Wonder Woman: Movie Man Jackson

Men, who needs them? Growing up on the world of Themyscira is young Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson). This world of Themyscira is inhabited by nothing but females. Females who are Amazon warriors and quite adept at defending their home turf. They’re in a relative time of peace, and as a result, the Queen doesn’t wish for her daughter to be trained as a warrior, but rather to enjoy her childhood despite the daughter ever so wanting to get her hands dirty. In secret, Diana trains with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) in preparation for the end of peace.

That time comes when World War II soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) washes up on their home world telling stories of the horrors of the war he’s been fighting. Believing WWI to be the fault of God of War, Ares, mature Diana (Gal Gadot) sets out to extinguish him and bring eternal peace to the world, even it it means leaving Themyscira behind forever.

Electra and Catwoman. That’s it as far as super-heroines go as it pertains to getting their own features in the last 15 years. Yours truly doesn’t need to summarize the quality—or lack thereof—of those films. Wonder Woman arrives carrying the sizable burden of possibly ushering in more female protagonist superhero blockbusters depending on its quality. Even more of a burden than that is placed on Wonder Woman in the hopes that this is the film that course corrects the DC Extended Universe out of dark beginning waters. So, there’s only one question. Is it good? Absolutely.

Make no mistake, Wonder Woman is the basic superhero origin story. But, it’s the type of story needed when developing a massive, interconnected universe and getting audiences to care about its heroes who make it up. Its basic superhero story does play out a little more uniquely than most of its contemporaries. First, from a visual aspect, utilizing World War I and London and seeing a vibrant island world such as Themyscira in all of its gold hues and lushness simply makes for a more compelling watch, even before director Patty Jenkins (Monster) showcases the equally compelling action sequences.

Second, the fish-out-of-water approach works brilliantly, and more importantly, it allows Wonder Woman to distance itself from the “it’s so doom and gloom” complaints many rightfully had with most of the DCEU’s features up to this point. There’s legitimate comedy, and it comes off as organic, instead of feeling written in at the last moment. Aside from a noticeable period in the middle third, the movie rarely comes to a complete halt in its pace.

As a whole, Wonder Woman is endearing, partly because Prince isn’t written as a perfect, infallible character, but also, because Gal Gadot makes her so. Once again, her amazing work as the titular character is a reminder that the Internet more often than not needs to just let casting decisions play out before casting judgement on them. Gadot’s come a long way from Giselle in the Fast and Furious movies. She owns the screen, and is asked to convey a fair deal of emotion, all done in convincing fashion. Just as importantly, she looks the part.

The job she does here is that spectacular that it is a struggle to consider who else could play Diana Prince. After Gadot, Pine brings a lot; carrying the film’s message about humanity not being perfect, but very salvageable. The chemistry the two possess between each other, and among the bit characters played by Ewen Bremmer and Saïd Taghmaoui, is infections. As for the villain, akin to similar comic origin movies, the adversary—in this case, adversaries—leave a little to be desired. They’re adequate, but extremely basic stock cutouts that never feel like a true threat to our hero.

In Wonder Woman, DC finally manages to corral a fun and emotional origins story together. Maybe all it takes is a strong woman to make things better.

B+

Photo credits go to dailydot.com, comicbook.com, and dccomics.com

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Keeping Up With The Joneses: Movie Man Jackson

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There’s no love stronger than the love between…neighbors? Suburban couple Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher) are pretty much the definition of basic. Both have solid, if boring, jobs/careers, and have made two children who are off to summer camp. Having the home to themselves for a couple of weeks seems the perfect opportunity to spice up the repetitive routine.

Their routine gets quite the jolt once new neighbors Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot) move into their suburbia cul-de-sac where everyone knows everyone. They’re a perfect couple, perfect conversationalists, perfect everything. Too much so, which raises Karen’s paranoia about what exactly they’re doing here. Acting on paranoia leaves Jeff and Karen in an awfully sticky situation, one in which Keeping Up with the Joneses is the only choice they have for their safety.

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The action-comedy (or comedy-action, depending on how you look at it) hybrid genre is one that, in my opinion, offers the best in pure entertainment when a film hits on all cylinders, combining gut-busting laughs with well-done action. When a film is merely average in both areas, you get Keeping Up with the Joneses.

Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) and writer Michael LeSieur do a functional job with their responsibilities. Action-wise may be this movie’s strongest element, with a surprisingly entertaining car chase around the middle. One wishes there was more of that; the climax in particular is underwhelming. The story is fine enough, but the problem is, Keeping Up with the Joneses is a movie that really does outline exactly everything in its trailer, or even 30 second TV spot. 

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This means that the humor has to land pretty big to overcome this predictability, and unfortunately, the movie’s humor lands here and there but there’s not that one memorable laugh or laughs, at least for my money. That doesn’t mean that Keeping Up with the Joneses necessarily drags; it just means that there’s little beyond the surface level for jokes.

The quartet of Galifianakis, Fisher, Hamm, and Gadot are essentially the film. Mottola positions the couples as equals, certainly not aesthetically, but emotionally. Males and females are paired off together throughout in order to give more depth to the characters and it works, on one side. Hamm and Galifianakis end up building a relationship that is sort of heartwarming and very believable as it evolves. Generally, the best and most amusing moments in the film are the two sharing screentime absent from others. The same can’t be said for Fisher and Gadot. On their own, they are OK characters, but their relationship ends up feeling a little forced. Perhaps it is the chemistry, Zach and John have more of it together, whereas Gal and Fisher never seem to click as efficiently.

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Not Kardashian-level bad, but Keeping Up with the Joneses is fine, but ultimately disposable, action-comedy fare. There are other movies to keep up with before this one.

C

Photo credits go to yahoo.com and collider.com

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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice-Movie Man Jackson

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You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. 18 months after Superman’s (Henry Cavill) literal world-shattering battle with General Zod, much of Metropolis has been reduced to rubble. Superman, once hailed as symbol of purity and what the world should aspire to be, is now looked upon by many as an example of how absolute power absolutely corrupts an individual.

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is in the camp of Superman being a menace to society, and as such, the Caped Crusader is determined to rid the world of The Man of Steel. The two titans are on a collision course, but lurking in the shadows is scientific genius Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Luthor has the intellect to rid the world of both Superman and Batman, plunging the world into total chaos.

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Movie hype is unavoidable, and can be good or bad. To put it in the context of science, a film that appears to be getting stronger in positive word of mouth as its release date draws closer could be “doubling time,” growing exponentially in a period of time. It can work in reverse too with the “half-life” concept, with a film’s hype being so prolonged that as the release date draws closer, word of mouth becomes more negative, quelling the excitement for film. In the case of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the latter seems to have occurred with what amounts to a three year hype period, and in its aftermath, some calling it one of the worst comic books adaptations ever. Is it that bad?

Story-wise, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is as clunky, and as lengthy, as its title. There is just so much going on that doesn’t feel like it merits inclusion, at least at this point in the genesis of the DC-shared universe. One wishes it were more straightforward as the Batman V Superman part of its title alludes to, instead of the strands of plots the viewer is subject to that include some criminal Russian involvement that somehow connects to Lex Luthor (yet isn’t made clear), and some many dream sequences that, maybe on a rewatch, may make more sense. But perhaps one of the biggest issues with BvS is that, unfortunately, even if some of the additional story material does make sense on another view, yours truly still isn’t sure if it is necessarily interesting.

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With all of that said, however, it is just best to focus on the Batman V Superman part (this title is actually coming in handy during this write-up!). In my opinion, director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel, 300) does get it right when these two colossal heroes finally clash with each other. You can call the build too prolonged, but even with the bloated plot, it doesn’t deter from wanting to see the main event. With help from a score that combines the talents of Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer, Snyder is able to make his fight scenes memorable with a ton of grandeur and, yes, epicness. Seeing the two beat the holy hell out of each other is popcorn viewing at its most basic level, and that isn’t a negative, it’s a positive.

Batman is listed first in the movie’s title, and though the two titans’ presence would seem to indicate that this is a feature that equally highlights both characters, BvS is likely the closest the world will get to an origin/standalone Batman movie in this DC Universe. As such, this puts the attention solely on Ben Affleck, the much derided selection to star as the new Dark Knight. Defying the majority of the population who believed he couldn’t do it effectively, Affleck looks the part, and for a darker tale that makes Christopher Nolan’s trilogy seem like child’s play by comparison, he’s game. Maybe it is the chin, the increased bulk, or the recognition of the director to put him in the best situations to shine. Whatever the case, he does.

But, let’s not forget about Henry Cavill, who doesn’t seem to be getting the same appreciation Affleck is. This isn’t really his story, yet his Superman character provides the little emotion to it. showed Cavill physically resembling the part, but BvS feels like the first time one sort of gets to connect with/care for the character, or at least I did. As a whole, Batman V Superman is pretty solidly acted, from Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (in extremely brief time), to Jeremy Irons as Alfred.

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The only big piece of the cast that is the outlier is Jesse Eisenberg as Luthor. Not ready to put the whole blame on Jesse though. Part of his puzzling performance yours truly believes is the result of a lack of character motivation. Just what is Lex getting out of this? What is his end game? The answer isn’t discernible. But, Eisenberg simply isn’t the menacing presence, or even the intellectual presence, that is befitting of Luthor. I can see why some may love his performance, as the viewer could look at it as he being the only bit of energy in what is otherwise a dreary affair. Count MMJ in the camp of he being the wrong casting choice, however.

And so, the question posed at the beginning is asked again: Is Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice that bad. The answer to many of life’s questions often lie in the middle, and this is no different.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to hypable.com, technobuffalo.com, and latimes.com.

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Triple 9: Movie Man Jackson

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Make a bomb go off, the police are there at the location in three minutes. Do a 999—on the other side of town—and you got all damn day to do whatever you please. On the mean streets of Atlanta, a trio of three men: ex military officers Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Gabe Welch (Aaron Paul), and Russell Welch (Norman Reedus), combine with a duo of corrupts cops in Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.) to form a squad of five, pulling heist jobs around the area. They work for a Russian Israeli mob boss named Irina (Kate Winslet), who pays them handsomely in return for what she receives in some vital pieces to bring her brother home from exile.

While the crew is ready to leave the game forever after their recent job, Irina forces them to pull one more to get what she needs. This one is impossible however, because roughly a 20 minute window is needed. To get this window, a plan is hatched to execute a Triple 9–police code for officer down. The mark is Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a good cop with a family who doesn’t deserve this fate.

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Think about cop/heist movies (combining the two subgenres here) and there always seem to be a few on top of the list with regards to the best. Training Day, Heat, End of Watch, and Reservoir Dogs are just a few that come to mind. With the cast that director John Hillcoat (The Road, Lawless) deploys here, a lover of the genre couldn’t help but get giddy at the prospect after seeing the redband that Triple 9 could be in that stratosphere. After watching, is it? Not at all. But, is it a solid entry into the genre? Absolutely.

Whether by virtue of the lack of features he’s helmed, the type of features he’s helmed, or for other reasons unbeknownst, John Hillcoat isn’t a household name. Yours truly isn’t saying he should be yet, either. But, what I am saying is that Hillcoat is a master at creating an intriguing and compelling world in his films, and Triple 9 is just the latest example, with this time a modern but grimy setting being at the forefront. Even when the story can occasionally bog down, and they sometimes do in his works, there’s reason to continue watch because the production is of such high quality.

But yes, the actual plot of Triple 9 is not bullet-proof. As mentioned, a few points exists in which it feels like nothing is really going on, and this is where the movie can slow down to a crawl. I want to say that that this is for character development, but that necessarily isn’t the case, although some characters and relationships do get more meat. And honestly, this can all be a little—wait for the magic word—predictable. Not 100% predictable; there are a few third acts surprises that one may not see coming, but without spoilers (hopefully), let’s just say it can get a little bit like clockwork.

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Where Triple 9 shines is in its three big set pieces for each third of the movie. These scenes are dressed to the nines with tension and unpredictability, outfitted with a score by Atticus Ross. And, they aren’t action scenes where slugs fly freely into the wind. No, many of the scenes are methodical, and each shot out of a weapon actually means something more than not. Simply put, it is edge of the seat material.

Ensemble casts can be great, but when they are so big, it can become hard to give everyone the requisite attention they deserve. Such is a little of the problem here. Most cover the swath of genre characters, but that doesn’t mean that the performances aren’t what is expected from the talent assembled. The true standout would probably have to be Anthony Mackie, who easily has the most complex character and as a result, gets the opportunity to flex some acting muscle. It’s fun to see Chiwetel Ejiofor play a baddie, as he’s shown in Four Brothers and Serenity that he’s capable, and he has some dark moments here.

Casey Affleck is a sound protagonist, and does his job, but to say he’s asked to do a ton is misleading. In an otherwise serious movie, Woody Harrelson occasionally brings a little bit of lightness to a grim affair, though he can feel a little caricature at times. What is it about crime movies that require an European character to be the big bad henchman? That role falls to Kate Winslet, who doesn’t have a ton of screentime, but is as cold as they come. Speaking of limited screentime, Gal Gadot and Teresa Palmer play the same nondescript role as lovers of the lead characters, just on opposite teams, and Norman Reedus at least looks cool in his minor role. Wrapping the all-star cast up is Aaron Paul, who is rather sympathetic but very “Jesse-ish”, and Clifton Collins, Jr., a chameleon who works in about any role.

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Triple 9 is a B movie with an superb cast, which can be a little disappointing with all the talent brought on and the clear directorial skill of Hillcoat. But something so tense, well acted, and produced still should be enough for anyone who is a diehard fan of the genre.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to euronews.com, filmonic.com, and fastcocreate.com.

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Fast & Furious 6: Movie Man Jackson

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“You don’t turn your back on family, even when they do.”

All roads lead to this, just with more road after “this.” Fast & Furious 6 finds the members of the Dominic Toretto/Brian O’Conner super crew (Vin Diesel, Paul Walker), living very comfortably after pulling off the job of the century in Rio de Janeiro. For some, like Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang) and Giselle (Gal Gadot), comfortable is living lavishly and traveling county to county. For others like Dom and Brian, comfortable is just living with loved ones. Regardless of their definition, they are all free.

And yet there is something missing because living free doesn’t mean fulfilling if you can’t return home. While their incomplete lives are being lived, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is after an elite street gang headed by dangerous mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). As this pursuit has trekked across the globe, Hobbs knows there’s only one way to catch wolves: With wolves. This means asking the crew to reassemble again, and despite Dom’s resistance, Hobbs shows evidence of Dom’s past lover Letty alive with the rival gang. The promise of full pardons and potential of reuniting with Letty is enough to hop back in the driver’s seat one more time.

Film Title: Fast & Furious 6

Once again, the laws of physics have no place in the F&F universe. Fast & Furious 6 follows very much in the trailblazing, franchise-rebranding path of Fast Five, focusing on full-scale car chases, open-environments shootouts, and white-knuckle faceoffs. Is it dumb entertainment? Sure. Is it highly entertaining? Without a doubt.

Director Justin Lin goes bigger and more outlandish with about everything in F&F6 from an action perspective, which is impressive because F5 was nothing to scoff at either. Want to see a tank take out a complete highway? Maybe a wild finale on a plane featuring the longest runway known to man? Or perhaps a simple, good ol’ catfight or two? All of that is here, some of it more ridiculous than others, but the implausibility hardly matters because it looks so awesome and full of unbridled mayhem, with only the rare occasion where CGI sticks out too much.

Though familiarity with the franchise isn’t needed to enjoy the pedal-to-the metal set pieces, a level of it makes for more connection with the story and namely the characters who make up F&F. The actual story is nothing more than a gang trying to stop another gang from getting/creating some high-tech military piece that can shut down an entire region (or something), but the real story that has been fueling the series for sometime now is the bond between family and friends. It is the type of thing that may be overly sentimental and not mean much to those who haven’t spent time with thees movies, but for those that have a level of investment exists, and it gives a layer of emotion and feeling as crazy as that may sound.

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Lasting over 10 years has meant a lot in the way of chemistry and banter. When Fast & Furious 6 isn’t busy rewriting Newton’s laws or trying to give some middling efforts to the plot, it is more than happy with letting its characters talk and crack jokes, which are legitimately comical, especially anything having to do with Tyrese as Roman Pearce. Whether he is delivering lines or taking them from other crew members like Tej, Han, Giselle, or Hobbs. In a lot of ways, the movie does comedy better than actual comedies.

Back to Hobbs for a second. While he may not be the “antagonist” he was in the latter movie throwing down against Toretto and O’Conner, his presence and bold, no nonsense persona is on display throughout, with a little bit of humor thrown in just like his wrestling days as The Rock. As important as he is (and he is very), Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are still the guys driving this vehicle, and what Mia (Jordana Brewster) states about Dom and Brian being stronger together than apart applies to the actors themselves.Call it a bromance if needed, but the two are just akin to peanut butter and jelly in the way they mesh.

Coming back into the fray is Michelle Rodriguez, still robotic in delivery but also at the forefront of many of the film’s best fight scenes. It is nice to see her return here. Lastly, Luke Evans serves as the heroes’ foil, and he isn’t a dud, but his character and crew never seem to serve as a true formidable force to the honorable gang. Ultimately, Evans’ greatest contribution may be serving as a launching pad to potentially the series’ greatest villain as seen in the post credits.

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The roads aren’t the only terrain occupied. It isn’t the reinvention like Fast Five was, but Fast & Furious 6 continues on what was built there with more characters, more humor, and more explosive action. The engine’s still revving.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to planetofmovies.com, aceshowbiz.com, & cinema.theiapolis.com.

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Fast Five: Movie Man Jackson

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“And above all else we don’t ever, ever let them get into cars.”

When street racing doesn’t pay the bills anymore, it is time to find another lane that will. Fast Five begins right where Fast & Furious left off, when Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) lead an attack on a bus transporting friend and brother Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to Lompac federal prison. The successful breakout and those who staged it make national headlines.

The three are forced to flee out of the states and to Rio de Janeiro, where they run into corrupt businessman Herman Reyes, who isn’t the guy to cross. But, their options are limited, pushing Dom and Brian to an idea: To get their freedom, they must steal from the man who runs Rio. It isn’t going to be easy, and it will require the help of past friends Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Han (Sung Kang) and others, but if successful the crew will net $100 million. Dealing with Reyes and his mercenaries is serious business as is, but throw in relentless special forces agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the job is, in Roman’s words: “Mission infreaking sanity.”

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It isn’t everyday that a franchise gets to five movies. Even rarer is a franchise reinventing itself in a fifth movie. Fast & Furious 2009 in retrospect got the ball rolling with the evolution to the series, but Fast Five takes the ball and runs with it, blazing a new, wildly fun path for the series. Though it is a new path aimed to reach out to a wider population and a fairly doable jumping point for newbies, it is hard to see many people despising 1-4 and immensely enjoying this, but is is certainly possible.

The shift to a broad action flick with cars in the rear-view as opposed to cars being at the forefront is a sound, efficient change, but there are one or two moments where fans of the earlier films may miss the traditional race scenes. One moment in particular has a perfect build towards one that occurs, but all that is seen is the aftermath of it. If the story shift wasn’t believed before, it is here where F5 cements it.

However, it is only a small downer though, because the street racing story focus had a limited ceiling, especially in 2011 (or now) compared to the start of the franchise in 2001 when street racing was still very popular. Those earlier movies may still have been filled with mayhem, but they always felt restrained, restricted to only one gear. Not so here. Director Justin Lin fully embraces the departure from the norm, removing the shackles from the car culture focus and in the process creating over-the-top and physics-defying action set-pieces. They are also loaded with fun and extremely hard not to enjoy, shot with great precision and clarity, and Rio makes for a new, unfamiliar playground to feature the craziness. Look past the impossibilities, and it is hard to find flaws from an action perspective in Fast Five.

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At least script-wise, F5 shares more in common with the Ocean’s movies than it does with its franchise brethren. With that similarity, there is a feeling of “been here, done that,” but for every film save for possibly the first, the story found here is all and all pretty good, even if some aspects of it aren’t bought into easily (for fugitives, these guys sure do get a lot of time and resources to hone their plan). The more “emotional” sections may do nothing for people unfamiliar or long uninterested to the F&F universe, but for those who have had enjoyment with it more times than not, these occurrences do work, if only for the simple fact that five movies does lend a level of connection to these characters.

In addition, just seeing many of the key players from previous entries come together to assemble and banter is like a poor movie’s The Avengers. These interactions are cool and amusing, but they can feel stretched out in spots, which is a reflection of the movie’s runtime. 130 minutes could and probably should be no more than 110.

For all of the things F5 does better than the rest, for yours truly there is one thing that it finally gets right: the villain(s), or a more fitting description, the opposition. And, it isn’t as obvious as believed. There is a traditional villain, and he isn’t really all that great, but contrasted with others from earlier films, he does grab attention. But he pales in comparison to the addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as dogged Luke Hobbs. Johnson steals scenes and ups the ante anytime he appears, and gives Dom, Brian and the crew a formidable and intimidating foe for the first time. To the main characters he may be the bad guy, but Hobbs fighting on the right side of the law actually makes the crew, namely Dom & Brian, villains and opposition in their own right. This dynamic, not mind-blowing in the least, does give a extra layer of intrigue to the events.

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Enough has been said about Dwayne serving as a newfound rock to this series, but the old hands are still as consistent and effective as before. Paul Walker and Vin Diesel will forever be Brian and Dom, their characters being a great combination of chemistry and healthy rivalry mixed with respect. The supporting characters of Roman Pierce, Tej, Han, Gisele, and others fit nicely throughout, whereas before many were stretched in the movies they appeared in. Jordana Brewster’s role is scaled back but still pretty important. No one is going to blow viewers away with their performances, but for what they are all asked to do little complaints can be had.

At this point, Fast Five will likely not be the epiphany to change those who cared little or nothing at all for the franchise. For those that have been having fun riding with Dom and Brian for a while now, this still has trademark NOS running through its vehicle, it is just not the singular thing anymore.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to fanpop.com, pixarplanet.com, and fastfive.co.uk

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