If you were to show someone the original film of the Fast and Furious series, and skip them directly to Furious 7, they’d most likely have trouble believing the two are part of the same series. The original film, The Fast and the Furious, was a Point Break ripoff that replaced extreme sports with illegal street racing. Furious 7 has more in common with Marvel’s The Avengers these days than it does its original premise. Sure, the fast cars are still there, but they don’t serve the importance they did in the first film. Now they are merely a mean to an ends. So, needless to say, the series has evolved. Has it been for the better?
First thing to note: if you want to enjoy Furious 7, stretch your suspension of disbelief to an unbelievable level. Much of what happens over the course of the film takes a huge leap of logic to believe. If you are willing to treat it the same way you would treat a superhero film or fantasy, then quite likely you’ll be taken away by the over-the-top action set pieces. The story itself is really just an excuse to show the audience these somewhat gaudy scenes. They introduce uber-baddie Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in a clever scene where he has destroyed an entire hospital and special ops team, just to give a speech to his brother who happens to be in a coma. Sure, it’s a bit of a waste of effort on Deckard’s part, but as we only see the aftermath of what he’s done, we know he’s the baddest of the bad.
If Jupiter Ascending were a person, they’d be schizophrenic. The film is a convoluted and disjointed mess that even top-notch visuals can’t save. To say the film is a waste of your time would be an understatement. If that ringing endorsement doesn’t catch your attention, then continue on dear reader.
To start the convoluted story is a convoluted backstory, following Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian immigrant who despite her model good looks is stuck cleaning toilets and living with her stereotypical Russian family. Her father was an Englishman (hence the surname Jones) who was shot and killed shortly after Jones was conceived. Presumably this wasn’t a ringing endorsement of why raising a child in Russia is a fantastic idea, so her family immigrated to the United States.
I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!
– William Tecumseh Sherman
If there is one singular purpose in Fury, it is to convince you of the notion that war is hell. Most people didn’t need convincing of this fact before seeing the film, but they’ll likely leave the theater echoing the sentiment in their heads. Fury brutally beats you over the head with the atrocities of war in its quest to show you the hardship faced by many combat troops in World War II.
The film revolves around the lives of a seasoned Sherman tank crew led by Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt). The crew has successfully made it through Africa, D-Day, and are continuing to cause havoc as the Allied forces invade Germany. Despite their stellar record, they lose one of their members shortly before the film begins. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a fresh trained clerical typist, is thrust into the front lines of war as he replaces the deceased member of ‘Fury’. Over the next two hours we follow Norman as he struggles through the worst parts of war, as he struggles with the inevitable doom facing him on the front lines.
Original concepts are few and far between these days. It isn’t that they don’t exist, it’s that they aren’t marketed like remakes, reboots, and adaptations. It doesn’t mean there aren’t people still pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, and finding new ways to tell compelling stories for the sake of art. It’s just that the public rarely sees the films that push these boundaries. Are audiences blind to new compelling media? Yes and no. Your average person watches film to escape from their everyday life, and usually want something familiar. Boyhood is a bit of a conundrum, it has the familiarity of life, but the sincerity and the lack of a defined plot will keep it from becoming a financial success. People will likely feel the film too closely captures real life, even though that is exactly the point.
In 2002, Richard Linklater set out to make a movie about growing up, which on the surface may not seem like an incredible undertaking, but make no mistake, it is an incredible feat in filmmaking. Rather than rely on special effects and multiple actors to tell the story of a boy in a short period of time, Linklater had the idea to film segments of the film over a twelve year period using the same cast. It’s an incredible commitment that pays off in the film, as we see a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family evolve throughout the years. There isn’t one definable plot thread throughout the film, and instead we focus on a number of important pieces of Mason’s life. We see him struggle through school, deal with an alcoholic step-father, find his passion, lose his first love, and many other moments. The film never creates shocking moments that are meant to be plot devices to move the story along. Are there shocking moments? Sure, but they aren’t defining moments of the film. The defining moments are the small moments where you see just how much the boy you’ve been watching has changed.
Most industry insiders were a bit baffled a few years ago when Marvel announced they were putting Guardians of the Galaxy into production. Even with Marvel not owning the rights to many of its top franchises, surely weren’t there better choices to help expand the Marvel cinematic universe? Even more baffling was the choice of hiring James Gunn to write and direct the film. Gunn wasn’t known as a big budget director; in fact Gunn got his start in B-movie heaven, Troma Entertainment. Many people, myself included, thought Marvel was heading for disaster. After a second viewing of Guardians tonight, I can say without reservation that my pessimistic thinking was as far off the mark as one could imagine. Marvel has hit a home run that should result in one of the biggest releases of the year.
Guardians of the Galaxy follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a self-described outlaw by the name of ‘Starlord’ as he attempts to navigate a wide galaxy. The film opens with Peter being abducted shortly after his mother’s death, with only the clothes on his back, and his trusty Walkman at his side. The film catapults 26 years into the future where Peter is now calling himself ‘Starlord’, and is a skilled thief in search of a mysterious orb. Unfortunately for Peter, this is no ordinary orb and is being sought out by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), two of the most feared aliens in the galaxy. Thanos quickly dispatches his cybernetically enhanced daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to recover the orb. Getting in her way are bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a foul-mouthed racoon, and his muscle Groot (Vin Diesel), a giant tree with a limited vocabulary. Rocket, Groot, Peter, and Gamora have a beautiful fight for different motives that lands them in a high security prison. It’s only at the prison that our merry band begins to bond after figuring out the orb Peter has stolen is much more valuable than any of them could have imagined, and they must do anything to keep it out of the hands of Thanos and Ronan. Upon their eventual escape, picking up a beefy over-literal alien, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the newly formed Guardians of the Galaxy must race against powerful foes, and deal with more power than any of them could have ever imagined.