Film reviews: Fast & Furious 9 | Supernova | Sweat
A high-speed car chase around Edinburgh’s notoriously driver-unfriendly Old Town is just one silly moment of many in the unashamedly ridiculous ninth instalment in the Fast & Furious series, writes Alistair Harkness
Fast & Furious 9 (12A) ***
Supernova (15) ***
Sweat (15) ****
It took the Bond franchise 11 movies to send its hero into space, the Friday the 13th franchise did it in ten, but Fast & Furious one-ups them both by blasting some of its characters into orbit in nine. Given how spectacularly this series jumped the shark somewhere around the fourth or fifth (or maybe it was the sixth) instalment, it’s actually a wonder it’s taken this long for them to send vehicles into the cosmos. But there it is in Fast & Furious 9: a rocket-powered muscle car circling the Earth without anyone really batting an eyelid.
Which is also another way of saying that staging a high-speed car chase around Edinburgh’s notoriously driver-unfriendly Old Town isn’t even the most ridiculous thing in the film. Having recently served as the deep-fried-kebab-selling backdrop for assorted Marvel characters to trash some gothic architecture in Avengers: Infinity War, the Scottish capital (or “Harry Potter-land” as one character calls it) now sees the arrival of Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and his makeshift “family” as part of a globe-trotting plot to stop Dominic’s evil brother (franchise newcomer John Cena) from making off with a hi-tech McGuffin with the power to control the world’s nuclear arsenal.
One half of said McGuffin is buried in the Vaults beneath St Giles Cathedral; most of the action, though, takes place above ground, with outlandish highlights including an electromagnetic truck being flipped through a building, Cena’s Jakob death-sliding his way across the rooftops of the Royal Mile and Chambers Street, and Diesel’s in-pursuit Dominic hopping through Edinburgh traffic atop moving vans and open-top tourist busses like a steroidal Frogger. It is, it has to be said, a lot of fun, but coming midway through a film that’s already had an explosion-heavy car chase through a Central American minefield and a diamond robbery in London involving Helen Mirren, the Edinburgh sequence also serves as something of a peak for the film’s barmy blend of high-octane action and narrative silliness. After it comes to an end, so too does any real interest in where this is going. Indeed, as the action shifts abruptly to an underground lair elsewhere in the world, any pretence of plot logic is pretty much abandoned and the film becomes a disjointed, increasingly boring series of set-pieces stitched together with some pretty honky storytelling.
Not that you go to a Fast & Furious movie for the plot, of course. But that just makes it all the more frustrating that there’s so much of it to lay out. Having loftily rebranded itself a saga, everything in the franchise now has to tie back to something else. Yet the problem with retrofitting a film franchise with a convoluted mythology – one that has to explain why a film series that started out as a Point Break rip-off suddenly became a ludicrous spy franchise with flying cars and Jason Statham – is that you then have to start adding more and more backstory, which ends up functioning like sugar in Fast & Furious 9’s gas tank, bringing the action to a spluttering halt every time it takes a break to lay out in tortuous detail the source of the Toretto brothers’ enmity or why a character thought to have left the series several films ago is able to make a miraculous return. By the time the film leaves itself with nowhere to go but space, the last thing this action spectacular feels is out of this world.
Spotlighting the cruel way dementia forces a gay couple to mourn the encroaching loss of the life they’ve shared together, British drama Supernova benefits greatly from two intimate and heartfelt performances from Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. The former plays Sam, a concert pianist only just holding it together as he embarks on a road trip with his ailing partner Tusker (Tucci) through some meaningful countryside haunts en route to a recital near Sam’s childhood home. What follows in actor-turned-director Harry Macqueen’s sophomore feature has more in common with Still Alice’s treatment of the disease than the subjective horror of recent Anthony Hopkins Oscar-winner The Father – as it builds towards its big emotional showdown, we get flashes of the toll early onset Alzheimer’s is starting to take on both men as Tusker, a novelist, uses wry humour to cope with his sporadic bouts of confusion while the buttoned-down Sam keeps trying to connect on a deeper level. Here, Firth and Tucci’s warm, lived-in performances transcend some of the more melodramatic flourishes of the script. And yet Macqueen’s decision to make the film about a gay couple also gives it poignant political edge with a passing reference to Thatcher’s introduction of Section 28 functioning as a reminder of the governmental acts of erasure that have historically tried to do to gay culture what dementia is doing to Tusker and Sam’s relationship.
A social media influencer begins disassembling after sharing a rare moment of honesty with her followers in Polish drama Sweat – an unsettling portrait of the duress of living in our narcissistic digital age. Magdalena Kolesnik is brilliant as the inscrutable lead, a fitness guru whose spur-of-the-moment confession of loneliness sends her on an accelerated downward spiral. Writer-director Magnus von Horn is good too at capturing that uneasy, unpredictable tension of living your life online, but it’s the ambiguous finale that gives it a fascinating, sickening power.
Fast & Furious 9 and Supernova are in cinemas from 25 June; Sweat is on selected release and available on digital demand from Curzon Home Cinema from 25 June
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