Whilst the other entries have been written after viewing the films a number of times, I’m writing this entry on the evening after seeing The Fate of the Furious, based on the notes I typed on my phone in the half-light of the cinema.
The Fate of the Furious is more than just a bad movie… it also spends a lot of the goodwill we have built up towards the series over the past decade or so. Whilst there are spectacular action sequences, they now feel like sequences, shoehorned into the plot. Gray directs with a freneticism that on occasions borders on incoherence; even the most pleasurable sequence in the film – Jason Statham shooting his way out of an aeroplane whilst carrying a baby – is hampered by a camera that does everything it can to lessen the impact of a punch. It seems to be constantly cutting away just at the most vital time. Later, Gray’s awkward camera causes the film to come to a complete standstill on two separate occasions whilst flashbacks show what actually transpired in previous scenes.
To some extent, the introduction of the aforementioned baby completes Dom Toretto’s quest to atone for letting down his father through his actions; now he is a father himself, with all the responsibility that comes with it. But the circumstances that the child is introduced are pretty appalling. The product of Dom’s brief affair with Elsa Pataky’s Elena Neves, her character is reintroduced halfway through the film. For one moment, you think the series is compensating for the causal cruelness with which it discarded her character after it chose to reintroduce Michelle Rodriguez; however, she is promptly and needlessly murdered. And to add insult to injury, her death is as quickly forgotten as any of Toretto’s sins. The whole affair is quite sickening; she is removed of any agency and capability, and reduced to a simple plot device.
The core of the film rests upon Toretto’s seeming slip back into criminality (the next in a series of comic book clichés that the series has adopted – the good guy gone bad.) But despite the franchise’s continued rewriting of its characters, this never quite rings true. Whilst Dom was a criminal, he was never bad. His most vicious act – the beating that landed him in jail – is still tinged with honour, such was his intention to defend his father. Rewriting a child into his past is a small act for this franchise, but putting such an unconvincing plot development at the heart of the film, robs it of any significant investment on our part. There is no doubt in our minds that Dom will make things right.
In Dom’s absence, a number of characters are brought to the fore. Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs slips easily into the de facto leader role; Hobbs was always a thinly drawn operative, but Johnson goes to distinct lengths to imbibe his character with a decency and integrity regardless of his surroundings. It also takes great glee is his unique brand of physical combat, full of body slams and throwing opponents around that remind you of his wrestling days. He is the true leading man of the series (and bitchily shares a negligible amount of screen time with Diesel) – so much so, that he is clearly written out at the end of the movies. He has outgrown the franchise by this stage. In addition, he is ably supported by Jason Statham (and rumours abound of a spin-off featuring the two). There are fewer greater pleasures in cinema than watching Jason Statham run (he is second only to Tom Cruise in the cinematic talent) and the series find plenty of space to cast him as a gleeful antihero – though this perhaps is the greatest instance of the series rewriting its own past. He is very quickly forgiven by the crew.
Charlize Theron distinguishes herself as the villain Cipher; her dreadlocked appearance marks her out as an active proponent of cultural appropriation – the only true crime in such a multicultural series. It’s clear though that she was only around for a short amount of time – most of her scenes are on constructed sets talking to Diesel. And it’s always a pleasure to watch Kurt Russell regardless of what he is in. Michelle Rodriguez continues to bring a greater depth to Letty than the script provides, performing an almost post-traumatic response to seeing Dom.
But Nathalie Emmanuel is appalling. And Scott Eastwood, whilst heavily-handedly positioned as an O’Conner to Hobbs, is an actor of… limited charisma. There is a bizarre choice to allow the characters to hear each other speaking coherently within their cars during chase scenes; cars that are clearly making a lot of noise. With its messy direction (Gray chooses far too often to show close-ups of the actors behind the wheels of the car, only underlining the fact that these shots are filmed on some soundstage somewhere) and bloated runtime, The Fate of the Furious at times seems to undo all the good of the past three movies. But by now, eight movies into a ten movie franchise, it can handle it. Every franchise as its pretty rotten entries, and this is just our one.
Fast & Furious rankings:
- Fast & Furious 6
- Fast Five
- The Fast and the Furious
- Furious 7
- 2 Fast 2 Furious
- Fast & Furious
- The Fate of the Furious
- Los Bandoleros
- Turbo Charged Prelude
Heavy handed references to Paul Walker:
One, where he is quickly referenced as a solution to Dom’s issues (quickly discarded, though Mia and Brian would have raced to the scene if their brother was behaving this way) and a second where, quite sweetly, Dom’s baby is called Brian.