Review: The Mummy (2017)

The Mummy.

Now I liked the old Brenden Fraser movies but I wasn’t so in love with them that I wanted this movie to fail. This was actually one of the few reboots that I was okay with, as the trailers looked intriguing. Plus this movie has the pressure of “launching” the Dark Universe, the cinematic universe of all of the popular Universal monsters. I say “launching” in quotes because both I, Frankenstein and Dracula Untold were supposed to be launching points for that universe as well. Does this one manage to impress?

The gist.

We meet Tom Cruise as a looter who visits ancient burial sites and sells the artifacts to the black market, alongside his buddy played by Jake Johnson (who is surprisingly cowardly for being in this line of work). Due to a clue stolen from a researcher played by Annabelle Wallis, they stumble into the burial site of an ancient evil (played by Sofia Boutella). This evil is corrupting everything, include Cruise’s character who is inexplicably drawn to her. We are also joined by Russell Crowe, who leads a team of researchers and soldiers trained specifically to deal with monsters like this (and who will be the uniting factor between these “Dark Universe” films).

What works?

I was intrigued by these trailers because it looked legitimately creepy. I wasn’t disappointed, this movie veered much closer to the horror than the Fraser franchise did. If you’re afraid of rats, birds, or spiders, you’ll have a hard time here. The imagery is vivid and unique, with some major setpieces that are pretty awesome (though mostly given away in the trailers). If you see this movie, it should be because you want some cool sequences and maybe a few jump scares.

A lot of this rides on the title character, played by Sofia Boutella (who was one of the coolest things about The Kingsmen). She has enough of a backstory to understand her motivation but she really kills it (pun intended) in the current day, coming off as menacing and incredibly powerful. A lot of movies don’t do the villain justice but here… they luckily focused on the right things and the mummy herself was a highlight of the film.

This movie also sets up the “Dark Universe” is a really interesting way with tons of easter eggs for fans of these classic monster movies. I’m excited and hoping that this movie actually is the launching point, though Russell Crowe was probably the weakest part of the world-building aspect.

I also enjoyed Cruise here, who wasn’t the badass we usually see in these action movies. He’s a bumbling idiot a lot of the time. He doesn’t know how to really use a gun, he can’t fight. He is just trying to survive and it was a refreshing take.

What didn’t work?

This movie has been taking a lot of heat from critics but I don’t think it’s that bad. It’s not great, at all, but there are only a few glaring mistakes.

While Cruise and Boutella get plenty of moments to shine, the other supporting cast don’t get as much love. Like I said above, Russell Crowe is essential in setting up the larger world but what they do with his character is… odd. Forced. I won’t spoil who he plays, if you haven’t heard, but they made a few choices here that would’ve been better used later in the franchise, as they felt shoe-horned in and unnecessary.

And then we have the obligatory love interest in Annabelle Wallis and the comedic relief Jake Johnson. Both of these characters slowed the movie to a halt and did everything in their power to ruin any momentum. They weren’t given much to do, other than serve their very superficial purpose, and Wallis especially had plenty of moments that felt unearned, like a love story all of a sudden made sense in the midst of a world-ending catastrophe.

The movie’s final act also lost some momentum, as the bright and vivid setpieces gave way to a superhero-like climax in a dark cavern, where everything was dark and muted and the movie’s tone drastically shifted. Even the film’s closing moments felt like they were from a different movie.

Overall…

This isn’t great but it’s not terrible. I enjoyed myself for most of it actually, with some really cool moments and plenty of creepy sequences that had me on the edge of my seat. Sofia Boutella shines as the villain, while Cruise delivers a performance unlike anything we’ve seen from him recently. The world-building is intriguing and I’m excited for what comes next from Universal’s new cinematic universe.

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Review: Baywatch (2017)

Baywatch.

I had very little expectations for this movie. I was too young to really get into the television show. The Rock is usually awesome but a comedy like this can sink, even if Johnson does everything right.

The gist.

We join a team of lifeguards, spearheaded by Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson). He’s assisted by his number two Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach). Two new recruits are trying out for the team (Alexandra Daddario and Jon Bass). Rounding out the lifeguards is Olympic gold medalist Matt Brody (Zac Efron) who, for a reason the movie will explain, wants to be a part of this team. While saving lives, this team discovers that a dangerous new drug has taken over the beach and it’s being run by an businesswoman with ill intent for the area (Priyanka Chopra).

What works?

Let me prepare you for what’s about to happen. This movie isn’t great, so this section is going to be brief. You’ll be disappointed as you get to the negative section and you’ll feel disheartened.

But here’s the thing… This movie is exactly what you’d expect and I don’t know if anyone was expecting greatness. It’s silly and exaggerated, it knows exactly what kind of movie it wants to be. There are slow motion running shots, slow motion action sequences, and plenty of rude and crude jokes. Some of you want just that, but that doesn’t make this a good movie, it means that you’re okay with this being an eh movie. And most of you are.

Dwayne Johnson does what he can and he’s not to blame for this movie’s mediocrity but his charisma alone can’t save it. Efron is unlikeable for the entirety of the film, so he’s also lacking the charm that made movies like Neighbors solid. The movie fails in many ways that are much more foundational.

What doesn’t work?

Let’s start with the fact that this is a comedy. If it was hilarious, it would be seen as a success, that’s usually all it takes. However, it’s not hilarious. I chuckled, a lot in fact. I even laughed loud at a few moments. Those moments were drastically overshadowed by the huge gaps between laughter, where the movie became serious and wanted to focus on this dangerous drug dealer that we had in Priyanka Chopra. The movie’s tone is inconsistent and fails to do either tone well. It’s not funny enough to be memorable but the serious portions are laughably bad as well.

I don’t put the blame solely on Chopra as our villain but this was a mistake in casting. She lacked the threat and danger, so you never felt like there was anything at stake. On the page, too much time and effort was spent trying to build up her character, which didn’t result in anything worthwhile, and in fact slowed the movie to a halt in most instances. The plot is also incredibly predictable, from the first few moments as you meet all the players.

Let’s talk about the action here, because there are a few “big” action sequences but all of them lack punch. The computer effects and green-screen are horribly obvious and these scenes feel inconsequential, as opposed to leaving you on the edge of your seat. There’s a sequence with a boat on fire that is especially horrid in terms of effects.

I also had a big problem with the music here. In the opening moments, while the credits were flashing by, we had four of five different songs play. I’m not sure if the problem is the quantity of songs or the way they were transitioned, which brought this to your attention in a jarring way. This problem reminded me of Suicide Squad, where it felt like the movie was more like a music video than an actual film.

In terms of writing, it’s all very cliche. The jokes are gross and over the top but all strangely familiar, plucked from other R-rated movies like this. The jokes are improvised but these actors aren’t strong improvisers. There are many groan-worthy moments and it’s surprising that those are the moments they kept in the film.

Overall…

Baywatch is exactly what you expect. The Rock being snappy, Efron with his shirt off, and plenty of slow motion running scenes. The jokes don’t always land, the action sequences don’t look great or have any impact, and the whole thing overall feels very unoriginal. It’s surprisingly slow, focusing on a villain that you won’t care about, which means you’ll be checking your watch plenty.

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(Review) Alien: Covenant

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Alien: Covenant.

The Alien franchise is a tumultuous one. While Alien and Aliens are considered classics, Alien3 and Alien Resurrection are not as positively remembered. And then we have Prometheus, which wasn’t even marketed as part of the franchise but was a sneaky prequel, which brought up more questions than it provided answers. So now we have Alien: Covenant, which is a prequel to Alien but a sequel to Prometheus, which is required  viewing for this outing.

The gist.

We pick up about ten years after the events of Prometheus, where a ship called the Covenant is hurtling through space full of 2,000 colonists, aimed for a habitable planet. The android Walter (Michael Fassbender) wakes up the crew as the ship is hit with an explosive wave, jeopardizing their mission. We have a hesitant captain (Billy Crudup), whose second in command (Katherine Waterston) questions his decisions, most notably the decision to explore a new planet that might be habitable. This new planet is of course horrible, introducing us to the deadly aliens that this franchise is known for.

We also have Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, and more among the expendable cast. It is directed by Ridley Scott.

What works?

This movie smartly veers closer to Alien than Prometheus did, which didn’t really even feel like a prequel to me. This is much closer in tone to the originals, echoing many similar moments of suspense. The xenomorph alien that you know is present here, though we also get other variations of the alien. The movie is exciting and action-packed, though also incredibly gory, which should please the diehard fans. It pulls no punches.

The standout in the cast is Michael Fassbender, who plays the new android Walter, as well as reprising his role as David from Prometheus. His performance here is great, nuanced and complicated, though this character is also the root of this movie’s story problems, so it’s a double-edged sword. Danny McBride also delivers a surprisingly poignant performance as well.

Lastly, the movie is gorgeous. The sets are fantastic, the landscapes surreal, and the cinematography is incredible. If nothing else, this is a stunning movie to look at.

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What doesn’t work?

This franchise has dug itself a hole in terms of its mythology and Ridley Scott seems driven to dive further into it. I’ve seen every movie and this film was still convoluted and complicated, for seemingly no reason. In the first few films, the premise seemed simple enough. There’s a Queen who lays eggs and these eggs result in face-huggers, who latch onto a human and create a xenomorph. With Prometheus and now Covenant, this isn’t so simple anymore. You almost need a diagram to figure out why certain things are happening, it’s frustratingly complicated. This also means that not only do you need to see Prometheus first but you probably should rewatch it immediately before this movie.

The human characters in the movie are incredibly superficial. Most of them never get a name, which means you know they’re all going to die in horrible painful ways. The xenomorph, when it does arrive, has some killer moments but the reliance on computer effects is frustrating, considering how fantastic the practical effects looked in the older movies.

The biggest problem that I had with this movie… is that it all felt familiar, yet it’s been done better. The climax of the film mostly resembles the original Alien film, but it doesn’t even come close. There are sequences that resemble many moments we’ve already had, yet they all feel like carbon copies. This movie’s only uniqueness lies in David and Walter and the bigger questions about life and creation and the fate of humankind, but this storyline is woven into this complicated mythology Scott is trying to build, so it’s still frustrating.

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Overall…

This movie is really only for a small group of people: If you loved all the Alien movies and thought Prometheus was a step in the right direction. It’s beautiful to watch and Fassbender’s performance is fantastic, but the movie ultimately gets tripped up on its own mythology. It all feels familiar, there’s very little new or unique about this film. If you don’t mind the confusion but just want some gory kills, this movie might do the trick for you.

Rating 3 star

 

 

 

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(Review) King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

No one was really asking for a new King Arthur movie but here we are. I don’t think anyone really knew this movie was coming out because everyone I talked to about this movie said “I don’t know what that is.” So that’s not a good sign.

The gist.

We’re in medieval England in a time when magic was common, until one mage named Mordred seeks power and attacks the king (Eric Bana). The king sends his only son away, while his brother (Jude Law) usurps the throne. Years later, the boy Arthur has grown up (Charlie Hunnam) and he is on a mission to retrieve the sword Excalibur and reclaim the throne, reluctantly. He is assisted by a crew including a mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), an archer (Aidan Gillen), and a warrior (Djimon Hounsou). It is directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes).

What works?

I’ll get to the question “Is it good?” later but for now I can definitely say that it’s incredibly cool. From start to finish, this movie is cool. It opens with an incredible fight sequence, like something from Lord of the Rings. The creature design is impressive, with some great visual effects to bring these creatures to life. The elephants that feature in the opening scene are jaw-dropping. There are plenty of other creatures, both disturbing and beautiful, that show up throughout the movie but I’d hate to spoil it.

Guy Ritchie knows what people want from this movie and he delivers plenty of it. Adding to the cool factor is his unique style involving speed manipulation, almost like a spiritual successor to Zack Snyder’s work in 300. There are some montage sequences that are incredible, showing the passage of time, that he smartly puts together in a way that is functional and also captivating.

Layered on top of that is the music, strings and horns but remixed to a degree that it’s like a whole new genre of music. There are tons of cool moments here, if that’s what you want.

Lastly, the locations are beautiful. Sweeping shots of countrysides and mountain ranges and raging rivers, it’s all perfect.

What doesn’t work?

You’ll notice there’s a few things strangely absent from the above section. The cast is most notably missing. It’s really a B-list outing, with Jude Law really serving as the only heavy hitter and he delivers a performance here that is completely one-dimensional. You never quite know why his character is doing anything.

I also don’t understand the push to make Charlie Hunnam a star. I watched Sons of Anarchy and he was frankly one of the worst things about that show. He was also one of the worst things in Pacific Rim. He’s the new Sam Worthington (Avatar), being pushed into the spotlight without anyone really asking for him to be. His performance here is fine but nothing special. He’s so angsty and resistant to the entire plot that it’s almost like he’s working against the film itself. This role would’ve been better suited for a more charming and aloof action star who could really enjoy the campy fight sequences and witty banter.

And while there are moments of greatness, there are just as many moments of painful amateur decisions. The opening credits are horrible, like someone’s high school project. The visual effects, while usually great, aren’t as solid in the final act of the movie, with a new type of action scene that is subpar compared to everything else we’ve seen.

Overall…

King Arthur is cool, undoubtedly. Monsters and wizards and witty one-liners. It’s not necessarily good, though, with forgettable performances and some bad decisions in regards to visual effects (and when to use/not use them). I think most of you will enjoy this movie but you’ll forget about it almost immediately after you leave the theater.

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Review: Don’t Think Twice

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Don’t Think Twice.

I’m a huge fan of the comedian Mike Birbiglia, who has a few incredible standup comedy specials available on Netflix. He wrote and directed this film, packed with outstanding comedic talent. So when I saw it finally arrive on Netflix (and Amazon Prime), I definitely wanted to check it out.

The gist.

We meet an improv comedy group in New York, struggling to make ends meet. This is truly an ensemble piece, with each member of the cast getting depth and nuance. Birbiglia stars as the oldest member of the team (and drama teacher) who struggles with watching his students become successful, while he remains unnoticed. We also have Keegan-Michael Key as the most ambitious of the group, putting himself front and center when the hit show Weekend Live (a synonym for Saturday Night Live) sends reps to one of their shows. He’s currently dating another member of the crew, played by Gillian Jacobs (of Community fame). We also have Kate Micucci, an artist who keeps on putting off her dreams and unfinished projects, and Chris Gethard as a member of the cast that works part-time giving out samples at grocery stores, not impressing his judgmental father. Lastly, we have Tami Sagher as an entitled daughter from a rich family who can’t quite relate with the struggles of the rest of the group.

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What works?

I thoroughly enjoyed Don’t Think Twice but I think it’s mostly because of my theater background. If you’ve done theater, especially improv theater, this movie is made for you, full of nods and jokes to that culture and lifestyle. If you haven’t done this, this movie will still provide an interesting “behind the scenes” look at this life in a very authentic way.

I also relate to this movie because I’m a 30-something struggling with balancing art and career and hopes and dreams and this movie is all about that, mostly through Birbiglia’s character. At what point do you give up on your dreams? It’s complicated and rich and seeing these six characters come together (and clash together) is fascinating. These performances are all very good, though subtle. That subtlety is perfectly juxtaposed against their wild antics on stage.

The movie is funny, yes, but not in a way that you’ll often laugh out loud. It’s funny in the way that it’s true and sharp and satirical. It’s funny in the way that you’ll nod your head and silently mouth “Yes” after a joke.

What doesn’t work?

I can’t speak to how entertaining this would be to someone outside the theater scene. It might be interesting but a lot of the wit might be lost.

It also drags a bit in the final stretch, I found myself playing on my phone and not paying attention. Maybe it could have just been trimmed a bit or sped up in the final third.

Overall…

Don’t Think Twice is a really great ensemble character piece, about six people at very different places in their lives. It’s witty and clever, mostly to those of you that might get the jokes. It’s available now on both Netflix and Amazon Prime, I’d recommend it if you want to try something under the radar.

Rating 4 star

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2.

Here’s some context before we dive in. Guardians of the Galaxy was my number one movie of 2014 and is one of my favorite movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To match, or even surpass, the original would be a hard feat. Can this sequel manage the impossible?

The gist.

Just months after the events of Guardians of the Galaxy, we rejoin the crew as they are basically paid mercenaries to defend and protect. This crew is led by Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the alien assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the oafish brute Drax (Dave Bautista), the wise-cracking raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and the tree-alien who is now in its toddler stage Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). They encounter an alien race who they offend somehow, led by gold-skinned Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). They also cross paths with someone claiming to be Star-Lord’s father (Kurt Russell) and his enigmatic sidekick Mantis (Pom Klementieff). We also see the return of the space-pirate Yondu (Michael Rooker) and the unhinged sister of Gamora, Nebula (Karen Gillan). There are also a few other notable folks, that you should discover for yourself.

What works?

Everything that we loved in the first Guardians is still here.

The movie is visually fascinating and really builds up the “cosmic” side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We see all sorts of outlandish places and mythology is set up that can spin off into entire movies. Director James Gunn has an incredible vision and it all works perfectly. The movie is bright and colorful and always interesting to watch.

That wouldn’t matter if the characters weren’t solid though. This is really Star-Lord’s story and Chris Pratt delivers, absolutely convincing in his role as a man just looking for his father. I don’t think this movie has quite the same emotional punch as the first, but it’s close. The other standout for this movie is Yondu, the blue-skinned red-finned pirate. Yondu not only carries some of the most emotional scenes in the movie but his action sequences are jaw-dropping. What they’ve done for this character here is astounding and a huge leap in the right direction.

The new additions to the cast are all welcome as well, most notably Kurt Russell and Pom Klementieff. As Mantis, Klementieff provides a new dynamic and is just quirky enough to be absolutely believable side-by-side with a talking raccoon and a tree. I can’t wait to see their dynamic together in future movies.

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Everything is ramped up here, for better or for worse. You thought the epilogue of Guardians was cute, with the dancing Groot? Well, just wait. You thought Drax was hilariously oblivious? Just wait. It doesn’t always land with the same precision, but you will laugh nonstop, feel a couple really great emotional moments, and enjoy a crazy adventure through and through.

If you see Guardians 2stay all the way through all of the credits.

What doesn’t work?

When I say this movie lacks the same precision, it feels like there’s a shotgun approach here. There are so many jokes and one-liners thrown at you, that most of them are bound to work. But that means you’ll get the occasional joke that feels flat or inauthentic or poorly timed.

This movie tried to give all of our characters more heart as well and that approach didn’t always work either. I still had a problem with Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan) here, which were also the weakest links in the first film. Their attempts here at sentimentality felt forced and awkward.

Lastly, the gold-skinned villains in the movie lacked depth. They just show up throughout the movie, hellbent on revenge, but they’re never really a threat, so you keep wondering when it’ll cut back to the storylines that you actually care about.

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Overall…

This movie is great. It’s incredibly funny, has some great heartfelt moments, and generally is a fun ride. However, there are always balances, so there are jokes that miss, emotional moments that feel forced, and a few storylines that don’t really pay off. It’s a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially in terms of expanding the “cosmic” side of things, but I think it falls just short of the original.

Rating 4 star

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Review: The Fate of the Furious

The Fate of the Furious.

Here’s some context for my history with this franchise. I was on the fence for the first four movies but when Fast Five rolled around, things ramped up, with this franchise now becoming one of the best big-budget action movie series out there. At least, it was.

The gist.

It’s all about family. Dom (Vin Diesel) has a crew of friends that are called in to help Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) with a mission that, should it go sideways, could send Hobbs to prison. Well, things go sideways. Turns out Dom has been approached by a mysterious hacker named Cipher (Charlize Theron) and for some reason he’s betrayed his closest friends (and his lover Letty, Michelle Rodriguez). To find and capture Dom and Cipher, the head of a secret organization (Kurt Russell) steps in, bringing firepower and some new allies (highlighted by Jason Statham) to get the job done. We’ve also got series regulars Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and from the last movie, Nathalie Emmanuel.

What works?

It’s hard to continue this franchise after the loss of Paul Walker but I admit this movie tried really hard.

With Walker out of the picture, other characters got a little more time in the spotlight. Hobbs, who kind of showed up in the past films on and off, was the lead here, taking over the team that Dom left. This was a nice change, as Dwayne Johnson is electrifying whenever he’s on screen. They also gave him some character moments that gave the movie some heart that it was obviously missing now. Johnson also had a great dynamic with the return of Statham, though this rivalry never actually culminates in any sort of satisfying way.

This movie is also really funny, with Tyrese and Ludacris having a great back and forth banter as well. This feels a little overdone, as this dynamic was done in the past few movies as well, but I was still chuckling so I’ll count it as a win.

I also appreciated the creativity on display, especially a sequence involving self-driving cars. They’re managing to create really interesting action sequences, though your sense of realism has to be turned off completely. “Is every car in New York self-driving?” I asked myself during the movie. Apparently yes.

What doesn’t work?

Now, before I begin my criticisms… This is a fun action movie and you can still love it while recognizing it’s not necessarily a good movie.

Here are the things that aren’t great. The first deterrent is that the movie clocks in at 2 hours and 40 minutes. It’s entirely too long and the pacing is actually really slow, I found myself bored several times throughout the movie. In the opening scene, you’ll start to realize why it’s so long. Every shot lasts 2-3 seconds longer than it should. They showed no restraint, no urgency. The movie crawls because it takes that much longer for anything to happen.

Once the action starts, I had some problems with its execution. Many of the movie’s biggest scenes suffered from Transformers syndrome, where things just kind of melded together and explosions just kind of happened. You might be excited for this big action sequence but it’s difficult to even make sense of what’s happening on screen sometimes. The hand-to-hand sequences, most notably a jail sequence with Johnson and Statham, are victims of “shaky cam,” where the camera just shakes violently to make you feel like the action is so intense but really, it’s an illusion to overcompensate for poor choreography. If the action and fight sequences don’t look great, that knocks this movie down a couple slots already.

Now let’s get to the story. Dom betrays his family. I won’t spoil what happens but I will say his reasoning for betraying them is frustrating and nonsensical, focusing on plot elements that I thought were so insignificant in past movies that I didn’t even include them in my “What You Need to Know” video. They’ll never bring those plot points up again, I thought. Well, they’re super vital now but it’s problematic for the story in a lot of different ways.

They also add unnecessary characters to an already bloated cast. For some reason, we now have Scott Eastwood. There are two problems here. One: his character is unnecessary and contributes to a long runtime. Two: his acting here is really subpar, near cringeworthy. Then there’s the question of Jason Statham’s return. This character murdered one of their best friends and spent an entire movie trying to murder the rest of them. Their forgetfulness is super frustrating, however badass Statham might be in this movie.

Overall…

You can love this movie, that’s fine. It’s got some fun action and you’ll be laughing and it’s got some creative moments. However, it’s flawed as a movie and felt average for this genre, not really delivering much that exceeds expectations. The story is unsatisfying and the movie is about 40 minutes too long, everything feeling just a little too slow (which is unfortunate for a movie intended to be both fast and furious). After the awesomeness of entries five, six, and seven, The Fate of the Furious is a frustrating disappointment.

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