THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS ½
PG-13, 136 mins.
2017, PG-13, 136 mins.
Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto / Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs / Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw / Kurt Russell as Frank Petty / Mr. Nobody / Michelle Rodriguez as Letty Ortiz / Charlize Theron as Cipher / Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey / Scott Eastwood as Little Nobody / Helen Mirren as Magdalene Shaw / Elsa Pataky as Elena Neves / Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce / Ludacris as Tej Parker
Written and directed by F. Gary Gray / Written by Chris Morgan
Remember way, way back in 2001 when the first FAST AND FURIOUS film was released, well before it improbably spawned seven sequels and grossed $4 billion in global ticket sales?
Looking back it's
quite amazing to consider that it was, for all intents and purposes, a
not-so-subtle POINT BREAK knock-off about the underground world of street
racing that involved crooks illegally racing their souped up muscle cars
and imports when they weren't stealing DVD players.
somewhat ridiculously titled THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS - or THE FAST
AND THE FURIOUS 8 or FF8, whatever you prefer to call it - it's
become clear that any
modicum of gritty street level verisimilitude that the franchise's
introductory entry had has given way to all out over-the-top ludicrousness.
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS is not so much a grounded action thriller
as much as it is a logic and physics defying piece of pure science
fiction...and that's not necessarily a criticism.
There's ample enjoyment to be had in watching this film - and the
last few series entries that came before it - utterly embrace its most
cartoonish elements, which I guess has allowed this franchise's unique
brand of vehicular carnage and teeth clenched machismo to remain
sustainable over 16 years. THE
FATE OF THE FURIOUS remains in the proud tradition of Cinema of
Incredulity, or movies that celebrate their wanton and almost laughable
on-screen absurdity like a badge of honor.
After a brief
period of franchise lethargy, along came FAST
FIVE in 2011 to daringly, if not improbably, retrofit these films
away from being street racing thrillers and into heist action flicks.
That bold move handsomely paid off, and the adventures of Dominic
Torreto and company have not looked back since (that, and the series'
popularity peaked with the tragic death of star Paul Walker, whose real
life demise was dealt with in FURIOUS 7
in surprisingly tactful ways). THE
FATE OF THE FURIOUS, once again, should be given props for at least trying
to throw more storytelling curveballs at the franchise's legions of devotees, and at a
time when most cinematic universes seem all but dead in the sequel water. Unfortunately, for as much potentially intriguing narrative
detours that THE FATE AND THE FURIOUS takes - and in particular with its
poster boy hero - this resulting sequel seems to be leisurely spinning its
wheels at bit too much for its own good and slavishly relying on old
spectacularly and engagingly silly prologue - set in Cuba during the
honeymoon of Dom (Diesel) and Leti (Michelle Rodriguez) and culminating in
the former winning a daring street race that reveals a staggering lack of
police officers on the Havana streets - THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS thrusts
viewers into an endlessly compelling plot twist that involves Dom - gasp!
- turning on his wife and family and teaming up with a ruthless cyber
terrorist named Cipher (zero originality points for that name...played by
series newcomer Charlize Theron) that wishes to steal a nuclear bomb, its
launch codes, and the "God's Eye" (an omnipotent surveillance
piece of tech that figured heavily into the last film). Not only does Dom betray Leti and his racing comrades in
arms, but he does so by sucker punch turning on all of them during a very
high stakes Diplomatic Security Service mission headed up by Hobbs (the
hulking Dwayne Johnson).
Hobbs feels mightily betrayed, especially seeing as Dom nearly killed him
in said double crossing incident. The
rest of Dom's old crew - Letti, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and
Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) - are struggling with the emotional weight of
their once devoted leader turning evil.
Aided by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), Hobbs and what remains of Dom's
team begin scouring the globe for Dom and Cipher, and in the process
recruit some very unlikely allies in the form of former arch enemy, now
frenemy Deckard (Jason Statham), who has his own personal vendetta against
THE FAST AND THE
FURIOUS franchise has done a good job of injecting some fresh character
meat into the stories as of late, and Charlize Theron's quietly menacing
introduction as the extraordinarily dangerous Cipher is proof positive of
this. Hot off of her
appearance in the action masterpiece MAD
MAX: FURY ROAD (where she more than proved her genre street cred),
Theron gives this sequel that jolt of unpredictable energy that it so
desperately requires. With
her ice cold deadpan delivery, long blonde dreadlocks, and steely eyed
poker face glare, Theron creates a credible baddie that plausibly comes
off as having the upper hand over the gravel voiced and chiseled Dom.
Most action films are made or broken by the relative quality of the
antagonists, but THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS is on stellar footing whenever
Theron occupies scenes.
is also made or broken on its reliably consistent levels of unleashing jaw
droppingly implausible action sequences that you can heartily laugh at and
with. There's a remarkably
effective mid-way scene in New York that has Cipher hacking into what
appears to be hundreds of smart cars, which she uses to attack the heroes
like a swam of unstoppable automobile zombies (preposterous...yes...exhilarating...yes).
The film culminates in spectacularly nonsensical fashion in Russia,
which involves a giant nuclear submarine, a tank, a Lamborghini, a vast
sheet of ice and snow, and Hobbs deflecting a torpedo with his bare hands
while driving in pursuit of Cipher and Dom.
Any semblance of realism has been cheekily abandoned with during
this film's final act, which showcases cars doing things in arctic
climates that are altogether laughably impossible.
Yet, to be fair, people see these films less for introspective
character beats and more for watching its heroes do things with their cars
and bodies that defies normal scientific understanding.
Not all of the
action in this film is big dumb fun, though.
Director F. Gary Gray (whom previously directed THE ITALIAN JOB -
also with Statham and Theron - and last year's very decent music biopic STRAIGHT
OUTTA COMPTON) seems a bit of an ill fit overall for this
franchise. For as wickedly
delightful as the aforementioned climax was to watch here, his handling of
the smaller scale fight sequences (especially one set in a prison) is an
editorial hatchet job that uses too many close ups and medium shots and
too much frenetic camera movement to feel fluidly engaging.
He also doesn't handle THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS' conflicting tonal
range well either, which may or may not have something to do with Chris
Morgan's screenplay, which awkwardly tiptoes between self-serious
sermonizing that takes itself as seriously as a heart attack with cars
being incredulously used as projectile weapons. It also doesn't help that the script flips a bird to
franchise continuity. Statham's
Deckard has been previously established as a mass murdering psycho that
brutally killed one key member of Dom's team...but here he's a likeable
quip dispensing hooligan that works with the heroes.
One area that THE
FATE OF THE FURIOUS frustratingly drops the proverbial ball is in the
whole tantalizing notion of turning its main hero into a bad guy.
There are so many potentially intriguing ways that Morgan and Gray
could have dealt with this...and especially as an overarching story beat
that could been the product of multiple films to come.
Instead of teasing audiences with putting together the salacious
details and reasons for Dom's sudden and corrupt turn for the worst, THE
FATE OF THE FURIOUS lays all of its narrative cards on the table and
neatly wraps everything up well before the end credits roll by.
The juicy opportunities to explore Dom's descent into villainy and
the mystery behind it are mightily squandered; when it's quickly
revealed why he parted from his family and joined the ranks of a terrorist
it rarely feels like a convincing enough rationale for this character,
especially considering his past resolve.
THE FATE AND THE FURIOUS is indeed bigger, dumber, and more ear splitting and eye pummeling than any previous entry; this franchise doesn't hide from what it is. The film is indeed fun, but it's also fatiguing (at nearly two and half hours, its self indulgent length does the whole film an exhausting disservice). Eight films in, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS cinematic universe is definitely not completely running out of gas, but it is creatively stalling, as is apparent in THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS. Maybe there's just so many ways that the makers here can shake and bake the conventions and troupes of this cash making movie empire. There's a blueprint here for a genre busting original installment that hits the resourceful highs of FAST FIVE, but this sequel soft pedals its novel story twists and lacks confidence in using them to their fullest.
But at least we have the sight of The Rock course correcting a nuclear sub's torpedo with his a wave of his bulging arm...so there's that.