
Charlize Theron turns up as a most alluring villainess. I would turn bad for her, easily, even if she weren’t holding my family hostage. The Bond people have missed a trick by not casting her against Daniel Craig’s 007 (she is age appropriate and can play goodie and/or baddie with equal aplomb).
Plot logic is non existent and, like G2, F8 is overlong, bloated and in serious need of an edit. But they share excellent atmospherics, soundtrack, visual schemes, accomplished effects and top notch casts with a bond of chemistry, acting out impressive action beats.
Above all: both movies take a sheer and soulful joy in the concept of family and friendship against the odds, thereby making ideal companion and comparison pieces for families at the movies on a Bank Holiday weekend. A splendidly innocent brand of escapism, much needed in today’s increasingly uncertain world. So, for all the flaws in both movies, I recommend them and with only the slightest of reservations.
We are Groot. We are FAMILY. 😉