The Fate of the Furious (2017)
Family no more.
If you’ve been a long-time fan of the seemingly unstoppable franchise that began with The Fast and the Furious (2001), reading the (above) tagline will make you pause. You see, ‘family’ has been around from the very beginning and has since become the most emphasized aspect of the series, second only to its escalating action, stunts and crazy set pieces. What could possibly get the macho patriarch Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to veer away from his core value? Hmm. It’s a tasty conundrum indeed, one that committed series scribe Chris Morgan, Wanted (2008), delivers in a reasonably convincing way, thrusting the film into a darker arena, which hasn’t been explored before. I won’t spoil it for you but this revelation is genuinely surprising, whilst staying somewhat true to Morgan’s ongoing action/ soap-opera saga.
We begin this episode in Havana, Cuba, where Dominic Toretto and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) are in the midst of an idyllic honeymoon, hanging out with street racers and Dom’s cousin, Fernando (Janmarco Santiago). It all ceases when Toretto is suddenly coerced into helping a dread-locked cyber-terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron) into sabotaging a mission involving his long-serving team — tech-savvy Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), distraction of sorts Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), recently introduced hacktivist Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), tough-talking DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and Letty herself.
Dom’s unexpected and shocking betrayal rocks the close-knitted ‘family’ to the core, forcing covert ops team leader Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to return, along with his naïve protégé Eric Reisner, aka Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). If Dom’s disloyalty wasn’t challenging enough, Mr. Nobody enlists the aid of former enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), at least until they get to the bottom of Dom’s 360-degree turn. With Toretto under Cipher’s thumb, the family struggle to stop (and understand) their determined pal, with Cipher getting closer and closer to her goal of one-upping those who hold considerable power.
With one of its central stars Paul Walker, Vehicle 19 (2013), having passed halfway through the production of the last movie, it was something of a miracle that Furious 7 (2015) ended up being as solid as it was. With star and producer Vin Diesel eventually announcing another three films — which will take Fast & Furious up to an astounding ten entries (plus I imagine a few spinoffs along the way) — it has raised the question as to whether its appeal can be maintained. Diesel had stated that Furious 7 was ‘for Paul’ whereas ‘F8,’ as it was christened at the time, was ‘from Paul’ — whatever the hell that means. Regardless, I’m delighted to say that whether the latest flick was from Paul’s nose or from the backside of a Nos-ed up V8, it’s still a decent action flick.
What’s surprising for casual moviegoers and hardcore fans alike is the fact that there’s still plenty of gas in the tank, so to speak. How so? Well, Fast & Furious 6 (2013) actually came full circle, rounding everything up nicely in its last scene, a sunny barbeque at the iconic Toretto residence — the very same spot that family values were first shared in the original. But then there was that mid-credit scene, introducing us to a hardcore revenge plot involving Statham’s Deckard Shaw. If that wasn’t enough, the seventh entry farewelled Paul Walker in a touching epilogue that allowed his Bryan O’Connor character to move on, drawing a firm line in the sand. But, as one of the flick’s catchphrases reads, ‘Ride or die.’
F. Gary Gray, Straight Outta Compton (2015), may’ve initially seemed like a left-field choice to direct this eighth entry of the Furious saga, but he did work with Diesel on A Man Apart (2003) — in which the gravely-voiced star went down a bleak path of vengeance for his family — and also with Statham and Theron on the high-spirited remake of The Italian Job (2003) — which featured some stellar car stunts and a zesty pace. Because of this tested background, Gray actually fits neatly into the requirements of the series, refusing to rock the (established) boat outside of going for a bit more of a morose tone, which the series hadn’t seen since its fourth entry with the abrupt ‘death’ of Letty.
Just on the tone, I did find it a bit of a pity that, bar a few moments, The Fate of the Furious wasn’t quite as upbeat or funny as the last couple of outings — it’s certainly another shift in atmosphere. There were a few dramatic moments where I could almost hear Martin Lawrence’s iconic Bad Boys II (2003) line echo in my mind, ‘This s@$t just got real.’
On the acting front, Vin Diesel is dull, Kurt Russell, Deepwater Horizon (2016), is fun and despite some apparent behind-the-scenes tension with co-star Diesel, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, San Andreas (2015), is dependable. For me though, it was the fast-footed and constantly quipping Jason Statham, Spy (2015), who really stood out, along with the icy viper that is Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), who really seems to be relishing her new-found action persona. Statham actually gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie, courtesy of a zippy in-flight smack-up involving the youngest member of the cast.
New addition Scott Eastwood, Suicide Squad (2016) — yes, that’s Clint’s son — isn’t as interesting as he should be, while Nathalie Emmanuel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015), is largely superfluous during action sequences, only serving as a source for some unfunny pervy rivalry between Roman and Tej. This all raises an important question for the future of the franchise as in, if we can’t get behind any of the newbies or understand why they’re coming along for the journey — how about Roman ‘I don’t wanna die!’ Pearce? — why even include them at all? With such a ballooning cast of players, even long-time devotees may find their heads spinning at all the mini-clusters within the core Toretto ‘family.’
This episode, more than any of the others, relies heavily on knowing what happened in the last two entries, which can make the plot (at times) a little difficult to follow. When someone’s talking about losing ‘Nightshade,’ they’re talking about the MacGuffin of Fast & Furious 6, and not sunglasses. And hey, do you remember what Djimon Hounsou was doing in Furious 7? Ah, sort of? At times, this connectivity does feel a bit excessive, particularly the filmmakers’ desire to join everything together.
Of course, when all of the connections aren’t making your head spin, the over-the-top action probably is — but did you really expect anything less? The apex (for me) is the mid-point where endless waves of remotely controlled cars begin slamming into targets on the streets of New York City. What’s crazier is that much of this was achieved via full scale practical work, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the whole bill came up to a quarter of a billion dollars. Courtesy of some thoughtful editing by Paul Rubell, Transformers (2007), and series staple Christian Wagner, Furious 7 (2015), I can basically see every cent up on screen. I also gotta hand it to writer Chris Morgan, who takes me back to being a kid, when I used to play with toy cars and make them do all sorts of impossible tricks — I just couldn’t get the smile off my face when an entire car park literally unloads onto the street below, because hey, why not?
You may’ve seen there’s a 3D version available — just don’t. The ill-considered conversion is flatter than a pre-mixed pancake and only dulls the often-subdued cinematography by longtime Furious collaborator, Aussie D.O.P. Stephen F. Windon, Star Trek Beyond (2016). As a fan of a good 3D experience, I’m continually exasperated at the glut of conversions for films that have no interest in utilizing the potential of the format to its fullest. To all the studios that do 3D conversions of films, just because they can — don’t. Fun fact: Furious 7 was eventually converted to 3D exclusively for China — outside of the jacked up prices, why even bother!
With the absence of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel brotherly dynamic, the series’ darkest dilemma isn’t quite as lively as its other entries, making it unlikely that The Fate of the Furious will become a fan favorite. Still, F8 is bound to be another box office smash, thus proving that signs of franchise fatigue aren’t kicking in any time soon. With a finale that sees the crew face-off against a nuclear submarine, there’s clearly enough madness on offer to tempt Fast & Furious devotees to take this latest entry out for a wild spin.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Steve Ramsie