F9 Review

Make no mistake. We don’t watch the Fast and Furious movies because they have any resemblance to the real world. For a franchise that I cannot imagine was envisioned to reach nine entries deep, we can park our logic immediately and settle in for a thrill ride. Surprisingly it’s a formula that’s usually worked (certainly at the box office and often with the quality of the product). In F9, the luster has gathered rust. This is the first Fast feature since part 4 that I wouldn’t recommend as a guilty pleasure. We’ve reached the long-lost brother stage of the storyline. We also have characters blasting into outer space. So it’s time to stop being polite about what’s going on in this fading fantasy world.

Returning director Justin Lin (who made parts III-VI) and his cowriter Daniel Casey have swapped out ex-wrestlers turned thespians. Gone is Dwayne Johnson (a result of a feud with Vin Diesel), who brought a jolt starting in Fast Five. Tagging in is John Cena as the aforementioned and previously never mentioned sibling Jakob Toretto. As we are told in overdramatic and overlong flashbacks, he played a role in the late 80s racing death of his father. This doesn’t sit well with brother Dom (Diesel) and the two haven’t been on speaking terms since. Jakob reacts as most would with the family estrangement by becoming an international mercenary and obtaining a deadly computer system that will wreak global havoc. His employer is the son of a dictator (Thue Erstad Rasmussen) who’s working with part 8’s hacker bad girl Cipher (Charlize Theron).

The return of the banished brother causes Dom to interrupt his farm life seclusion with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their 5-year-old son. The band, including Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) reassemble for the forthcoming sequences where automobiles do things they have no earthly business doing. Also back are the thought to be dead Han (Sung Kang) and a trio of street racers from Tokyo Drift who are now (somehow) rocket scientists. Jordana Brewster (as Dom and Jakob’s sister Mia) hops a flight home. This is where I’ll address a sensitive issue. When Paul Walker died in 2013, the filmmakers were faced with the unenviable task of dealing with his character Brian who served as co-lead for the previous entries. They handled it deftly in Furious 7. However, in a saga that constantly beats the drum of helping your teammates, the explanation of Brian simply being retired and not taking part in the action strains credibility. We’re told he’s babysitting while wife Mia is away. I know it might seem silly to discuss credibility in a Fast flick, but it is an unfortunate minor distraction.

F9 takes too long to get its motor running. The 143 minute runtime (bogged down by those flashbacks of young Dom and Jakob) is a momentum stopper. Part of the intrigue involves a super powerful magnate (think more than fridge quality grade) that whips anything in its path towards it. It’s cool the first time we see the hurling. And then we witness it again and again. Cena has shown considerable comedic chops elsewhere. That magnetism is nowhere to be found here. Dwayne Johnson is missed as is Jason Statham as sparring partner Shaw. Theron, Kurt Russell as government agent Mr. Nobody, and Helen Mirren as Shaw’s mum are barely seen (though the latter’s brief appearance is kind of a hoot).

What we’re left with is a mopey family dynamic that the franchise didn’t need. Roman’s character brings self-reference to the screenplay, often commenting on the ridiculousness of everything – how come no one ever gets a scratch on them? As I said, that doesn’t matter much when we can mindlessly settle in and enjoy it. F9 doesn’t achieve that like the bulk of its predecessors. Put another way, my tank was half full for parts V-VIII and now it’s half empty. By the time Roman and Tej enter moonwalking territory, it should feel ludicrous in a positive way. Instead we’ve had to slog through over two hours of make it up as you go along nonsense to get there.

** (out of four)

The Suicide Squad Review

I had no doubt while watching James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad that it’s a more realized vision of exactly what its director wanted. This was apparently not the case with David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad and maybe we will see his Justice League style extended cut one day. For this latest DC Extended Universe pic, Warner Bros reportedly let Gunn do his thing without interference.

The result is a hard R rated and often gleefully bizarre experience. There are some truly funny moments and inspired action sequences mixed with a host of repetitive ones. At one point, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) makes light of a character named Milton who just got popped. The joke is that she doesn’t remember him being part of the team because he’s so forgettable. Milton isn’t the only one. Frankly, I’m struggling a bit with my overall take. This Squad is unquestionably an improvement over its predecessor. Yet I never quite got immersed in its raunchy comic book violence or irreverent attitude in the way I did with Deadpool or Gunn’s own Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is still head of A.R.G.U.S., the government organization that has its own unique prison work release program. Felonious super villains are sent on black ops missions in the name of homeland security (or so they’re told). Many of the cast mates (including Will Smith’s Deadshot) are MIA this time around. Harley’s back as is Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). So is Waller’s right-hand man and Squad leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).

From the jump, we discover that no character may live past a scene or two and this does contribute to an unpredictable vibe. The newbies recruited include human weapons depot Bloodsport (Idris Elba), meaning of the word peace conflicted Peacemaker (John Cena), rodent whisperer Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). His name? Just like it sounds. Our primary CG creation is King Shark (voice by Sylvester Stallone), who’s half man/half Jaws. If he reminds you a bit of Groot from Guardians, mission accomplished.

Speaking of missions, it is to stop a recent coup in the fictional South American land of Corto Maltese. Now that their government has been overthrown, someone needs to destroy a secretive laboratory housing an experiment called Project Starfish. Part of the Squad’s goal is to capture The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), a scientist who’s involved with the mysterious Starfish happenings. The eventual revelation of what that is pure B movie escapist joy that I won’t spoil.

Regarding our brand new characters, it’s a mixed lot. Elba’s Bloodsport has a character arc and motivations not unlike Smith’s Deadshot and it’s not terribly interesting. I will say his brief interaction with his daughter (Storm Reid) humorously didn’t go the way I thought it would. Cena uses his comedic chops effectively at times with his morally confused antihero. Gunn pushes pretty hard to make Ratcatcher 2 a heartwarming protagonist amidst the exploding heads and bodies being literally ripped apart. It could have gone the wrong way, but Taika Waititi’s casting as her dad helps save the day. King Shark’s contribution to that mayhem is rather amusing.

In one way, the more things change (and change they do from 2016) – the more they stay the same. This would be with Robbie’s Quinn, who retains the title of best performance and most enjoyable demented personality. For a while, she gets her own subplot that involves being romanced by the Corto Maltesian dictator (Juan Diego Botto) and being an unreliable torture subject. Those scenes work well and Robbie gets the lions share of the credit. Like in Suicide Squad, she’s the brightest star in The Suicide Squad. 

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Vivo

While we wait to see whether or not most of the Best Picture contenders truly are viable, the Animated Feature race is already packed with contenders. Vivo is available on Netflix today. The Sony Pictures effort comes from director Kirk DeMicco (best known for making The Croods) and features original songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The voice cast includes Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldana, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, Michael Rooker, Brian Tyree Henry, Nicole Byer, and Gloria Estefan.

The film’s reviews are solid with an 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating. In a lighter year, that might automatically warrant inclusion in the final five. Not so fast in 2021. The list of other hopefuls already released includes Raya and the Last Dragon, Luca, Belle and The Mitchells vs. the Machines (another Netflix title that they should campaign heavily for). Additionally, Miranda has Mouse Factory effort Encanto this autumn which is another likely player. Add to the list the critically acclaimed animated doc Flee and Henry Selick’s Wendell and Wild and Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10 1/2 (also both upcoming from Netflix). So, yeah, it’s crowded.

If Vivo doesn’t make the cut, it could still make a play in Original Song. Estefan has the track “Inside Your Heart”. That particular competition is also expected to have plenty of tracks competing against each other.

Bottom line: there’s a lot of pics and songs in the mix, but Vivo is at least on the radar for attention. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Suicide Squad

I’m not sure what I anticipated for The Suicide Squad when its review embargo lifted, but it definitely wasn’t this. Five years after David Ayer’s Suicide Squad posted impressive box office returns but poor critical reaction, the Squad’s new comic book adventure appears to be a major improvement. James Gunn, maker of both Guardians of the Galaxy flicks for the MCU, has taken over directorial duties. Opening next Friday in theaters and HBO Max streaming, the difference in reviews is quite startling.

How much so? 2016’s Suicide Squad ended up with a 26% Rotten Tomatoes score. Putting The in front of the title for 2021’s version apparently upped the quality considerably. Its Tomato meter stands at (get this) 98% with 55 reviews up at time of posting. Gunn’s iteration is said to be a hard R rated blast that is more of a redo than reboot of the franchise. Sounds like mission accomplished.

No, I don’t think this will get a Best Picture nomination. I do believe it could play in down the line races (two in particular). You may have forgotten that the first Squad is actually an Oscar winner for Makeup and Hairstyling and The Suicide Squad could easily show up there again. Gunn is no stranger to that category as the first Guardians nabbed a nod there. Both Guardians also made the final five in Visual Effects and Squad could too. The competition in that race should be serious and some of the other hopefuls also come from Warner Bros. (Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, the fourth Matrix).

Bottom line: reviewers are crowing that the latest makeup of the Squad is a vastly superior experience. It may only get a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination to show for it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Suicide Squad Box Office Prediction

Putting the “The” in front of the title isn’t the only change for The Suicide Squad as the DC Comics adaptation hits theaters August 6th. Arriving five years after Suicide Squad, James Gunn (best known for making both Guardians of the Galaxy pics for the MCU) takes over directing duties from David Ayer. Will Smith is nowhere to be found though Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn. Other returnees include Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney. New cast members in the mix are Idris Elba, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Capaldi, Michael Rooker, and Pete Davidson.

The tenth feature in the DC Extended Universe series, the film will be a test of just how much audiences wish for a return engagement in this particular subsection of the franchise. In 2016, Suicide Squad (despite mostly poor reviews) exceeded expectations with its opening weekend. It grossed a frontloaded $133 million out of the gate with an eventual domestic haul of $325 million. In the spring of 2020, spin-off Birds of Prey, centered on Robbie’s character, was a different story. Prey made a full $100 million less than Squad for its start at $33 million with an $82 million overall stateside gross.

The Suicide Squad, like all Warner Bros product in 2021, will open simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max’s streaming service. The studio has seen some positive results this year with that strategy including Godzilla vs. Kong (nearly $50 million in its five-day Easter debut) and Space Jam: A New Legacy at a better than expected $31 million.

Gunn’s Squad tale will not approach what was achieved five years ago. Yet I do suspect it will outdo the low 30s made by Prey. Hitting $50 million is achievable, but Delta variant complications and the availability of HBO Max could put it under that figure in the low to possibly mid 40s range.

The Suicide Squad opening weekend prediction: $40.8 million

F9 Box Office Prediction

F9 is widely expected to drive traffic into theaters in a way we have not witnessed since late 2019 – before anyone knew what COVID-19 was. The ninth official entry in The Fast and the Furious franchise appears poised to have the largest domestic opening since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a year and a half ago. It opens June 25th after a series of pandemic related delays. Justin Lin returns in the director’s chair for his fifth Fast flick and first since Fast & Furious 6. Long time and newer series regulars returning include Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Helen Mirren (reprising her role from spinoff Hobbs & Shaw), Kurt Russell, and Charlize Theron. Newcomers to the mix are John Cena, Michael Rooker, and Cardi B.

Sporting a budget of at least $200 million, F9 has already made a fortune overseas at $270 million and counting. In 2015, Furious 7 nabbed the largest opening of all the pics (by far) at $147 million ($353 million overall). Tragically, part of that can be attributed to audience curiosity as it dealt with the final appearance of Paul Walker following his passing. 2017’s follow-up The Fate of the Furious debuted to $98 million and an eventual $225 million domestic haul (good for third overall in the ennead). Hobbs & Shaw, meanwhile, made $60 million for its start in 2019 with a $173 million final tally.

With capacity issues mostly having fallen by the wayside, F9 will be a test as to just how high first weekends can go in this market. A Quiet Place Part II set the initial benchmark at $57 million over the four-day Memorial Weekend frame. This is anticipated to zoom beyond that. Furious 7 set a mark that any sequel is unlikely to come close to. A debut in the neighborhood of Fast Five ($86 million) is certainly achievable. Yet I still think some multiplex resistance could stall that possibility. I’ll project $60-$70 million is the more likely range. My estimate puts this a few million under the $70 million made by Fast & Furious in 2009.

F9 opening weekend prediction: $64.8 million

Fantasy Island Box Office Prediction

The latest low-budget concoction from Blumhouse Productions is Fantasy Island, a horror themed take on the kitschy 1970s TV series. Opening over the four-day Presidents Day weekend, Jeff Wadlow (who recently teamed with Blumhouse on Truth or Dare) directs with a cast including Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Portia Doubleday, and Michael Rooker.

Shot for a reported tiny $7 million, the pic will attempt to bring in youngsters without much reference point for the source material. That said, this particular production shop is savvy about getting an audience and turning a handsome profit. Nearly two years back, Truth debuted to nearly $19 million against its $3 million budget.

The gargantuan profit return may not be quite as pronounced here, but still substantial. For the Friday to Monday frame, I’ll say Island manages low double digits.

Fantasy Island opening weekend prediction: $11.6 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

For my Sonic the Hedgehog prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/06/sonic-the-hedgehog-box-office-prediction/

For my The Photograph prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/08/the-photograph-box-office-prediction/

For my Downhill prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/02/09/downhill-box-office-prediction/

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It’s all about family in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the follow-up to the wildly successful 2014 entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Three years ago, Star-Lord, Gamora and company brought a humor and irreverence to the comic book picture previously unseen at that level. Of course, we saw flashes of it with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and others, but Guardians felt fresh with its Top 40 oldies soundtrack and constantly winking screenplay.

James Gun is back as writer and director and the elements that made the predecessor successful are here again. Our second helping manages to provide enough material to admire, even if it can’t match what made the first one so special. We have a lot of subplots competing for screen time as the MCU continues to expand. The bulk of the characters here and elsewhere in Avengers world will eventually congregate and it’ll be a real test of script allocation for attention.

The attention here primarily focuses on Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his backstory. As we recall from the original, he’s got some Daddy issues and after three decades plus, he mets him in the form of Ego (Kurt Russell). Dad is a part human and part Godlike being who quickly seduces his offspring with his nifty own planet that’s a marvel itself in production design.

The other Guardians are here with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) still dealing with her super jealous sister Nebula (Karen Gillian) and unspoken chemistry with Star-Lord. Drax (Dave Bautista) reminds us that he can charmingly insult people with the best of them and a lot of that is saved for Ego’s right-hand woman Mantis (Pom Klementieff). And Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel’s vocal stylings) return to provide comic relief. The nefarious Rocket and seriously adorable Groot are certainly allotted their share of smile inducing moments. Our family drama also means the return of Yondu (Michael Rooker doing fine work under all that makeup), who raised Star-Lord.

Pratt reminds us why Guardians rocketed him into silver screen stardom and Russell, with swagger to match, is an inspired casting choice. The action sequences are of the highest caliber and I’ll give the opening battle sequence credit for incorporating recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Electric Light Orchestra.

So while Vol. 2 is totally acceptable popcorn entertainment, it didn’t leave me grinning from ear to ear like during the first one’s conclusion. Perhaps the attitude that made 2014’s pic so effective feels more familiar now (Deadpool in its own more R rated way continued that trend). Perhaps there are too many plot lines competing against themselves. And perhaps the revelations in the aforementioned familial situations are a bit predictable. That said, Vol. 2 keeps the MCU assembly line pleasantly humming along.

*** (out of four)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Box Office Prediction

The summer of 2017 kicks off as it has numerous times before in recent seasons – with a major Disney/Marvel production expected to post gargantuan box office numbers. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 follows up the blockbuster that turned out to be the biggest hit of summer 2014.

James Gunn returns to direct, as does the superhero cast of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the vocal work of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel (as Baby Groot this time around). Also back are Glenn Close and Michael Rooker. Joining the mix in the sequel are Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Cash (Kurt Russell)!

There is little doubt that Vol. 2 will post impressive results and quite easily outdo what its predecessor opened at three summers ago. Flashback to 2014 and Guardians was actually considered a risk. Strong reviews and word-of-mouth propelled it to a $94 million premiere and $333 million overall domestic haul. Expectations for the opening here are much higher. $150 million seems to be the low bar. Critical reaction to the sequel has been mostly encouraging and it stands at 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, with most reviewers saying it doesn’t quite match the freshness of the original.

A better comparison to its potential could be last summer’s Captain America: Civil War, opened the 2016 season with $179 million or Iron Man 3, which started off summer 2013 with $174 million. I’m predicting Guardians won’t quite reach those numbers, but come close.

My Vol. 2 projection puts it at the 9th largest domestic opening of all time, in between Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. My estimate gives it the 5th highest debut in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the month of May and second biggest 2017 bow after March’s Beauty and the Beast. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opening weekend prediction: $166.4 million

The Belko Experiment Box Office Prediction

Next weekend, the horror thriller The Belko Experiment debuts in theaters and it will attempt to serve as counter programming to Disney’s likely box office behemoth Beauty and the Beast. That could be an uphill battle.

Belko comes from director Greg McLean, who last helmed 2016’s underwhelming performer The Darkness. Its screenwriter is of more note – James Gunn, who directed Guardians of the Galaxy and its upcoming May sequel. The pic is set in Bogota, Columbia with a group of employees pitted against one another in a violent social experiment. Stars include John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, and Michael Rooker.

This debuted last fall at the Toronto Film Festival to so-so buzz and it currently sits at 57% on Rotten Tomatoes. The marketing campaign has been rather soft and it’s only slated to open on about 1200 screens.

Add that up and I believe Belko will debut poorly and fade quickly.

The Belko Experiment opening weekend prediction: $3.2 million

For my Beauty and the Beast prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/08/beauty-and-the-beast-box-office-prediction/