Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Movie Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (PG13 – 126 minutes)

The Legends of King Arthur Pendragon date back to the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD.  Whether or not he was a real person, or just legend, is still debated.  According to the stories, he’s most known for pulling his father’s sword Excalibur from the stone, battling the Saxons, assembling the Knights of the Round Table, and searching for the Holy Grail, which of course was perfectly conveyed in the Monty Python story, which I am sure was mostly historically accurate.

The most recent film version was Antoine Fuqua’s version in 2004 which removed all the magic from the story and was based heavily in leftover Roman Empire legends. The action was good, but the magic is so key to all the legends that this one felt a little static.

My personal favorite was the TV movie Merlin starring Sam Neil that really had Arthur as more of a side character, but leaned heavily on the magic side of the legends.

In this most recent edition particular version, the whole story is ‘Guy Ritchie-d’ up.  We start the story with Uther battling Mordred, who has broken from Merlin and the other Mages to unleash darkness on the land. Uther defeats him thanks to his mastery of the magic of the sword Excalibur, but his brother Vortigern decides he’s ready to usurp the throne and calls on his own dark magic and sea monster/witches for assistance.  Uther ushers his wife and child out of the castle and she falls, but the child lives. He battles Uther, and at the end of the battle, Uther ensures that Excalibur will be trapped in stone until his rightful heir, the ‘born-king’ comes back to claim it.  Meanwhile, little Arthur floats, Moses-Style, down the Thames to Londinum, the ancient Roman outpost that will eventually become London. 

There, he goes through an aging montage that shows us he becomes essentially a Guy Ritchie-style street tough as he is raised in a brothel. He goes from being cared for by prostitutes to caring for prostitutes, all the while, accumulating quite a fortune and a running crew, including Tristan and Backlack.  Inevitably, a group of Vikings mistreat one of the prostitutes, so Arthur and crew have a ‘word’ with the Vikings.  Word gets back to now-King Vortigern, who is also having all ‘men of a certain age’ tested by trying to pull the sword from the stone.  Arthur gets arrested by the ‘black legs’ (Vortigern’s men) and taken to pull on the sword, where David Beckham yells at him.  Shocking everyone, David Beckham most of all, Arthur pulls the sword.  

This pisses off Vortigern, and he’s determined to kill Arthur in front of everyone to prevent him from gaining support of the people.  Well, that plan goes awry as Arthur is rescued by what’s left of Uther’s crew and a random Mage. Eventually Arthur’s running crew meets up with the remains of Uther’s old crew, and together they begin to stage a few ambushes here and there to begin to take down Vortigern as Arthur first struggles with, then comes to accept Excalibur and the responsibilities that come with it.  Spoiler alert –  in the end he defeats his uncle, takes back the throne, builds a round table, knights some guys, and swears to bring honor, justice, and chivalry back to the kingdom. 

The movie is very much a Guy Ritchie movie, and I think that is a good thing. I’ve been a fan of his since Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and honestly – this feels like a medieval Lock, Stock.  The very cockney and modernized version of Arthur is going to not resonate with a lot of folks, but I found it entertaining.  The movie looks lovely, the sets are amazing, and I enjoyed the foot chases and fights through ancient London.  Yes, there’s a lot of CG in terms of magical beasts and what-not, that didn’t bother me too much, and seemed to fit the story.  Yes, it’s probably a bit too long, and a little sluggish in parts, but since I was expecting it to be terrible, I was able to tolerate that.  The cast is decent and filled out by a charming supporting group of characters.

  • Charlie Hunnam is actually better in this than I have seen him in anything else. Since I didn’t watch Sons of Anarchy, that list is really just Pacific Rim, and he was terrible in that – so I guess it’s not a huge achievement, but I enjoyed his rough and tumble version of a grumpy Arthur who is more concerned about his friends and family than his overwhelming destiny.

  • Astrid Berges-Frisbey plays The Mage with no name (there are some articles and cast listings where she is listed as 'Guenivere' but she's never called that in the movie), and she is okay, but a little one-note.  There’s no Merlin in this story at all, which I suppose is fine.  She does a pretty good job of helping Arthur, but seeming to be annoyed about the entire situation.

  • Jude Law chews all the scenery as Vortigern, and that was very entertaining. He’s a pretty great villain and should do that more often. He’s familiar enough with Ritchie’s style thanks to his two outings as Watson in the updated Sherlock Holmes.

  • Djimon Hounsou plays Bedivere, and essentially it’s the same role you’ve seen him play multiple times before. He’s the old, wise, warrior who is ready to help Arthur step up to his destiny. He is excellent at this role, so I’m not complaining.

  • Eric Bana shows up briefly as Uther, and does some impressive sword fighting before locking up that sword in a stone.

  • Aidan Gillen plays Bill – a leftover from Uther’s group who first gets Arthur aware of the issues happening at large, since he was mainly paying attention to his own affairs. Thanks to all the GOT experience, he’s just fine in this medieval flick, and gets to take some awesome arrow shots.

  • Freddie Fox plays Rubio, another member of the gang who helps Arthur begin to get his kingdom back.
  • Craig McGinlay plays Percival, who at first seems a bit skeptical of Arthur, but then is won over.
  • Tom Wu gets to keep his Marco Polo hairstyle, and basically the exact same character, as ‘kung-fu’ George, one of Arthur’s London friends who steps up to help him once his destiny comes calling.
  • Kingsley Ben-Adir plays WetStick (Tristan), and sticks by Arthur’s side throughout everything long enough to be knighted by the end.

  • Neil Maskell plays Back Lack, and along with his son, Blue, are a part of Arthur’s London crew.

The movie is not great, and it’s not doing all that well, which is a shame, because this really functions as an origin story, and I would like to see further adventures of the group of knights that is assembled around the round table by the end of this.  Who knows, perhaps it will do better globally and we’ll get a sequel anyway?

6 out of 10 – Bonus points for the random knights, and here’s hoping we get more from them. More bonus points for the Guy Ritchie cameo - it's quick, keep your eyes peeled.

Cast Interviews:

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (PG13 – 136 minutes)

The Guardians of the Galaxy first appeared in 1969 in a Marvel Comic, and had many different members and cosmic adventures over the years - yes, you could refer to them as 'Space Avengers' and it would make sense. 

Since the Guardians were fairly unfamiliar characters to the general public, the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which came out in 2014, took many people by surprise. Equal parts fun, action, and emotion, the movie was as close to perfect as any of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) movies had gotten to that point. The movie ended up being my favorite Marvel movie to date – followed very closely by Captain America 2 and 3. It had the amazing ability to bring me to tears while also making me laugh out loud.  I still tear up at the beginning where Peter’s mother dies – and at the end, where Groot sacrifices himself to save the others – only to be repotted and show up here as Baby Groot.
The story of Vol. 1 was a pure origin story.  We were introduced to the Guardians, Star-Lord (Peter Quill), Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot, as they encountered one another, assembled into a rough team, evaded then teamed up with Yondu Udonta and the Ravagers, and defeated Ronan the Accuser when he broke from Thanos and attempted to use an infinity stone to destroy the planet Xandar and the universe at large. 

Vol. 2 picks up just a few months after Vol. 1 ended.  The Guardians, after their Vol. 1 escapades, are now fairly known heroes and are taking random jobs for pay.  They have agreed to take a job from ‘the Sovereign’ to battle a giant space-slug type monster that is all teeth and tentacles to protect some very fancy batteries.  The Sovereign consider themselves to be perfect, and so could not take a chance with any of their own citizens being in danger while defending the batteries.  In exchange for their help, the Sovereign gives Nebula, Gamora’s ‘sister’, back to them so that they can cash in on her bounty on Xandar.  This all goes pretty according to plan until Rocket steals some of the batteries on the way out, because "they were really easy to steal."  

Furious, the Sovereign send a fleet of remotely piloted ships after the Guardians, causing some catastrophic damage to their ship, the Milano.  The team is miraculously saved by a surprise visitor.  After crash-landing on Berhart, the team does some high-quality bickering, and gets greeted by the surprise guest who introduces himself as Ego – Peter’s Father.  Peter, Gamora, and Drax head off with Ego and his associate Mantis to visit his planet (he has his own planet!), while Rocket and Baby Groot stay behind to keep an eye on Nebula.  This becomes dangerous when Yondu Undonta and his crew of Ravagers are hired by the Sovereign to collect the Guardians and swiftly arrive.  Hijinks ensue, and I really, truly mean that in the very best possible way.  These are the best hijinks of the year so far.

From this point on – Spoiler Alert – I am not going to mention much more about the plot – but it’s really hard to say anything else without ruining bits of the story, and you really should see this movie without knowing exactly what happens.  I will complement the marketing team on this (I know, I almost never say that!), but each of the trailers and commercials I saw really only covered plot bits and clips from what I mentioned above, which is really only the first twenty minutes or so of the story, which is exceptional.  Most trailers lately show entirely too much of the movie, and you feel like you know what is going to happen before you get to the theater (looking at you SpiderMan Homecoming trailer).  In GOTGv2, there are a few twists and turns, and it was wonderful to be genuinely surprised when they happened in the theater!  There was an audible gasp by the audience at one point.

Like Vol. 1, James Gunn wrote and directed Vol. 2, and if you’re not following him on social media – you should be.  He's funny, witty, charming, and really cares about the fans because he is a fan. Last year, while in production, he would weekly release a storyboard picture – one that wouldn’t show any plot points, but that would keep everyone interested in what he was shooting.  He treats every single one of the characters with care and devotion, and has completely delivered on giving each of them space to grow, but also stay true to who they were when we met them.  If the first movie was about family – this one is also about family, but the more detailed relationships between parents and children, especially fathers and sons. 

The look of the movie is exceptionally beautiful, and this is one where I will say that it is worth seeing it in 3D.  Gunn has created a lush and colorful galaxy with gorgeous planets, space, ships, people, and creatures in it.

Another thing that James Gunn does almost better than anyone else right now is the music in the movie.  Vol. 1 was a surprise in terms of the music – which was fantastic! When I was younger (wow, I’m old enough to start sentences that way), movie soundtracks were a much bigger deal than they are today. They would essentially function as pre-made mix tapes that you would pick up after seeing the movie and how expertly the songs worked in it. It’s rare to find that in today’s movies, but James Gunn manages to make the songs in this movie fit seamlessly into the movie, to the point that they can be parts of the story. I once again bought the CD on the way out of the theater, and it is fantastic.

The cast is once again pure perfection. Each returning character gets to grow a little bit and deepen their already established personality.  New characters are each given their own moment to shine as well.  Be warned again – spoiler alerts here!  It is really hard to say why I loved some of the performances without a little explanation:

  • Chris Pratt proves again he was born to play Star-Lord.  He saunters through the movie, trading quips and snark with his teammates and everyone else.  Pratt ups his own game here in some of the scenes with Ego, where he is able to convey the absolute longing he has felt his whole life without a father to the doubt he feels when his father suddenly appears.  His joy once he realizes he has found his family is quickly tempered once Gamora starts raising some really good questions.  He’s good the whole way through – but his reaction to Yondu’s final moment in the movie absolutely broke my heart.

  • Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, and once again proves to be the most dangerous woman in the galaxy. Watching her and Nebula continue to battle, and then finally get down to why they are so angry at one another was wonderful. 

  • Dave Bautista continues to be absolute perfection as Drax. He’s still overly literal, but in this one, he laughs so much more. The laugh is a thing of beauty because he laughs with his entire being, and honestly, every time he laughed – everyone in the theater laughed with him - #DraxLaugh.  While that was fantastic, his best moment is a quiet moment on the steps of Ego’s palace with Mantis as he shares a memory of his daughter – perfectly played, infinitely sad and beautiful.

  • Vin Diesel voices Baby Groot, and man, if he stole the first movie – he certainly steals the majority of this movie as well.  Again Gunn prepared a special script for Diesel where Groot’s lines are all written out in English, and Diesel gets to figure out how to convey all those lines in only three words, "I am Groot." All the commercials and trailers you’ve seen where the Guardians are fighting the giant space octopus? Well, that all happens in the background during the opening credits as you just get to watch Baby Groot dance in the foreground to Mr. BlueSky. It is incredible.  He’s so cute, so tiny, and yet somehow conveys so much emotion on his little adorable face!  There are a couple of scenes where he is sad or in pain, and I instantly felt overwhelming concern for this tiny CGI tree.  I particularly loved the scene where he explains why he doesn’t like hats.

  • Bradley Cooper voices Rocket Racoon, with Sean Gunn doing the on-set motion reference. He’s once again surprisingly one of the characters with the most heart, learning after a conversation with Yondu that trying to piss off everyone around him to convince himself he doesn’t need anyone is not going to work.

  • Michael Rooker plays Yondu, and absolutely steals every piece of this movie that does not have Baby Groot in it.  From his first appearance where we learn a bit of his background with the Ravagers, to surviving a mutiny by his own crew, to realizing that Peter is with Ego and that is bad news, to eventually letting Peter know that he has always thought of him as a son – get your tissues ready for his few final scenes, they are absolutely beautifully done.

  • Karen Gillan plays Nebula, and actually gets a bit more to do in this movie than just be angry as she was in the first one. She finally explains to Gamora why she hates her so much, and starts building a bridge to where they may eventually have a working relationship.

  • Pom Kementieff joins the cast as Mantis – Ego’s empathic associate – who can read emotions, and help to control emotions as well.  The bizarre but beautiful relationship that builds between Mantis and Drax is definitely a highlight of this story.

  • Sylvester Stallone plays Stakar Ogord, who also goes by StarHawk, and was in the comics as one of the Guardians in the past.  He’s very good in his two scenes, especially the one where he gives some angry exposition of why Yondu was kicked out of the Ravagers.  Also – he gets a post-credit sequence that hints he may get more to do later on.
  • Kurt Russell plays Ego, the living planet. And, yes, he really is a living planet.  Honestly, Russell is a perfect pick to play Pratt’s dad. He is genuinely thrilled that he has found Peter after all this time, and as his motivations for doing so become more and more clear – he shifts from loving father to determined god (“with a small ‘g’”).  The transition is fascinating, as he completely believes what he is doing is his right.  It’s a fantastic performance and really made me remember how good Kurt Russell is.  Maybe it’s time for me to watch Overboard again.

  • Elizabeth Debicki – who stole most of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. reboot for me – plays Ayesha, the head of the Sovereign. She’s composed, condescending, and cool.  There is an absolutely brilliant visual gag with a blue carpet that she is walking on when going to meet Yondu that could have been a throwaway moment, but instead is comedic genius.  Also – Farscape’s Ben Browder shows up as her Admiral!

  • Sean Gunn plays Yondu’s right hand man, Kraglin, again. He is just fantastic in this one. He first starts to question Yondu and his devotion to Peter, but then once he realizes that the other crew members seize on that questioning to launch their mutiny, gets a moment to really be disappointed in himself when most of his friends get killed.  He also gets a moment at the end when he realizes why the other Ravagers have arrived on the scene that just – again – broke my heart.  I did a lot of crying at this – in a good way.

  • Chris Sullivan from This Is Us plays Taserface – one of the Ravagers that leads the mutiny. He’s big and dumb, and easily manipulated by Rocket in a truly hilarious way.

  • The rest of the Ravagers are made up of friends of James Gunn –which works out well.  Tommy Flanagan gets the most to do.

There are all kinds of cameos and guest spots – Seth Green’s voiced Howard the Duck shows up again, Gregg Henry is back as Peter’s grandfather, Ving Rhames shows up as Charlie-27, Michael Rosenbaum plays Martinex, and Michelle Yeoh plays Aleta – all Guardians from the comic who have a meeting with StarHawk during a post-credit sequence.  Could they get a spin off? Or just return in another Guardians movie? Either way, I would watch it!

Yes, there are five post-credit sequences, so stay all the way through - the end credits are also really funny thanks to a disco-ed up version of the instrumental Guardians musical theme that has appeared in both the first movie and this movie with some lyrics by David Hasslehoff. You read that right.

Overall, I cannot say enough good things about this movie.  I was worried it wouldn’t be as good as the first, and so my expectations were low – which really helped me out, because I loved it almost as much as the first one. Yes, it’s a little slow in the middle, but that’s where you get the character development.  Yes, the action sequences are almost entirely CGI – but it’s beautifully done and looks amazing in this movie.  Yes, some of the comedy scenes are almost cartoonish – but I think that fits these characters!  It’s wonderful – I loved it – go see it.

11 out of 10 – yes, that’s how my math works.  Good luck everything else this year. 
Cast Interviews:  

  Cast Games!  

Friday, May 5, 2017

Movie Review: The Circle (PG13 – 110 minutes)

Inevitably, we were going to get to a movie this year that I hated – but I wasn’t expecting it to be this one.  

The Circle is a movie based on the 2013 novel by Dave Eggers – who co-wrote the screenplay with director James Ponsoldt.  Honestly, I broke my own rule on this and went to see it despite having hated the only other movie by Ponsoldt I had seen, the Spectacular Now.  Since I believe movies to be the director’s medium, I try to keep in mind how I felt about a director’s previous movies when choosing whether to see their new movies. 

I haven’t read the book, but in checking the synopsis on Wikipedia, I will say the movie seems to stick very close to the original plot.  It is centered around Mae Holland, a young woman stuck at a bit of a dead-end customer service tele-marketing type job who is very worried about her parents well-being, since her father has MS, in a fairly advanced state.  She unwinds by kayaking in the San Francisco Bay.  Mae’s friend Annie, meanwhile, is working at The Circle – a huge tech company that is inventing all sorts of operating systems and social media apps.  Annie gets Mae an interview, and she quickly accepts to join the Circle.

Once employed, Mae swiftly becomes enamored of the Circle’s fabulous campus, dorm-like living quarters, multiple activities, and super friendly (like creepy friendly) employees.  Mae is really beginning to enjoy all the aspects of her job – which is basically tele-marketing type customer service again – even after a weekend back at home lets her see that her dad’s disease is getting worse and her friend (her ex?) Mercer is warning her that the Circle is way to omni-present and folks need a little privacy. However, Mae is far too swept up in the ‘sharing is caring’ attitude of the company to pay any attention – even after meeting a handsome stranger at a company party – at which Beck is playing.  Beck.

At an announcement event by company head Eamon Bailey – Mae learns about the SeeChange, and new lightweight camera that transmits wirelessly and can be stuck to anything. Annie gets word to the Circle about Mae’s parents’ situation, and the Circle helps get them on her health insurance, and in exchange, they agree to have SeeChange cameras everywhere in their house.  After an evening of poor kayaking, where she almost drowns, but is saved by the fact that someone was watching on SeeChange cameras – Mae agrees to “go transparent”, letting SeeChange cameras watch her every single move as she goes about her day to day existence.  Annie, whose job is getting more and more stressful, gets a little jealous as Mae becomes the new poster-girl for the company, to the point that she is allowed in big-time board meetings and suggests technology ideas (what?).  Basically, she suggests the God’s Eye from the F&F franchise, or the thing that Lucius Fox and Batman created in Dark Knight. 

At the next Friday announcement meeting, she and Eamon present this technology – which the world uses to find an escaped criminal in less than 15 minutes. At the crowd’s urging, they then use it to find Mercer, who has stopped talking to Mae – since she’s continuously plugged in.  They find him, and random people and drones are chasing him to the point that he accidentally drives his truck off a bridge while trying to get away. 

At this point, I expected the movie to turn the way it should have, Mae realizes how dangerous this ‘transparency’ is, and partners with the mysterious stranger who is popping up at the company and warning her to take them down from the inside.  However, she partners with him (it turns out he’s one of the guys who helped create the company by inventing its first system) to release Eamon and Tom Stelton’s (the number two guy in the company) private emails at the next Friday meeting, claiming they are not living transparently enough.  The movie then ends with her kayaking with drones – apparently completely bought in to the Circle and its goals of a total and complete lack of privacy for everyone anywhere.

If that sounds odd to you, you’re right.  The movie is really choppy and uneven. The character development is really lacking.  Why does Annie have a complete flip in her personality? Why is Ty lurking around?  Why is Tom so serious about getting that politician on board?  And has Mae really drank the kool-aid that hard?  I really feel like there was an entire middle portion of the movie that I didn’t see.  I do feel like the majority of the cast is great, and the majority of the performances were good – or at least delivered on what they were asked to do.  I just think they were poorly assembled as a whole.

  • Emma Watson plays Mae, and I think she’s really over-rated. Admittedly, I haven’t seen her in a ton of non-magical stuff, but she’s terrible in this.  Her American accent is just fine, but she’s really over the top and too big with some of the emotions, and then not emoting at all in some of the quieter moments.  I found myself hating the character – but I can’t tell if that was the goal or just a side-effect of her performance.  She’s so non-committed to the Circle in the beginning that her flip of being completed embedded into their worldview by the end is a little confusing.

  • Ellar Coltrane plays Mercer, and essentially has nothing to do but look panicked at Mae’s new job as it gets more and more scary.  You could see his death coming from miles away, and instead of it having the effect on Mae that it should – making her realize that she caused his death with her immersion in the Circle’s philosophy – it drives her further into the Circle.

  • Glenne Headly plays Mae’s mother, and she actually does a wonderful job of being a bit hesitant, but also supportive.  Bill Paxton, in his final role, plays Vinnie, Mae’s father.  His performance is amazing, and it was really depressing that this is the last thing we see him in, expertly playing a man slowly losing control over his body to a terrible disease. His performance was one of the best in the movie, but that was extremely upsetting – if that makes any sense.

  • Karen Gillan was also very good as Annie – but since we never really learn what her job is or what she’s doing, it’s a little confusing when she falls apart.  I’m assuming she gets more development in the book. She’s super bubbly and supportive in the beginning, and we learn she’s over-worked, which seems to lead to a total and complete breakdown – to the point that she quits and moves back to Scotland – far away from the Circle. 

  • Tom Hanks does his best to Hanks it up as Eamon Bailey – and I actually really enjoyed him in this as the just a bit shady, almost a super-villain, type role.  I would like to see him play a bad guy a little more often, I think he does a good job.

  • Patton Oswalt plays Tom Stelton, and he seems to be the lawyer/money-guy for the company – Bailey’s right hand man, the one interacting with the politician’s and making sure all the Is are dotted and Ts crossed - he feels very corporate evil.  Remember how amazing he was in that one episode of Dollhouse? Go watch that again instead of this.

  • John Boyega is completely wasted as Ty, the mysterious founder of the company who now seems to be lurking around the fringes of the parties and the basements of the Circle campus.  He really could have been an interesting character, just on the edge of losing his sanity and desperate to find an ally – but he’s not given a chance to develop at all – and while he helps Mae release the emails – doe she then betray him by staying with and expanding the Circle? Or is that what he wanted? I couldn’t tell.

Overall, I really did not care for it – it just made no sense, and I can’t help but wonder that if the point was that Mae was so sucked in by the technology, if a different actress would have helped to convey that better. Perhaps if they had flipped Gillan and Watson?  I actually like the idea of having the movie end completely unexpectedly – with Mae completely surrendering to the ‘transparency’ of the Circle – but, I feel like Mae devolving from the ‘hero’ of the story to a ‘villain’ could have been executed a little better, and could have been really creepy if done properly.  Instead, I just felt annoyed.

3 out of 10 – lost points for not enough Boyega, and for the creepy-friendly employees, and for Silicon Valley doing a better job of a similar story weekly.

Bonus – Cast Interviews

Monday, April 24, 2017

Movie Review: Fate of the Furious (PG13 – 136 minutes)

Hard to believe, but we are on the eighth film in this franchise!  It’s far and away Universal’s biggest franchise, and amongst all other ‘summer tentpole’ movies – features the most diverse cast, and the most global appeal.

In 2001, we were introduced to undercover cop Brian O’Conner who tried to break into a street-racing crew led by Dominic Toretto.  Brian fell in love with Dom’s sister Mia, and over the course of the next seven movies, the crew developed into a tight-knit family, and we learned that there is nothing more important than family, because it’s mentioned over and over again.

This movie picks up where the previous movie left off – Brian and Mia have retired from ‘the life’ to raise their children in peace.  Dom and Letty are on their honeymoon (even though they got married back at the beginning of movie 4 – in the meantime they had a whole movie of her amnesia and recovery to deal with) in Cuba.  While there, Dom’s cousin (how have we never met this kid before if he is family!?!) accidentally gets Dom involved in a street-race with a local hoodlum.  Dom wins, but lets the guy keep his car, because – respect, and it will come into play later.

Meanwhile, DSS agent Luke Hobbs is coaching his daughter’s soccer team when he’s approached by a government agent to take on another job that has to be ‘off the books’.  He recruits the crew to come help remove an EMP from a Russian base.  They successfully grab the EMP, but what they don’t realize is a mysterious woman approached Dom in Havana, and shown him something that forced him to work with her, and he promptly steals the EMP from the crew and delivers it to ‘Cipher’, who we learn is the world’s greatest cyber-terrorist.

Well, that doesn’t sit well with the family, but they don’t really believe that Dom turned against them, and they scramble to figure out Cipher and Dom’s next move under the guidance of Mr. Nobody, who has a new recruit, referred to only as Little Nobody.  Dom and Cipher break into their base and steal the ‘God’s Eye’, the item they spent all of the last movie chasing.   The gang then tracks Dom to New York, where he is going to steal a nuclear football (suitcase of codes) from a Russian ambassador with the assistance of Cipher hacking all the computers of local cars, causing hundreds of ‘zombie cars’ to chase the ambassador’s limo around town.  The crew almost catches up to Dom, but he manages to get away from them.

Finally, Cipher and her evil crew plus Dom head to Russia to steal a submarine that has nuclear weapons on board, and our family is forced to use their cars (because they have to use their cars) to attempt to stop Cipher from stealing a submarine while Dom finally figures out a way to get out from under Cipher’s control to get back with his family and put an end to her plot.

If that sounds over the top – you’re absolutely right. It has to be, each of these movies has been bringing bigger and bigger stunts into play, and this one is no exception.  The street-race in Havana at the beginning is a great action sequence.  The escape in the very beginning when Dom first turns against them is fantastic.  The scene in New York with the zombie cars is really cool – and something I had not seen before.  But really – the climax chase with the submarine is absolutely fantastic.  Yes, over-the-top, but that is just perfection where this movie series is concerned. 
This one is directed by F. Gary Gray, who knows how to direct car-heist movies thanks to his experience on the Italian Job.  The action is great, and honestly, I felt that some of the performances were better than I expected this time around.

  • Vin Diesel plays Dom, and while at no point does his family believe he has truly turned against them, he does a pretty convincing job of being torn when forced to work with Cypher.

  • Jason Statham returns as Deckard, one of the villains from movie 7 – there were a few of them.  Honestly, he stole most of the movie for me. This is back to early Transporter Statham as he Stathams his way through this movie.  The prison break sequence at the beginning with he and the Rock trash-talking each other, and then hand-to-hand combating through a bunch of prisoners is just fantastic.  And, without spoiling it, his action sequence at the end was probably my favorite bit of the movie.  Yes, it makes no sense that the crew would be willing to work with this guy, since it is all about Family, and he did kill Han three movies ago, but hey – sometimes the enemy of your enemy is your friend. 

  • Dwayne Johnson – let’s be real, we’ll just continue to call him the Rock – plays Hobbs, who started out chasing the team in movie 5, and by the end of this one is officially part of the family. I enjoyed his bit with the girls’ soccer team at the beginning, charming and fun. His interactions with Statham were fantastic, and if they don’t get to do a spin-off together, then I really want an action buddy-cop movie with the two of them. Their on-screen chemistry is outstanding!

  •  Michelle Rodriguez is back as Letty, despite being dead for movie 4 and 5, amnesia-victim for 6, and amnesia-recoverer for 7.  I have to say, I thought her performance in this movie was better than I have seen her in any of the others. Her pain at Dom’s betrayal felt real, even when she wanted to believe he would never turn against them.  Which he wouldn’t.

  • Tyrese Gibson plays Roman Pierce who started out as Brian’s buddy in movie 2. Yes, he’s still charming and hilarious. He charms his way through the movie, but I have to say, seemed to be snacking a lot less. And I missed his snacking. But – I did love his action sequence in his bright orange Lamborghini.

  • Chris “Ludacris” Bridges plays Tej Parker – who continues to be a world-class tech guy and hacker, despite being introduced in movie 2 as a garage owner.  He and Roman still have a fun back and forth with Ramsey.

  • Nathalie Emmanuel plays Ramsey, who was introduced as a world-class hacker in movie 7.  Because Tej is a world-class hacker, there seems to be very little for her to do.  Also – she doesn’t seem to drive. Ever, at all.  Which is odd, because the majority of this movie is how our family drives for all their adventures. I’m hoping for the next movie, she gets her own car. And, does not end up with either Roman or Tej.  Because, while their back and forth is somewhat entertaining, it’s also demeaning and I would be happier if she chose to not be with either of them.

  • Elsa Pataky is back briefly as Elena – who was a Brazilian cop that Hobbs used as a partner in movie 5, then hooked up with Dom at the beginning of 6, then let him go find and be with Letty.
  • Kurt Russell is back as Mr. Nobody, who was first introduced as a shady government operative in movie 7. He’s just fantastic in this and really looks like he is having the best time.

  • Scott Eastwood joins in this movie as Little Nobody, a new recruit that Mr. Nobody is training. He’s really bland, boring, doesn’t fit in and seems unnecessary.

  • Luke Evans returns briefly as Owen Shaw who was the main villain of movie 6.
  • Kristofer Hiyju plays Connor Rhodes, Cypher’s henchman number one, who is basically around to glare at Dom and make some smart-ass comments.  You can guess how that goes for him at the end.

  • Charlize Theron plays Cipher – and chews all the scenery she can find. It is fantastic for this movie, and perfectly fits the tone. Plus, there are several scenes where she just doesn’t blink while saying her lines. It makes her look like a complete psycho. I was a little disappointed that she didn’t get to drive, but hey – she commands her airplane in a very terrifying way.

Overall, it was absolutely fantastic. There is the hole missing that was the late Paul Walker, but there are lots of little tributes to him throughout the movie.  Early on, someone says, “Brian would know what to do” which I interpreted as both the characters and the actors being a little bit lost without him.  There are little bits here and there that were questionable:  Would they really work with Deckard after he killed Han? Would they really forgive Dom that quickly? Why not simply get out of the cars in New York and punch somebody? Would the cars really outrun that sub? Can the Rock really manhandle Scott Eastwood that easily? Yes.  And honestly, I could do without another scene of two hackers staring at screens attempting to out-hack each other while saying things like “oh, she’s good”, “this is impossible”, and “I’m in!”  That has happened in far too many movies and shows lately.  Let’s get away from it now.  But, really – none of that matters.  This is a big, giant, popcorn movie.  Sit back, turn off the brain, and enjoy yourself.

9 out of 10- bonus points for Helen Mirren.  Spoiler alert – there’s some Helen Mirren in this…but not nearly enough! And yes, I’m taking off a point for the booty scene.  There’s always a scene in these movies of some chick starting a street race in booty shorts. I’m over that.

Cast Interviews:

Extra Special Bonus - the LAMBcast podcast discussion of the entire franchise, which I was lucky enough to guest on.  https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2017-04-27T15_32_16-07_00