There Will Be Bloodshot (Bloodshot, 2020)

Bloodshot_PosterBack in 1987, Jim Shooter was fired from Marvel Comics.  He had a tumultuous tenure as the Editor in Chief which saw a lot of success, but also a lot of enemies made.  Two years later he fought his way back into comics with Valiant Comics.  Valiant had made a splash and built a following.  However, they never managed to get a share of the greater public recognition of companies like Marvel, DC or Image. The company has gone in and out of business, moving from owner to owner.  In 2018  the majority owner DMG fully purchased the company and apparently focused on pushing their characters beyond comics.  The first of a possible shared universe would be Bloodshot starring Vin Diesel. To be honest…I have one Bloodshot comic book from 1993 and I cannot remember the story at all.  I know just enough…he is a super soldier full of nanotech.

We are introduced to Ray Garrison, top soldier who is killed along with his wife after a mission. He wakes up later, told he is the first successful Super Soldier project of his nature.  He is introduced to team mate who have high tech enhancements to compensate for lost limbs or sight, or in the case of KT, a specialized breather that both allows her to breath and to be able to breathe gasses and even underwater. When he regains his memory of the murder of his wife, he goes rogue to kill the man who murdered her.

But after accomplishing this, it is revealed that the memories are manipulated by the people responsible for his nano tech.  When a mission goes wrong, he learns the depths of the manipulation and is determined to get his life back.

Bloodshot is a very simple tale, and does not really add any new beats.  The bad guys are bad, the good guys are fighting against the odds. Guy Pearce does a good job of coming across as possibly a good guy losing control of his work during act one, but clearly a dark and greedy villain once it is all revealed. Eiza González is sympathetic as KT, trapped by her desire to, you know, not die.

Vin Diesel is good in the role, as it kind of plays to his strengths.

David Wilson is a visual effects guy making his feature debut, and he gives us a pretty solid action movie.  The effects look good, and I genuinely liked the visuals showing Bloodshot’s powers at work.

The film ends open wide for sequels, but does not hint at a bigger universe, so I am not sure what the future holds for Valiant.  But Bloodshot is a fun super soldier action film that makes for light entertainment.


Speed Racers Pt 8 (The Fate of the Furious, 2017)

fast_and_furious_008_posterIf prizes were awarded for the most inconsistently named franchise?  Pretty sure this franchise would own that.  If George Lucas was involved, they would all get renamed something like Dom Toretto and the  Fast and The Furious (Who care if Vin is in every film or not).

By this time, our heroes have gone from criminals to underdogs to helping the authorities.  But after saving the world last time around, Dom has apparently switched sides and is helping Charlize Theron take on the world.  She is an evil hacker with big plans…and so Mr. Nobody calls in The Fast and Furious team and a surprise guest…the last film’s villain (Jason Statham).  Has Dom truly gone bad?  Is he really turning his back on his family?

This is the first film in the franchise not directed by Justin Lin, and it definitely loses some of that cohesiveness.  It feels less like a continuation and more like a flat out sequel from the…uh…sequel factory.  F. Gary Gray is a strong director and has some definite “action/Car movie” cred with the 2003 remake of the Italian Job.  But the story itself feels like it was conceived months after the last film was released and worked to fit their latest idea together.  The previous films felt more “organic” with Lin at the helm.

I cannot pinpoint exactly why this is, as the guy who wrote this film (Chris Morgan) wrote every film since Tokyo Drift.  Maybe Gray connects with the characters differently.  But one thing that stands out is that there is a big plot point that comes pretty much out of nowhere as Dom’s motivations.  There is no point in a prior film to see it coming. It feels purely invented for the film, like a last minute idea to solve a problem they were having.

Fate is certainly not lacking for action, though they may finally be hitting that point where it is hard to top the big set piece of the previous film.  The massive race across the ice and attempts to outrun a massive submarine feel more like they cobbled together ideas from the previous film, so instead of giving us an impressive and new sequence it highlights cooler moments of past films.

While Fate of the Furious is not terrible (and not by the standards of the franchise itself, it has its moments), it does feel like the franchise is finding it harder and harder to sustain itself.

Speed Racers Pt 7 (Furious 7, 2015)

fast_and_furious_007_PosterThe seventh film in the series that has not apparently run out of gas (and fifth film directed by Justin Lin) finds the team no longer on the run and being a family.  Dom and Letty are working on their relationship, as she has not regained her memory.  Brian and Mia are enjoying parenthood.  Everything is going smoothly…well, except the fact that somebody is trying to murder the crew…and not just the crew, but anyone connected with the take down of Shaw in the previous film.  Which means Hobbs needs to team up with the family once more.

The big threat here?  Shaw’s big brother… uh… Shaw.  Well, this brother gets a first name as well.  Overseeing our intrepid clan is Mr. Nobody…played by Kurt Russell.  Because if your films are full of familiar faces and names… you cannot go wrong adding Kurt Russell to the mix.

Seven ups the stunt ante again…”Gee, we had a tank last time?”  How about skydiving cars?  Cars driven from from skyscraper to skyscraper…via the top floors?  In this film, they crash cars and use pieces of the cars in hand to hand combat.  The Rock picks up a giant gun and starts to shoot down a helicopter.  And then?  It gets nuts.

Overall, it is a pretty solid effort, though false a bit short of the sixth entry.  Part of this is due to the film having been faced with an unexpected tragedy before they were done filming.  After leaving an awards ceremony Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner) and a friend were killed in a car wreck (the friend was driving).  It was very clear from the response of the cast and crew that they had all gotten very close, and were crushed by the loss of their friend.

But this forced some story alterations.  I doubt their plan was to send Brian out of the series.  But now they had to adjust the story to do that.  With help from Paul’s twin brother they filmed some final shots.  The final moments are full of heavy comments about not saying good-bye and how things are never going to be the same.  They are clearly paying their respects to Walker, which is both understandable and touching.  But it does make things a little awkward.

Paul Walker has passed away, but Brian and Mia are just done with adventuring and are going to raise their kids.  Yet, each character speaks as if they will never see Brian and Mia again.

Overall, while not quite as strong as Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7 is still a lot of fun…and it could have made a nice finale for the franchise.

Speed Racers Pt 6 (Fast & Furious 6, 2013)

fast_and_furious_006_posterThe sixth film throws in a twist for Dom, Brian and their family.  Letty is back, but now she appears to be their competition.  Hobb’s has let the gang be, seeing as how they have stayed out of the heist scene since their last encounter…but a new crew of high precision vehicle themed criminals.  Hobbs knows he needs help and seeks the skills of Dom and the crew.  The carrot he dangles before them is the discovery that Letty is, in fact, alive and working with this group that is a threat to free nations everywhere.

The core of the story is Dom’s desire to get Letty back, but she seems to have lost her memory.  This allows the film to have some playful and competitive flirtation between the two, but also gives the villain, Shaw, something to use against the crew.  This is fairly effective.  For Brian, he and Mia have a child and are looking at their future.  What this means for Mia is that she is sidelined from the story, which is a bit disappointing for the character, however, the franchise’s cast tends to grow as fast as it loses characters.

And this is a big cast.  The regulars are back and they are all in regular form, firing quips, arguing, and driving real fast.  This film is as fun as the previous entry, with no fear to go big.  For example?  There is a big chase at the end that involves a giant tank.

This series has benefited from having a single director for the past few entries.  The films feel like the story advances and was actually planned, rather than assembled backwards.  Plenty of franchise sequels simply feel like they have the idea and try to fit it in…but it seems like Lin and the writers planned things out in advance.

Fast & Furious 6 continues the upward tick of the franchise, and makes for a fun adrenaline fueled time.

Speed Racers Pt 5 (Fast Five, 2011)

fast_and_furious_005_posterAnd uh…here is where things get a little weird for the franchise.  Because, uh, the fifth film?  It is probably the best film of the franchise at this point.  This film embraces the absurd and becomes a full on heist film.  Brian has joined Dominic as a fugitive after he and Mia free Dominic from a prison bus.

The three go to Rio where they join in an attempt to steal some cars from a train, which goes horribly wrong.  Dominic, Brian and Mia decide they need to get back at the man behind the failed heist…who is one of the most connected men in Rio.  They assemble a team which brings back cast members from the second, third and fourth films.  This means Roman, Han  and Gal Gadot’s Gisele are all back.

To put a wrinkle in their plans?  Dwayne the Rock Johnson.  He is the unstoppable  Government Agent Hobbs.  Hobbs is determined to bring the fugitives in at all costs.  This results in several reversal of fortune moments for the fugitives and Hobbs that keep the viewer on their toes.

The group they have assembled make for a lot of fun.  While Roman and Tej provide a lot of the comic relief, the film has a lot of fun with the flirtation between Gisele and Han.  The core relationship of Dominic, Brian and Mia hold this group together.

Lin provides multiple exciting sequences, both in and out of cars.  The cat and mouse with Hobbs culminates in an exciting chase through the streets of Rio with cars pulling a giant safe.  I mean, like a vault.  And even that has a giant twist.

Like I said, this film embraces the absurd, not worrying if anything is to over the top.  The end result is a fun bit of action based escapism.

Speed Racers, Pt 4 (Fast & Furious, 2009)

fast_and_furious_004_posterFor the fourth film, they dropped “The” from the title.  Because…saving space on the poster?  I guess?  This film brings it back to the original.  O’Conner is working with the Feds again, while Toretto and Letty are pulling heists.  When Letty is murdered, O’Conner and Toretto’s paths cross again.  Admittedly, it is a bit of a strained relationship.  Dominic is seeking revenge on Letty’s killer, but Brian wants to bring her killer in.  Brian also finds his relationship with Mia rekindled.

In the first film, O’Conner ultimately remained aligned to the side of the law.  His devotion was challenged, and while he did not walk away, he made a choice that cost him the job, but he also stayed on the side of good, so to speak.  This film challenges his faith in the law to make the right choices.

In the hopes of getting Toretto off the wanted list, Brian cuts a deal with his boss…but when the agency jumps the gun and messes up a planned bust of villain Campo, it falls on Brian’s head.  He and Dominic set out to get Campo on their own.

This film is the turning point for the series, it also sets the stage for each film trying to really top the big spectacle of the previous film.  This one opens with a pulse pounding attempt to steal some tankers.  It closes with a high speed chase through narrow tunnels.

Director Justin Lin (who directed Tokyo Drift) can put together a compelling action scene and keep it exciting.  This time around, he has a much moire entertaining film, closer in spirit to the first film.

Speed Racers Pt 1 (The Fast and the Furious, 2001)

fast_and_furious_001_poster2000 and 2001 were a good couple of years for Vin Diesel.  He had a supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, but only a small spattering of roles before that.  His other “big” role was the voice of the titular character in Brad Bird’s the Iron Giant.  But between Pitch Black and the Fast and the Furious, Diesel’s  value rose prominently.

Rob Cohen (Daylight and Dragonheart) directed this tale of a young and reckless cop who goes undercover into the world of street racing to try and take down some skilled thieves. He of course, gets drawn in much deeper, falling for the sister of his target.  You can pretty much connect the dots from there.

The fresh faced Paul Walker is special agent Brian O’Conner.  He is trying to catch extremely muscular Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, an infamous street racer and adrenaline junkie thief.  He and his gang are pulling off daring heists using their souped up cars.

The Fast and the Furious never promises to be a new take, and it hits all the beats an “Undercover Cop Gets In To Deep” action movie will take. But it does so entertainingly with fun and daring stunts.  The film is a complete knockoff of the 1991 Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze movie Point Break.  A couple years ago that movie got remade.  This is the better “remake”.  The cast is generally likeable, including Jordana Brewster as Mia, the previously mentioned sister who complicates things and Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Dom’s girlfriend and fellow thief.  The Fast and the Furious is a fun action and popcorn film, though if you told me it would spawn seven more films (and an eighth sequel in the works) I would never have expected it.

Father-Son Bonding (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, 2017)

guardians_vol_2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy was a bit of a risk for Marvel Studios.  It was really their first film that had little name recognition.  It also was their first film not closely tied to the Avengers.  And yet, under the guidance of James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded with a healthy dose of humor and action.  Towards the end of the film, Yondu mentions knowing who Starlord’s father is.  In this sequel, we meet dear old dad.

While fighting an inter-dimensional beast, Rocket steals some batteries from the Sovereign.  This results in a chase through space that culminates in Starlord meeting his father Ego. Ego is a “living” planet.  He has a human avatar who sired Starlord.  In the meantime, they are being hunted by Yondu and the Ravagers to collect a bounty for the Guardian set by the Sovereign.

Volume 2 carries forward with the same tone and attitude of the first film, making it a lot of fun to watch.  The opening credits are a blast to watch.  Easily one of the best opening sequences for a comic book film.  The cast has really come together and it shows in their performances.

The new cast adds to the fun, with Kurt Russell being a high point for…well being Kurt Russell.  He is one of those actors you hire because you want a “type” that is specific to a particular actor.  Call it the Goldblum Effect if you will.  You hire Jeff Goldblum for a movie because you want a “Jeff Goldblum Type”.

In addition, Sylvester Stallone, Ving Rhames and Michelle Yoeh have small but pivotal roles (obviously setting up Volume 3).  The film is full of blink and you might miss it fan service, but with James Gunn, it is not distracting (for the most part) and for people unfamiliar with the comics will be unnoticed.

Of course, the soundtrack is integral to this film, each song clearly chosen carefully by Gunn.  Marvel was wise to stick with Gunn for the Guardians brand because he has a very specific vision that allows these films to stand out from the Marvel Pack.

A lot of the humor this time around is coming from Drax (Dave Bautista) and Baby Groot. Some of the more surprising emotion comes from Michael Rooker’s Yondu.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 can be pretty intense and it is not really for young kids.  But teens and adults alike will find a lot to enjoy here.  Personally, I found Volume 2 to be a very fun film-going experience and find myself anticipating the next outing.

Oh, and by the way…there are five mid to post credit scenes.  So do not get up and head for the door right away.

Refueled (xXx: Return of Xander Cage, 2017)

xxx-roxc-poster12 years after the franchise stalled, comes an attempt to revitalize it.  Director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) takes the reigns as Vin Diesel returns to the role of Xander Cage.  This time around, the idea is…”if one Bond is awesome…imagine if we had nine of them!”  Xander has been presumed dead, but when the CIA is hit by some highly skilled enemy agents who steal a dangerous weapon, they find Xander hiding out.

This time around, Cage sets up his own xXx team.  These are highly skilled extreme types. And they get a government agent assigned to them.  A cute and plucky girl named Becky.  She is also their “Q”.  On their way to retrieve the weapon, Cage and friends end up discovering he is up against other xXx agents that were recruited by Samuel L. Jackson’s Gibbons.  This ultimately leads to all the agents teaming up to take down the real bad guys.

The xXx films are pretty much “What if Bond was on steroids.”  Except this film.  The Return of Xander Cage is really “What if xXx was on steroids???”  It seems like the last 40 minutes were non-stop action and a Gospel Choir.

This film does not totally rewrite the book.  Instead, it is more of a blending of the Bond formula and the Fast & the Furious.  It is exciting and fun, and if you enjoyed the first two films, it is unlikely you will be disappointed by this one.  I would totally be in for the entire cast (those who make it out alive) to return for another round.

Franchise Adjustment (xXx: State of the Union)

xxx-sotu-posterSo, one year before Casino Royale, xXx is back.  Vin Diesel is not, but yeah, the Franchise soldiers on.  Although both Diesel and  Rob Cohen were both signed on, they eventually dropped out.  In a bit of irony, the film is directed by the director of Die Another Day, Lee Tamahori.  Replacing Diesel’s Xander Cage as the new xXx is Ice Cube’s Darius Stone.

Samuel L. Gibson’s Gibbons is back in charge, and they face a situation that requires someone tougher than Cage.  That is Darius Stone.  Stone is a highly decorated Marine who tried standing up to his corrupt commanding officer and was locked up for it.  Stone is pretty much a one man army, as evidenced by his prison escape.

It turns out, his former CO is part of a dark plot that needs Stone, as xXx, to take him and his cronies down.  And that is pretty much it.  Like it’s predecessor, State of the Union is mostly a showcase for outrageous stunts and action sequences.  And snappy comebacks.  Ice Cube is always reliable for attitude fueled quips.

The film was very obviously setting itself up for a sequel, setting the franchise up to have a different actor in the role each film.  This seems like a setup of necessity.  This is a serviceable sequel with the expected performances from it’s cast.  If you are looking for deep espionage, xXx: State of the Union is not going to be all that satisfying.  It is, however, a pretty fun popcorn action spy movie.

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