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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Remember when the Fast & Furious gang were street racers who dabbled in highway robbery? Because the franchise’s writers seem to have totally forgotten. The street races are long gone, replaced with international espionage, world-devastating weapons, and an ever-growing cast of action heroes.

Two of those additional action heroes, Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham), are now spinning off from the main storyline and saving the world without any help from the rest of the franchise’s former street racers. This time, Idris Elba plays the unstoppable cyborg bad guy who’s racing against Hobbs and Shaw to track down a supervirus that Shaw’s superspy sister (Vanessa Kirby) injects herself with. Luckily, the supervirus takes 72 hours to take effect, giving Hobbs and Shaw a chance to find a way to extract it…if only they could put aside their differences and find a way to work together.

Of course Hobbs and Shaw will find a way to work together, but it takes longer than you’d expect. Probably because Vin Diesel isn’t around to remind everyone that they’re family.  That’s Hobbs & Shaw in a nutshell: a very competent (though brainless) action movie that more than anything will make you miss Diesel and the rest of his Fast & Furious family.

No matter how many explosions or dune buggies are involved in a showdown with the villain’s helicopter, Hobbs & Shaw doesn’t measure up to the other instalments in this franchise. At best, it’s a teaser trailer for Fast & Furious 9, but the energy that went into Hobbs & Shaw probably would have been better spent on something involving the whole crew. Because when it comes to big, dumb action films, bigger is better, and that’s a lesson I thought this franchise had learned a long time ago.

 

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Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel has robots, cyborgs, martians, floating cities, subterranean caves, hyperviolent arena sports, space battles, and an all-seeing immortal dictator pulling the strings behind the scenes.  And somehow, it manages to make all that stuff boring.  Like a three-handed guitar player (and make no mistake, Alita includes a three handed guitar player), Alita: Battle Angel is far less than the sum of its parts.

MV5BODMzMjlmZTYtOGU2NS00NGM2LWI4ZDItNzQzYTYwNDA2ZmU4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXRzdGFzaWVr._V1_CR21,0,939,528_AL_UY268_CR10,0,477,268_AL_The titular Alita (the Battle Angel, as it were) is found by Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz) in an Iron City garbage heap. Well, Alita’s head and shoulders are, but the rest of her body is missing. Turns out, Alita is a 300 year old cyborg from before the “Fall” and Dr. Ido really easily brings her back to “life”. Like, it’s no trouble whatsoever for him to reboot her, and you might wonder why no one else has tried for the last 300 years.  But don’t, because if you start asking questions like that about this movie, you will never be able to stop.  Trust me.

We come to learn that in Alita the “Fall”  was a war between martians and Earth’s floating cities, rather than a name for the second worst season (anyone who thinks fall is worse than winter has never lived through a real winter), or an elevator between Australia and post-Brexit London (doesn’t it seem like Boris Johnson’s plan for Brexit might be to build that stupid elevator from the worse Total Recall? But I guess that makes sense when Donald Trump seems to have already ripped off the Mars colony part from the also-not-great original).

The only floating city that didn’t fall happens to be the one directly over Iron City, and oh yeah, Alita was found in the garbage falling from that floating city, and oh yeah, somehow after 300 years she still is in great condition without her body even though if any other cyborgs in this movie lose a finger they instantly die (except where screaming would add dramatic effect). Also, the only way to get to the floating city, obviously the home of the immortal dictator guy (Edward Norton!?! I had no idea he was even in this but of course Jay spotted him right away), is to win the Motorball championship (like a White House visit, I guess), but there is infinitely more political commentary in the previous two paragraphs of this review than in the whole of Alita. That’s probably for the better, considering how brainless this James Cameron script is. This was the best he could do after working on it for TWO DECADES?

There’s more back story and then some Matrix-lite fight scenes with a lot of cyborg spines and blue goo, but at this point I hope you are realizing that it doesn’t matter because it is all really stupid and you should avoid this movie at all costs. Some of the cyborgs might be kind of cool I guess but when Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali and Edward Norton clearly can’t be bothered with this movie, why should you?

Astronaut

Becoming an astronaut was always a dream of mine.  As early as I can remember, I was fascinated by the idea that there were other planets and stars surrounding us, and the idea that I could float around in outer space and jump so much higher and further on the moon than on Earth.  At the time I lived in Kentucky and learned at school that I could write to NASA and they would send back random photos of space shuttles, planets, satellites, and so much more.  So write I did.  I wrote almost as many letters then as Jay does now (she is singlehandedly keeping Canada Post’s lettercarriers employed), and ended up with stacks of photos that I treasured throughout my childhood.

AstronautObviously, I am not the only one who dreamed of becoming an astronaut.  Space travel is clearly on a lot of people’s bucket lists, as shown by the proposed reality show cataloguing a one-way mission to Mars (which went belly-up earlier this year), the numerous space flights available for purchase (Virgin Galactic has collected $80 million in deposits for 90 minute voyages costing $250,000 each), and NSYNC’s Lance Bass attempting to buy his way onto a Russian rocket (he couldn’t afford it after Justin Timberlake left the band), among other examples.

In Astronaut, Angus (Richard Dreyfuss) definitely has space travel on his bucket list.  He’s always looking to the stars and, as a retired civil engineer, possesses the type of scientific knowledge that might grant a seat on a NASA mission.  Unfortunately, he never secured a NASA spot during his career and his dreams of space travel seem more and more distant as his health begins to fail.   But the stars align when a billionaire (Colm Feore) announces a contest that will give the winner a seat on the first commercial flight to space, which otherwise would be too expensive for Angus (and the rest of the 99%) to afford.  You can probably guess who becomes one of the twelve finalists in that lottery, but even with that stroke of luck things don’t come easy to Angus, not only because of the health issues I mentioned, but also because he’s trying to settle his wife’s estate and he’s struggling with an impending move to a retirement home.

Astronaut asks us to suspend our disbelief on more than one occasion, and in exchange rewards us with a sweet and engaging fairy tale.  The pieces fit together so neatly and conveniently that there is never any real tension or possibility of failure, but the movie works even with relatively low stakes because of Dreyfuss’ stellar performance.  Angus is a great combination of gruff and personable, and Astronaut is elevated by Dreyfuss’ wonderful chemistry with Angus’ family and friends, particularly his daughter (Krista Bridges), his son-in-law (Lyriq Bent), and his grandson (Richie Lawrence).

Writer-director Shelagh McLeod wisely focuses on Angus’ personal relationships rather than the space flight itself and Astronaut is better for it, because the fantastical (and potentially unbelievable) elements of the film are just minor details.  What matters is watching Angus reach for the stars, and I happily cheered him on from start to finish.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Things have really changed for Peter Parker, our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland). He went to space, fought Thanos, vanished for five years, returned from the dead, fought Thanos again, and lost his mentor. But now, after all that, he’s back in high school, and he’s headed to Europe with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his crush MJ (Zendaya), his rival Flash (Tony Revolori) and the rest of the science club. All that’s on his to-do list is to tell MJ how he feels about her. Unfortunately, as always happens to Peter, Spidey-stuff keeps getting in the way of his best-laid plans.

Just like Homecoming, Far From Home gets Spider-Man right. He’s best as a high schooler, trying to balance his hero responsibilities with his studies and social life. He’s also best as a small-scale hero who’s thrown into Avengers-sized problems. Far From Home gives us lots of both, as Peter’s trip happens to coincide with a major attack on Venice by a water elemental. Naturally, Peter dives into the city defence with gusto and in doing so teams up with a fishbowl-wearing hero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) and an eyepatch-wearing ray of sunshine named Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Both need Spidey’s help to save the world.

Things are not as simple as they seem, of course, and even a casual Spider-Man fan will know basically where things are headed from the trailers alone. But in getting to the climax, the movie has almost too many twists and turns, because at times the script struggles to make sense of the on-screen events (and the post-credits “solution” seems like a cop-out even as it raises some interesting questions).

As a fanboy, I have no problem at all overlooking those minor flaws. Far From Home is just so damn entertaining and Tom Holland is a fantastic Spider-Man and a better Peter Parker. Still, as a critic, I hope the next live-action Spider-Man movie takes a few more cues from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which stands as the best Spider-Man movie ever because the action never stops AND the script never stops making sense. Despite being chock-full of Spidey goodness, Far From Home doesn’t bring everything together into a cohesive whole like Spider-Verse did, but Far From Home’s can-do attitude and wacky humour still make for a really fun movie that Spidey’s fans are going to love.

Men in Black: International

When did aliens become so boring? In Men in Black: International, everyone is trying to out-deadpan Tommy Lee Jones, and succeeding. There is no excitement, no awe, just a bunch of bored white men joined by a bored diversity hire, all bumbling around England, Paris, and Morocco trying to save the world from an unseen alien menace after an alien prince is killed but not before delivering a MacGuffin to MiB’s newest agent (Tessa Thompson).

As the first three MiB films showed, it can be fun to have one disinterested agent in our lead duo. But those films worked because Will Smith’s junior agent brought enough energy and wonder for the two of them. They worked because Smith’s Agent J was the audience’s stand in, who marvelled and freaked out at the marvelous and freaky stuff onscreen. And also, they worked because for all his surface gruffness, Agent K was actually quite an interesting character, and Jones let us see that just enough to make us invest in him. Unfortunately, MiB:I’s H (Chris Hemsworth) and M (Thompson) both have seen it all before, and even worse, so has the audience. So everyone ends up being disinterested, including the viewer.

The aliens and events in MiB:I simply don’t measure up to what the franchise has previously offered us. The aliens are bland and the stakes are surprisingly low consindering our heroes keep telling us their job is to save the world. Basically, it’s the opposite of what is expected from a summer blockbuster. The only joy in the film comes from Kumail Nanjiani’s pint-sized sidekick, who has all the best lines and whose hilarity highlights the disappointing blandness of everything else.

MiB:I simply has nothing to offer and no reason to be. That’s a particularly damning critique when this franchise’s defining trait has been ridiculousness. MiB:I didn’t need to be a good movie, but it did need to be silly, loud, and campy. Instead, it’s forgettable and unoriginal to the point that I’d have been better off rewatching any of its predecessors. I’m sure they’d have offered more surprises on a rewatch than MiB:I did on my first (and undoubtedly only) viewing.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Do you remember there was a Godzilla movie released in 2014? Neither did I, but maybe that’s because we saw it at the drive-in. Apparently Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a sequel to the 2014 film, and apparently in 2014 Godzilla stomped through San Francisco at some point. Well, during the mayhem, Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler’s movie son died, and it really put a strain on their marriage. So they split up, and now their movie daughter Millie Bobby Brown lives with Vera in a Chinese rainforest, researching classic movie monster Mothra. Things go sideways, though, when ecoterrorist Charles Dance kills everyone else at the research lab and takes Vera and Millie hostage along with Vera’s monster-controlling sound machine, in order to wake up lots of other monsters and let them run wild.

Obviously, the plot is really dumb. And the characters have some of the dumbest dialogue of the year. Mostly espository nonsense in between assorted lame quips (and very occasionally a good quip from O’Shea Jackson Jr., probably ad-libbed). Just terrible writing. So much terrible, terrible writing. But who cares, really? Godzilla should be about the monsters, and the monsters come to play.

Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah feature prominently, with King Kong and a bunch of other monsters making cameos (I don’t know who the other ones are but I bet someone does!). Monsters fight in Antarctica, monsters fight in Mexico, monsters fight in Boston, and I think they fought in one or two other places as well, but who can keep track? The important thing is, when the monsters fight, the movie works. And they fight enough that all the stupid writing can just be ignored, because you know another fight will come before too long.

Maybe next time they can fill the inter-fight lulls with halfway decent writing, plotting and character development. But if I have to choose between good human-vs-human scenes and good monster-vs-monster ones, I’m picking monster fights every time. After all, the monster fights are why I went to see Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the first place!

Rim of the World

During an alien invasion, a group of summer campers stumbles across the master key to Earth’s defences. It’s up to them to travel 70 miles to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and deliver the key to the scientists there. So, after borrowing some bikes from the Stranger Things crew, they mount up and roll out.

The wise-cracking kids try to keep the mood light but these aliens are no joke – they have come prepared with thousands of fighter planes, monstrous foot soldiers, and relentless alien dogs. But the kids hold their own and still find time to reference dozens of other movies, most of which you can find on Netflix.

Rim of the World draws inspiration from (/blatantly rips off) nearly as many films as its script references. There’s very little here that hasn’t been seen before, but it’s stitched together pretty well by director McG, who I assumed had been abducted by aliens about 15 years ago. Maybe he escaped? That would actually explain why so many of Rim of the World’s references are from the 90s. Because story-wise, it doesn’t make any sense for these 13 year olds to reference Independence Day or Gladiator when, if you do the math, even their parents may not have been old enough to see either of those movies in a theatre!

That’s really the problem with this movie. It’s not actually FOR anyone. As an adult, I’m not interested in watching 13 year olds make adult references while saving the world (though I will admit that one Star Wars reference made me giggle), but I’d also be the worst uncle in the world if I let my nephews, even as teens, watch a movie full of terrifying space creatures and VERY grown-up language. But I bet they’d want to watch it.

And maybe that’s the answer – this is Netflix’s answer to the midnight movies I watched at sleepovers as a teen. Only thanks to our modern technology, there’s now no need to stay up late to watch. But you probably should stay up late, because if you do then this movie will be at least 20% more fun (call it the “sleepover effect”) and Rim of the World can use every bit of that help.