Mission Impossible II turns 20

Twenty years ago this month, Tom Cruise and John Woo were dominating the box office with their kinetic and wild take on Mission Impossible. Somewhat maligned as the ugly duckling following a string of superior sequels, I thought it was about time that we set the record straight, and appreciated Mission Impossible II for what it really is – wildly misunderstood.

Rhys Pascoe

It is the summer of 2000. The likes of Eminem, Matchbox Twenty and Britney Spears are riding high in the charts, Y2K panic is already a distant memory and ‘Brennifer’ are the hottest couple in Tinseltown. Meanwhile, Mission Impossible II makes its bow in cinemas across the world, with a floppy-haired Tom Cruise in the lead role, four years on from the first film reviving a 60s TV classic.

It turned out to be the smash of the summer. It had the highest debut weekend of the year, and broke Scream 3’s record for widest release ever, playing in more than 3,600 theatres across the US. Here in Australia, it sat atop the box office for three weeks, and pipped Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator to the highest single weekend gross of the year.

By the end of its theatrical run, Mission Impossible II had earned upward of $500 million worldwide, far and away the biggest earner at the box office that year, ahead of Gladiator, Cast Awayand What Women Want (remember when every major blockbuster wasn’t a Disney remake or Marvel film?).

However, critical praise was harder to come by than box office receipts, with the film copping heat for its dizzying action and thin plot. In the intervening years, John Woo’s sequel has become the defamed stepchild of this six-part spy saga (particularly since the series has gone from strength to strength under the stewardship of JJ Abrams, Brad Bird and especially Christopher McQuarrie).

To that criticism I say: phooey. Woo’s film is a raucous and rowdy trip that recalls a time when blockbuster films could still be weird, outlandish or garish. There’s an overabundance of slow motion, ludicrous plot devices and next to no character development, but Woo’s film excels not in spite of its silliness, but thanks to it. It has everything the spy genre has to offer; rubber masks, deadly viruses, motorcycle chases, gun-fu, flocks of doves – what’s not to love? It’s an off-the-wall mishmash of ideas and cultures, distilled into a slick spy romp set in… Sydney (seriously).

The Mission Impossible series was founded on this idea that filmmakers would dip in, have a crack and dip out. Since 1996, five filmmakers have brought something new and interesting to the series; from Bird’s dizzying IMAX action spectacle in Ghost Protocol to McQuarrie’s tight storytelling in Rogue Nation and Fallout.

Woo brought panache and a sense of poetry to Mission Impossible II’s action set pieces, which are told through electrifying colour, stylised editing and constantly escalating stakes that reveal the Hong Kong filmmaker’s balletic wuxia roots. The colours – particularly vivid and rich on the Blu-ray copy I was watching – leap from the screen. Filmed in Broken Hill and around Port Jackson Bay, the outback soil is a rich, rusty orange and the ocean is a sparkling blue – a far cry from the washed-out and drab colour palettes that so many modern blockbusters paint with.

Cruise – who was then on something of a hot streak, having worked with both Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson in the two years prior – is peak action hero here. Still a huge draw for audiences and not yet a scientology nutjob, Mission Impossible II can also be seen as a watershed moment for the star.

Action had always been in Cruise’s wheelhouse, from the machismo of Top Gun to the fuel-soaked Days of Thunder. But Mission Impossible II is where headline-grabbing stuntwork and a dedication to thrilling action became the star’s modus operandi. The Arizona free climbing sequence where we’re reintroduced to Ethan Hunt might pale in comparison to some of Cruise’s later Mission Impossible stunts, but it tees up the idea that this is a bonafide ‘movie star’ who walks the walk.

For all its gleeful ‘guilty pleasure’ elements, there are others that aren’t as strong or as entertaining. Some of the casting choices are, questionable, to say the least. Anthony Hopkins feels out of place in this spy-vs-spy world, while Dougray Scott’s villain Sean Ambrose lacks malice. But, in something of a cinematic ‘sliding doors’ moment, we have Scott’s miscasting to thank for Hugh Jackman’s iconic Wolverine, with the former turning down the role to instead star in Mission Impossible II.

Therefore, it falls to British actress Thandie Newton to trade dramatic punches with Cruise, and frankly she steals the show and then some – a cat burglar who is pulled into a biochemistry conspiracy, she’s granted actual agency and an arc that makes her the envy of disposable Bond girls everywhere. 

Looking back at Mission Impossible II illustrates just how tame and restrained most modern tentpole films are by comparison (McQuarrie’s recent Mission Impossible entries aside, obviously). There’s no murky third act CGI mess to sit through; Woo prefers choreographed action that is exciting and frenetic, but still easy to follow. 

It’s silly, but it’s never boring – which is more than be said for Cruise’s derivative The Mummy reboot or lacklustre Jack Reacher sequel. At least it’s a film with an identity of its own and a filmmaker’s fingerprints all over it – something most Marvel films can’t attest to. Maligned it may be, but Mission Impossible II – for all its faults – is colourful, chock-a-block with creativity and well worth a revisit.

Mission Impossible II is streaming on Netflix Australia and Stan.

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Now Streaming: Indiana Jones & The Mummy

If you’re home and in the mood for some swashbuckling archaeological throwbacks, Netflix has two killer classics for you to enjoy in isolation.

Zachary Cruz-Tan

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

“When Raiders of the Lost Ark appeared, it defined a new energy level for adventure movies; it was a delirious breakthrough. But there was no way for Spielberg to top himself”, wrote Roger Ebert when he reviewed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989.

True, but Last Crusade has something Raiders didn’t, something Temple of Doom (1984) attempted to remedy semi-successfully with Short Round: Indy’s perfect foil.

Enter, Sean Connery. Perhaps the best thing to happen to the franchise since the melting Nazi faces. Connery, as Indy’s clueless but often resourceful father, adds a spark to the movie unsurpassed by anyone else the series has to offer. He develops a chemistry with Harrison Ford so natural, so convincing and gleefully entertaining that the film kicks up a gear whenever he’s on screen. His proper introduction in the German castle and the ensuing motorcycle chase contain some of his funniest exchanges.

He inhabits the role with a kind of joy. Connery has always been able to determine exactly what a part requires of him and tune his performance accordingly. In Last Crusade, he is so complete you’d think he was a series regular, and it’s this very comfort that convinces us he’s Indy’s dad, Marcus Brody’s old friend, a true historian and an explorer capable of accepting the supernatural.

Of course, none of this would matter if the movie as a whole didn’t work. Last Crusade does everything an Indiana Jones movie must do and includes all the sensational chases and nail-biting stunts that made Raiders great (in some cases, like the sequence involving the tank, it is even better than Raiders). And this time, Indy actually has a profound effect on the outcome of the story. It is a full-blooded, often hilarious adventure, my favourite of the lot, and in casting Sean Connery, I think Spielberg has indeed topped himself.

The Mummy

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Here is a movie that has aged superbly, retaining its humour and dogged atmosphere of eerie thrills more than twenty years on from its original release. The Mummy, which I hesitate to admit kept me awake for two weeks straight after I saw it for the first time in 1999, has grown for me into a balanced cocktail of fun and dread. The kind of adventure movie that can have you hiding behind your fingers one moment and laughing out loud the next.

It’s all incredibly preposterous and has very little in common with Universal’s original Mummy movie with Boris Karloff, but it’s directed by Stephen Sommers, who is, let’s say, a little rough around the edges and not primarily concerned with making great movies. I’m actually thankful for that, because this Mummy would’ve shrivelled up and died if anyone working on it had taken it seriously.

Sommers brings great energy to this picture, which is all about ancient Egyptian curses and creatures returning from the dead and our heroes reciting the wrong sacred passages from the wrong sacred books to accidentally unleash all the wrong kinds of phenomena.

It’s standard fare but incredibly fun, particularly because Brendan Fraser, as the Indiana Jones-like swashbuckler Rick O’Connell, is endlessly charming, hilarious, and convincing in action. He is the bond that holds the set pieces together. The visual effects, too, have held up considerably well, and Sommers along with his cinematographer Adrian Biddle have done a masterful job of framing beautiful but claustrophobic spaces for their characters to get lost in.

The Mummy looks and feels just right. It’s breezy and enjoyable, and suitably chilling. The more ridiculous but less coherent The Mummy Returns followed two years later, also directed by Sommers, with the same cast, but it hasn’t stood the test of time as elegantly.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade & The Mummy are now streaming on Netflix in Australia.

Images courtesy of Netflix Australia, Paramount Home Entertainment and Universal Pictures Video

Movie Review – Birds of Prey

Cathy Yan’s sparkly superhero blockbuster works to entertain, but something about it isn’t quite right.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I am going to plead the First Amendment of the United States constitution by proxy, because I foresee indignation and furrowed brows at what I’m about to say. Birds of Prey is a fun, buoyant action movie, with lots of colours, vulgarities and impressive stunts. But in its efforts to uplift the role of women in blockbuster entertainment, it somehow feels it necessary to prop them on the backs, shoulders, faces, groins and mangled corpses of men. This is essentially a movie where a posse of spunky chicks beat up on dudes for two hours.

I know I’m wading in dangerous waters here, but let’s face it – there is healthy feminism and toxic feminism, and I doubt true gender equality crusaders would watch a movie like Birds of Prey and feel vindicated. If they do, well, good on them. There is a scene where Harley Quinn storms through a police station to rescue a young girl, and every single cop who tries to stop her is male. Come on. She tears through them like tissue paper. Later, she fights off criminals, bounty hunters and a small army, and I challenge you to count the women.

There is not a single personable, honest man in the entire story. They’re either sleazy douchebags who try to humiliate and take advantage of girls, corrupt police captains who exploit their female officers by stealing their promotions, or they’re the villain, whose sole character trait seems to be flagrant misogyny. There is one good man I can recall. An elderly Chinese restaurant owner. But even he… oh, never mind.

Anyway, the plot. Harley (Margot Robbie) is finally free of her paramour, the Joker, and is trying to go straight. We meet nightclub owner Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), who is after a 30-carat diamond said to be engraved with the passcodes to Gotham’s biggest fortune.

Through developments too complicated to explain, the diamond ends up in the intestinal tract of Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), the young girl from the police station. This sets up a situation where every main character wants Cassandra disembowelled. Her pursuers include Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Roman’s prized lounge act; Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), Roman’s enforcer; Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a lanky badass with a crossbow; and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a disgraced detective determined to bring Harley down.

It’s a wacky plot that ticks all the necessary boxes and supplies our average daily intake of mindless action. Robbie, in the central role, is cute and quirky and looks to be having a good time, mainly because she has to. The real surprise is McGregor, who slips into Roman’s slimy shoes with a kind of gleeful malice the screenplay doesn’t provide, ironically stealing the show.

Look, Birds of Prey has an agenda and is unafraid to say so. If you want feisty, skilful women doing things in action movies previously reserved for macho men, you’d love this. Personally, I preferred Wonder Woman (2017). She was thrust into a world dominated by men and proved she could be powerful and independent without having to belittle them. She understood the strength of mutual respect.

Birds of Prey is available in Australian cinemas from 6 February 2020

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Dolittle

Robert Downey Jr. follows up his quality turn as Tony Stark with a lifeless rendition of a beloved children’s character.


Zachary Cruz-Tan

Dolittle is a sad excuse for a family adventure. It stars Robert Downey Jr. as Doctor John Dolittle, an eccentric physician in Victorian England who can converse with animals. Dolittle’s been played in the past by Rex Harrison and Eddie Murphy, both of whom attacked the role with great energy. This time, Downey Jr. seems curiously detached, as if he’d rather be somewhere else. I don’t blame him.

The movie is one gigantic CGI extravaganza. I wouldn’t be surprised if an artificial intelligence created the screenplay as well, since the dialogue is wildly anachronistic, and the plot sets off on cruise control right from the start to a climax so ridiculous I had to slap myself to believe it. And I still don’t.

John Dolittle, having lost the love of his life to a violent storm at sea, has locked himself away inside his vast animal sanctuary filled with all sorts of creatures. One day, a young girl (Carmel Laniado) arrives with news of Queen Victoria’s imminent demise at the hands of a fateful illness and demands Dolittle’s consultation. He determines the queen’s been poisoned, so sets sail on a perilous voyage to find the fabled Eden Tree, whose magical fruit is the only thing in the world that can save her.

So far so good, right? Wrong. This should’ve been a bright, challenging adventure for children, for whom the original books by Hugh Lofting were written and this movie was made. There is nothing pleasing, delightful or educational about this Dolittle. If kids like it at all it’d be because Stephen Gaghan directs it like a breakfast commercial, chopped into bite-sized pieces in the editing room. It’s brisk and full of energy, which kids will inhale without question. But once their parents begin to wonder if anyone from Victorian England ever really used the phrase “Snitches be gettin’ stitches, bro”, they’ll want their money back.

The more I reflect upon Dolittle the more problematic it becomes. I get that John can speak to animals, but how do the animals speak to each other? Do they all share in his power? As the story by Thomas Shepherd was finalised, did no one think his proposed climax was too outlandish to be included? And how is it possible that in this day and age we are still treated to unimpressive CGI not even rendered in the correct frame rate?

The answer to the last question is easy, and it presents Dolittle‘s greatest sin of all. To voice such a large collection of animated animals requires the most expensive cast one can assemble, including Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez and Marion Cotillard, all of whom are egregiously squandered of course, since their faces cannot be seen and their voices aren’t distinctive enough to be properly appreciated. It’s no wonder the film had no money left for anything else.

Dolittle is available in Australian cinemas from January 16 2020

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2020

Movie Review – Ford v Ferrari

James Mangold delivers thrills and speed in a well-made but flawed historical drama.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Ford v Ferrari is absolutely thrilling. It features the best racing sequences I’ve seen since Rush (2013). Perhaps even better, because it feels like it has actual cars speeding at 300km/h down actual roads, which, quite often, it does.

The movie is powered by Matt Damon as car designer Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale as Ken Miles, a mechanic by day and all-out racing superstar by night. The story is about how they created a Ford fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 1966 24 hours of Le Mans.

In the ’60s, Ferrari was the perennial champ. It was precise and dedicated to perfection. All its cars were assembled by hand. Ford was a major corporation, built on the factory floor, churning out carbon copies of the same reasonably-priced car targeted at suburban families until, eventually, suburban families settled down and stopped buying new cars. So, Ford decided to ramp things up by entering Le Mans to defeat Ferrari. What better way to do that than to hire Carroll Shelby, the only American to have won the race up to that point.

Shelby brings in Ken Miles, who knows cars like Einstein knew quantum physics and would mostly likely marry one if he didn’t already have a wonderful human wife (Caitriona Balfe). He’s a knowledgeable, passionate driver.

Josh Lucas plays Leo Beebe, a Ford executive whose sole task, it would seem, is to thwart Shelby and Miles at every turn. Why? For no real reason other than to deliver the movie a villainous fool, kinda in the same way Paul Gleason‘s annoying deputy chief was dunked into Die Hard (1988) to play devil’s advocate. His decisions regarding the team and who should drive the car at Le Mans make absolutely no sense. What are his motives? Personal gain? Favour with Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts)? Exemplary display of stupidity?

But what Ford v Ferrari does well, it does exquisitely well. This is a rip-roaring, heart-pounding adrenaline rush when it’s done right. The movie is directed by James Mangold, whose filmography has shifted curiously between rom-coms, award-winning biopics, westerns, daft action adventures and, of course, two Wolverine movies. Ford v Ferrari is not among his finest, but boy does he know how to shoot racing scenes.

The key, I think, is the way he connects exterior shots to shots of Bale strapped into the driver’s seat. Bale gives us commentary; he tells us how the car is behaving. So, when we watch him from a distance, we can almost feel what it’s like to be hurtling by at 7,000rpm. The movie feels grounded in real people, real cars and real places – even though, yes, there is a substantial amount of visual effects.

The story dips into predictable and unnecessary melodrama, particularly towards the end, but let’s face it – you’re not gonna go to a movie called Ford v Ferrari for character development and valuable life lessons. You go for the revs of engines and the thrill of speed. Unfortunately, you’ll also have to deal with Leo Beebe.

Ford v Ferrari is available in Australian cinemas from 14 November 2019

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Gemini Man

Will Smith looks like he’s facing off against a version of himself straight out of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

In Ang Lee’s newest film Gemini Man, Henry Brogan (Will Smith) has just retired from a long and distinguished career as an elite assassin. Retirement doesn’t last long for Henry though, as he quickly finds himself the target of a new operative (also Will Smith) who can predict his every move and precisely match his skill set as he is a younger version of himself.

The pressure to keep the tech ball rolling has become an emerging trend among A-list directors who have made revolutionary films. The Wachowskis gifted us with The Matrix, but their attempts to one-up that high sci-fi have resulted in colourful puke like Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending. James Cameron showed us the power of liquid CGI in Terminator 2 and basically sold an extra dimension to the world with the 3D advancements in Avatar. Now he has spent more than a decade conjuring up new tech to sell Avatar 2, 3 and 4 – sequels exactly zero people asked for.

Then there’s Ang Lee, the man who turned the “unfilmable” novel Life of Pi into one of the most visually astounding and emotionally absorbing movies of the last decade, just by shooting a kid in a water tank in front of a blue screen. Following that triumph, he’s taken a questionable route by focusing his energy on the extremely polarising HFR (high frame-rate) 3D gimmick.

Given the criticisms levelled against its use in selling Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, and in Lee’s last film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, it’s bizarre that he’s chosen to push it again, especially for something as astoundingly unremarkable as Gemini Man.

At 60 frames per second, HFR 3D does keep the image crisp and clear even when things are moving at a breakneck speed, but it also makes things look like they’re moving much faster than they should be. It’s particularly off-putting in Gemini Man during the dramatic and dialogue-driven scenes, which come across as jarring, completely unnatural and having an almost hallucinatory effect. Combined with 3D, it’s headache-inducing more than anything.

Despite this valiant attempt, it’s nowhere near enough to distract from the fact that this is an exceptionally mediocre film. Its ideas about cloning, super-soldiers and themes of identity have all been done to death and it doesn’t feel relevant in 2019.

Considering that most moviegoers will end up seeing this in its standard 24fps 2D format, you have to wonder why Ang Lee is wasting his tremendous talents on something so naff. It’s hard to recommend Gemini Man as anything more than a dumb action flick to zone out to while hungover – unless you happen to be a huge fan of Will Smith. If only the focus was more on the strengths of current tech, and not experimenting with nonsense.

Gemini Man is available in Australian cinemas from 10 October 2019 

Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Movie Review – Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Director James Bobin turns out a surprisingly breezy adventure film for intrepid, fun-loving kids.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is good-natured, easy on the brain and far more entertaining than it should’ve been. The Dora the Explorer cartoons have always championed bravery and determination, led by a stout Latina girl, her loyal monkey companion and a talking backpack. This new live-action version of the character gives us something more: a real sense of danger (at least on a level that children can appreciate) and a spunky lead performance by Isabela Moner, who is filled with energy and goodness. This is the kind of kids movie kids should be seeing.

It all begins in the jungles of Peru. On the shore of a quiet river sits a lovely little timber house. There, Dora (Moner) and her archaeologist parents, Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria), live quite serenely, shuffling through old maps, inspecting ancient artefacts and planning adventures into the deep dark forest. Alas, Cole and Elena’s latest quest to uncover the lost Incan city of Parapata is too deep and too dark for Dora, so they send her off to L.A. to spend some time with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg). They think a little city air and a season in an American school will do her good. She might even make a friend.

One look at Dora though and it’s abundantly clear that she’ll be happy to talk to monkeys and poisonous frogs for the rest of her life. Humans are too much work. Luckily, Cole and Elena go missing in the Amazon, which becomes a simple excuse to dump Dora, Diego and two of their classmates, Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and Sammy (Madeleine Madden), in the middle of the rainforest to find them. Never mind how they get there, or why Randy and Sammy have to tag along. What matters is that once the kids begin their rescue mission, the movie gets interesting. Think Indiana Jones meets Legends of the Hidden Temple.

At the end of the day, it’s Moner who is most effective. She seems to genuinely be having a great time, even when she’s about to be devoured by quicksand. There are thrills, spooky sounds in the night, dangerous animals, booby traps, jungle puzzles and even a secret society tasked with protecting the lost city of gold. It’s a grand adventure, populated perhaps by two teenagers too many, but it does the world of Dora some harmless service.

There are upcoming movies about pissed off birds and ugly dolls. For some reason the studios think children are going to enjoy them. I dunno, maybe they will. But if you’re reading this and you have kids, and you’re thinking of a family excursion to the movies, you could do far worse than Dora and the Lost City of Gold.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is available in Australian cinemas from 19 September 2019

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Movie Review – Angel Has Fallen

 Gerard Butler kicks a lot of ass and spills a lot of blood in explosive action threequel Angel Has Fallen.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

Presidential Secret Service operative and brazen one-man army Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself branded a fugitive and on the run after a drone strike attempts to kill President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), and it’s Banning who is lumped with the blame. Determined to prove his innocence, Banning must outfox the authorities and reunite with a long-lost family member (Nick Nolte) to expose a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.

Starting out with 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen, a gritty and claustrophobic action flick easily summarised as ‘Die Hard in the White House’, this series has followed a similar trajectory as the Die Hard franchise, with a stellar start making way for two half-hearted sequels.

Neither as good as the first or as bad as the second, Angel Has Fallen falls somewhere in the middle as a perfectly serviceable B-movie that offers loud, frenetic, no-frills action punctuated with the occasional semblance of intelligence or heart.

Butler’s Agent Banning, who starts the film suffering from insomnia and migraines, is more humanised this time round. He has a family, he’s starting to feel a little long in the tooth – it’s your classic ageing solder shtick. Daddy issues rear their head too, and cause a sprinkling of silliness, courtesy of Butler sharing some affable screwball chemistry with Nolte. It doesn’t always find the right tone, but it’s an interesting new caveat to an otherwise run-of-the-mill shoot ‘em up.

With hushed whispers of a Russian conspiracy, lots of meaningless computer jargon and a seemingly endless private army with their own agenda, Angel Has Fallen’s screenplay doesn’t exactly reek of imagination.

The first hour, where Banning is being chased through thick woodland and hiding out in remote cabins, is essentially an updated version of Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive, with Jada Pinkett Smith in place of Tommy Lee Jones. Butler has the grizzled charisma to keep things interesting, but the various twists and turns aren’t anywhere near as shocking or clever as the film wants you to think they are – the ‘villain’ is pretty obvious from the outset.

The action set pieces feature some impressive choreography and stuntwork, but drag slightly in the third act, leaving the audience feeling a little shell-shocked and punch-drunk come the end. That said, as ham-fisted as it is, it’s hard to critique Angel Has Fallen too harshly. After all, it does come good on what it sets out to do, delivering punchy action, American jingoism, frantic firefights and a level of raw machismo on par with classic Schwarzenegger. It’s classic Dad fare, and with Father’s Day just around the corner, you can’t ask for much more than that.

Angel Has Fallen is available in Australian cinemas from 22 August 2019

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw

Not even a Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham team-up is strong enough to save Hobbs & Shaw from crumbling under the weight of its own stupidity.

⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Since finding a new gear in its fifth entry, the Fast & Furious franchise has only gotten bigger and faster as time wears on. Tanks, cargo planes, nuclear submarines – you name it, they’ve raced it.

Now onto the ninth film in the series, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw sees the franchise pivot even further away from its neon-soaked street racing origins for an international spy mission that pairs two former antagonists – Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) – together to save the world from rogue cybernetic black ops agent Brixton (Idris Elba).

A disgraced former MI6 operative, Brixton has set his sights on unleashing a powerful virus on the world, one that would solve overpopulation and cull the weak (you know, classic and derivative villain stuff). It’s up to Hobbs and Shaw – who hate each others guts – to put aside their differences and save the day by tracking down the latter’s wayward sister (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby) before Brixton can.

Directed by David Leitch (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde), Hobbs & Shaw dials up the dumb fun (emphasis on the dumb) to a level scarcely imaginable before. The action set pieces, which bounce from London and Los Angeles to Chernobyl and Samoa, have zero regard for gravity or physics. Vehicles are tossed across the screen like Matchbox cars, with all pretence of plausibility out of the window. This is a complaint that can be levelled at previous Fast & Furious films too, but in Hobbs & Shaw the weightless, visual effects-laden action set pieces quickly grow tiresome.

Roughly 90 per cent of the humour stems from stressing just how odd the titular bald, beefy pairing is. Hobbs is fire; Shaw is ice. One is a hulking juggernaut; the other is subtle and stealthy. It’s wall-to-wall banter and barbs, with the misfiring jokes coming thick and fast. Two surprise cameos (that I won’t spoil here) are a cute novelty at first, but even these are far too long. As a whole, Hobbs & Shaw needs a serious trim – at two hours and fifteen minutes, it seriously overstays its welcome.

Worst of all, Hobbs & Shaw is knowingly derivative – it revels in emphasising just how stupid and artless it is. I didn’t think this was possible, but watching Hobbs & Shaw actually made me miss Vin.

The series should have gone out on a high back in 2015, with Diesel and the late Paul Walker quite literally reaching a fork in the road and driving off into the sunset with Wiz Khalifa blaring through the speakers. Nothing since has come close to replicating that potent mix of goodwill, earnestness and high-octane insanity.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is available in Australian cinemas from August 1

Image © Universal Pictures 2019

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Far from Home

Marvel closes its third phase with a light, entertaining coda about everyone’s favourite webslinger.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Spider-Man: Far From Home is one of the better Spider-Man movies because, try as he might, poor Peter Parker can’t seem to do anything right and spends a great deal of time coming to terms with his role as a hero. He enjoys his time as Spider-Man, but he also wants to hang out with friends, enjoy the class vacation to Europe and tell his crush, MJ (Zendaya), how he truly feels. That’s hard enough for a regular teen. Try doing it when you have bad guys to fight and a world to save.

This time the bad guys are monstrous. Gigantic otherworldly creatures based on the four elements. Peter (Tom Holland) teams up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a newcomer, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who says he’s a warrior from a parallel Earth and seems like everything Peter could hope for. He’s friendly. He says all the right things, like a compassionate Tony Stark. When he slips on a pair of Tony’s glasses, he even looks like him. And now that he’s come to fight on Earth’s behalf, could Spider-Man finally be able to hang up his leotard, permitting Peter Parker to begin life as a regular teenager?

I won’t divulge much more than that. But if you’re familiar at all with the Spider-Man property, you’d know that Mysterio is a master of trickery and illusion, which means no one, not even us, should take him at his word. All this builds up to great drama for Peter, who completely wins our affection because he’s awkward and goofy and so bad at everything. In our hearts we want him to succeed, both at kicking the villain’s butt and walking away with the girl. Tony Stark chose him to be an Avenger for a reason, and now that Tony’s dead, the responsibility to be Spider-Man weighs heavier than ever.

Far From Home is directed by Jon Watts, who also directed Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and feels just as comfortable the second time around. There’s more for his spunky cast to do, especially MJ, who was quiet and aloof before but is now allowed the space to strut about as a desirable love interest. Zendaya, with her lanky frame and knowing eyes, projects just the right balance of sophistication and immaturity to appear as Peter’s ideal partner. And of course, with the initials “MJ”, her fate is more or less sealed.

This is a fun, well-made movie, with crisp CGI and a villain who embraces the theatrical. I like it when superhero stories delve deeper into their characters instead of simply flinging them through special effects. Nothing drives character like conflict, and because Spider-Man is but a wee teenager, he is a jumping, swinging canvas for conflict. Tony Stark wanted to be Iron Man. Bruce Wayne chose to save Gotham City. Peter Parker never asked for that mutated spider to give him a love bite. It just happened, and it may be a long time before he’s able to find peace with it.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is available in Australian cinemas from 1 July

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures