Fast & Thorious

Published on May 17th, 2011

Alex explains why he sees most blockbusters, focusing on Fast Five and Thor.

Movie critics tend to refer to the summer movie season as the worst part of the moviegoing schedule. If you have been following the series I wrote about Michael Bay over the past few weeks, you already know that I do not echo that sentiment. The summer is the best part of the year to me, even though I hate the humid weather that comes with the movies. It’s the time of the year where the only movies that I actually feel like I have to see in theatres are released. Had I waited to see The Kids are All Right on video, I doubt the experience would have felt much different than seeing it in the theatre. But I missed seeing the A-Team in theatres last summer, and I know when I eventually watch it, I will have wished that I had seen it in all its parachuting tank glory in an overly air conditioned room, on a giant screen. I was generally pretty shitty at seeing all the blockbusters I wanted to last summer. The Last Airbender is the only Shyamalan movie that I haven’t laughed at along with an audience, and the fact that Knight & Day was the only June 2010 action blockbuster I saw makes me legitimately sad. But I did see some winners throughout the summer, with some great audiences: I heard a full theatre gasp at the end of Inception, and I saw The Expendables in one of the rowdiest theatres I have ever been in. That’s what blockbusters are, and it’s why they’re great. A movie can be a shared moment between you and a group of strangers, and that’s probably why I go to see so many of them, but a blockbuster allows you to experience it in a massive crowd. Bridesmaids is going to be more entertaining when I get to laugh along with a hundred other people, and I would imagine just about any audience reaction to Super 8 will be cool. So, I will be seeing all the blockbusters I can handle throughout the summer, either because I’m actually kind of excited for them or because I’m simply curious, and I will report back to you what my findings are. These posts may just sort of turn into reviews, but maybe they’ll steer you away from blockbusters that are almost certainly going to be a waste of time, but that I will see anyway. I’m looking at you and your eyeliner, Johnny Depp.

I didn’t care about Thor. I know more about certain superheroes than a lot of people, but Thor is not one of them. For some reason, I just couldn’t get into the whole Nordic God thing as a kid. Plus, the trailer made the movie look like shit. But, I am interested in this interconnecting Marvel movie universe idea, so I wanted to see how things all fit together. I went to see it on opening day, with a loudly pro-Thor audience to the point that I actually heard somebody say, “I’m finally going to see Thor!” Apparently other kids did not have problems getting into the whole Nordic God thing.

Thor was significantly better than I expected it to be. I told a friend prior to Thor’s release that if the movie was even mediocre, it would be well liked by all, if only because nobody seems to have any real expectations going into it. I expected a bunch of stuff to happen on a fantasy world that I didn’t really care for, and sadly that happened. I expected it to be mostly humourless as well, but luckily it was not. However, had you told me a good portion of the movie was going to look like a Mario Kart 64 level, I would have doubted you… but that also happened.

Everything that took place on Earth was entertaining; I thought Chris Hemsworth was pretty hilarious as the fish out of water, and Natalie Portman was appropriately Natalie Portman-y. Kat Dennings was also there, which is always a plus. But once we got away from Earth, things got really boring really quickly.

Thor comes from a place called Asgard, which looked like just about every fictional fantasy kingdom I have ever seen in a movie. There, Thor makes some remarkably stupid decisions that put a lot of people in danger, so his father banishes the now powerless Thor to Earth. There, he meets up with the Scooby-Doo Gang of NatPo, KatDen, and Stellan Skarsgard (StellSkar?) and the movie turns into a very entertaining fish out of water story. Along the way we get an obviously last second Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye cameo, an obligatory love story, and Thor fights a robot that has a crematorium for a face. It’s generally a good movie, and I wouldn’t try to talk anybody out of seeing it; even the Asgard stuff that I hated doesn’t seem to be as boring to others (my patience for fantasy pseudo-Shakespeare tends to be short). The audience I saw it with actually applauded, which never ceases to surprise me. So see Thor if you are into hammer-wielding Nordic gods, big-budget Shakespeare, and/or super ripped guys. But if you’re only into the last of those three, you should probably just see Fast Five instead.

I have found the Fast & Furious franchise to be consistently underwhelming throughout its run. They always look promising enough, but the first movie kind of sucks, and while the third and fourth entries had some entertaining scenes they were mostly unmemorable. (At least 2 Fast 2 Furious was as unintentionally hilarious as its title – any time a driver talks in their car as if another driver could hear them, I laugh.) However, I was certain Fast Five was going to be awesome. There’s no way you add the Rock to a franchise and it gets worse. Okay, let me rephrase: there’s no way you add the Rock to a franchise that doesn’t feature mummies and it gets worse. The trailer looked insane, and given that it was the first big action movie of the year, I was uncomfortably excited to see it. James and I went to see it, and we were not let down.

The previous Fast & Furious movies have mostly focused on street racing, with the fourth entry beginning to change that a little bit. Fast Five is a full-on heist movie, and the change was a great decision. I can only watch Paul Walker and Vin Diesel drive in straight lines so many times, but I could watch them drag a giant safe through the streets of Rio de Janeiro every day for the next decade. Seriously, the climactic car chase in this movie is fucking insane. Even if you only kind of like action movies, you will be impressed: it’s creative, well paced, and has a legitimately clever twist (unprecedented for the franchise). But enough about the action, lets talk about our incredible leading men.

Paul Walker is such a shitty, shitty actor. It’s amazing, and I love it. If you look at his filmography past 2005 or so – which seems to be the year Hollywood execs collectively decided he wouldn’t be a superstar – he has been in nothing that you are legitimately interested in outside of the Fast & Furious franchise (Running Scared was pretty cool, but Walker’s got little to do with that), and he appears to be a complete idiot in every interview. All of that being said, I cherish Paul Walker. Nobody has read such ridiculous dialogue with literally no conviction this well since… actually, he might be the best ever. When Walker starts talking about his father in Fast Five, trust me, do not go to the bathroom. You might laugh so hard that you piss your pants, but you would never forgive yourself if you didn’t get to hear Walker’s brilliance in this scene.

On the other hand, I tend to defend Vin Diesel. I think he gives a good performance in A Man Apart, a forgotten revenge action movie that was actually kind of good, and he at least used to try in some of his other big budget roles. But now he’s pretty much on Paul Walker status, and that might make me happier than when he was actually trying. Diesel doesn’t even try to look fit anymore: in Fast Five he looks like a fat guy who just happens to do a shitload of bicep curls. He has at least two chins now, and in some scenes he even has a third. And god can that man mumble his lines with the best of them. At least Walker enunciates, but Vin has no time for that nonsense anymore; Vin doesn’t speak so much as he just sort of vocally rumbles.

The Rock is a charismatic guy, and everybody knows it. He also appears to be the only person in Fast Five who is actually trying, which I appreciate; his introductory walk and talk is so intense that I wanted to punch James in the face for no fucking reason. If he remains with the franchise, which seems to be the way this is going, I will be ecstatic. If you generally like the Rock, Vin’s paunch, Walker’s line delivery and/or awesomeness, I suggest Fast Five with every fiber of my being. And for the fellow nerdish folks reading this who reflexively scoff at shitty action movies, know that Fast Five is directed by Justin Lin, director of Community’s Modern Warfare (or first paintball) episode. He’s got the skills to pay the bills, or at least get Vin paid to replenish his neck fat.

The thing that is remarkably interesting about Fast Five is that it sort of proves that film writing styles don’t exactly age particularly well. When I saw Fast Five, I saw two giant bruising guys squaring off each other in a battle of who can throw the other through more wells, and I saw an old school heist movie complete with the cliches inherent in each. The Rock and Vin Diesel aren’t modern movie stars; they’re 80s action stars that just so happen to be in the wrong generation. And the heist movie tropes are alive and well in Fast Five, but the problem is they haven’t been cool in decades. It is two different types of Hollywood films colliding, and that it is so dedicated to these styles and becoming a sort of cultural punchline only illustrates that, in general, filmmaking styles rarely age well. We can like Bullitt in the 60s, but when those influential moments and styles age, they become so well known that everything is a joke. Maybe Vin’s character Dom Toretto’s motto is appropriate, and it’s also how films he produces function: he lives his life one quarter mile (of film) at a time. Filmmaking modernity is alive in the technology present in Fast Five, but its more humourous elements are only humourous because we remember when they were original.

Watching car chases, comic book superheroes, Paul Walker, an absurd amount of innocent people dying with no remorse shown, all from the comfort of a highly air conditioned room… it truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

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