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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Review: The Fate of the Furious (spoiler-free)

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A lot of people complain about the current state of cinema.

I don’t tend to buy it. Change is uncomfortable for people and whatever “the kids” like often brings the wagging fingers of more, uh, mature folks.

I gave up on the Fast/Furious franchise a few films back… the giant safe being dragged around Brazil, I believe it was. Fast Five. I didn’t feel Justin Lin had broken the foundations of cinema. I was done. I enjoyed the actors, including the addition of The Rock and whatever Hot Chick o’ the Sequel they had added, but there was enough in the world to keep me amused without the same gags over and over and stunt/effects that were over the top.

Michelle Rodriguez is resurrected in Furious 6. Paul Walker died too young before Furious 7 was done, but ends the movie alive and retired while they added another international action star to the mix, Jason Statham.

So after two films off, I figured it was time to try it again. I have fond memories of screening the first The Fast & The Furious fairly early at Universal 16 years ago and liking it a lot more than I expected to at the time. (As a director, Rob Cohen had burnt away any of my admiration for Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story with Daylight and The Skulls. TF&TF felt like him taking a step back to cleaner, simpler filmmaking. xXx and Stealth would soon send him back onto my least admired director list.)

WTF?

I found The Fate of the Furious such a shocking mess of extreme, belief-unsuspending CG-driven crap that I couldn’t quite believe it. So much so that I actually DVRed Furious 7 that very night to see whether Justin Lin had taken them down this road to this degree over the two films I missed.

He had not. James Wan took over with #7. But he hadn’t either.

There is a lot of crazy stuff in Furious 7, but it’s not cars-on-ice-being-chased-by-a-submarine unbelievable. Or should I say, stupid?

I was fascinated by this ongoing mega-franchise as it represents so much of what has been going on in the industry in the 8 years since the reboot with Fast & Furious. That film represented the return of Vin Diesel, settling into his sweet spot in a career that literally consisted of one other hit with him as the star, ever. (That would be The Pacifier. Including his turns as the voice of Groot in the Guardians franchise is absurd.) But more so, it took the sense of the international and the multiethnic that had developed in the sequel and the threequel and embraced it fully. It was a reboot and a de-boot. Perhaps most importantly, it mirrored the massive expansion of international box office. That film doubled the best of the first 3 films overseas. Then #5 doubled that. #6 saw a 25% bump. And then Furious 7 doubled that high for the series.

Short of Lucasfilm or Marvel, this once modest franchise stands as the model for much of the industry’s franchise ambitions.

For The Fate of the Furious, Universal added more muscle. Why-would-you-want-to-be-called-Dwayne-when-you-are-The-Rock Johnson is now a regular. Statham and Kurt Ruseell are now regulars too. “The Family” is stabilized with Tyrese, Ludicris, Nathalie Emmanuel (who only works in massive franchises… this and “Game of Thrones” and The Maze Runner), Michelle Rodriguez and Vin. So add Charlize Theron, because… why not?

So what do you do with all this extremely familiar firepower?

Add F. Gary Gray off of his triumph with Straight Outta Compton. After all, here is a guy who knows how to do action with more of a character base than a CG base. Set It Off, The Italian Job, Law Abiding Citizen. He’s never made a movie where effects ate the movie.

Until now.

The first sequence is a good idea. Dom and Letty in Cuba. Raw. Cool old cars. Okay. Bet then, the sequence starts with the camera practically licking the lovely buttocks of first-time “actress” Lisandra Delgado, who may never act again, but will be invited to every party in L.A. for the next couple years, ride on a private jet included. I don’t recall any race-starting hottie being objectified in this way in the series before.

Stuff happens… and then there is a sequence in New York that doesn’t just strain credulity, but muddles it, shreds it, chews it up, swallows out, and craps it out. Really, this is the filmic opposite of the chase in The French Connection. The intimacy, the intensity, the sense of reality… all non-issues in this sequence. Logic? Forget that stuffy old idea.

At the core of the stupidity of this sequence is how it is executed by The Villain. One computer technician doesn’t just take control of some unwitting hack-vulnerable elements to raise the stakes. This one computer technician singlehandedly takes control of an action sequence that would require some precision work by no fewer than a few dozen well-organized minds at the tip-top of their evil game. And no doubt, hundreds of people (if not more than 1000) were involved in making this sequence come to life for the film. But I didn’t need to see a warehouse with 200 computer consoles, making a NASA launch look minor, in order to suspend my disbelief in a big, fun, silly action movie. But one guy? No.

Did I mention that Charlize Theron, who has a remarkably high skill level in the land of fantasy and CG, looks like she is being held hostage by a big check and fear of turning 40 throughout the film as she reads the weak (as usual) screenplay with a subtext of knowing how bad it is? (This is one of Vin Diesel’s charms. He is 100% go no matter how bad the writing.)

Jason Statham is having fun and his Parkour-master stunt double is doing a lot of his work. Jason is there for the tough guy jokes. He has the one truly likable sequence in the film – not spoiling it for you – and sadly, they lay on that about two beats too long for it to be as memorable as it should have been.

The Rock is having fun chewing the hell out of the scenery in the way a guy who knows he may be the biggest movie star in the world throwing out another film that might do a billion dollars.

Somebody get Tyrese Gibson’s character some irony. He’s doing what’s written and doing it fine, but he really could use a character blender for at least two acts. The two black guys chasing the one black woman is stale as hell, even though Nathalie Emmanuel actually maintains dignity for her character and never looks less than supermodelesque. Ludacris remains unfazed, cashing those checks and being just find hanging out.

I feel pain for Michelle Rodriguez, who is an interesting actress and human who gets the bulk of the “oh my God… did they really think that they could get away with that without the audience cringing?” lines. But I bet she is at peace with it and would tell me to f*** off if I said this to her. Fair enough.

I won’t explain all the many ways this film commits movie suicide. There are moments that work, here and there. But the pressure to top the stunts from previous films have pushed this, the 8th film, very close to self-parody. There is a giant disconnect, by design, between The Villain, who flies around in a plane and turns up and escapes from certain tight spots like a magician, and what is actually happening in the physical world. The ambitions of the techno-angle feel a decade old. Mr. Gray, who can bring it, still has a bad tendency to shoot in close-up too much, killing a sense of space in the action (a function of his first really big action film or his desire as an intimate filmmaker to prioritize humans… either way a car wreck).

Thing is… not everyone will hate it. Some will be satisfied with actors they like, lots of gun fire and fast vehicles, and the big strokes of the “we are family” storyline.

I am avoiding spoilers here, but I will say that I chafed in this film… a lot… by the idea that many, many dead people -good or bad – are of less value than one person who someone loves deeply. This is a constant part of this story. And it can’t be hidden behind, “Hey man… action movies.” I love many big, stupid, murderous action films. Give me the original Total Recall any day… human life is meaningless in that film. But that is the point. You are rooting for the hero and his survival, as in many action films. Nor is there the “we’re making a point of making the hero choose between his lover and 200 people on a boat” idea of The Dark Knight. The Fate of The Furious endlessly argues, without much thought, that endangering scores of thousands or more is less important than some relationships. The whole film is too silly for this to be hateful… but it poked at me for the entire running time.

We’ll see whether there is any audience consternation about the push to the ungrounded action. (Note: the fastest submarine ever recorded went 40 mph with miles to get to speed.) People love the familiar. This screenplay tugs and rubs through much of the franchise history to keep things faux fresh.

But it is hard to believe that something this important to Universal and on turf this well-trod by 7 previous movies led to something that really feels outside of the franchise. If there was an ice cream flavor that actually numbed your tastebuds rather than activate them, this would be the movie embodiment. Tofu with nothing to leech flavor from but the bowl. A manila envelope. Fate of the Flavorless.

12 Responses to “Review: The Fate of the Furious (spoiler-free)”

  1. Michael Bergeron says:

    I can understand not bringing back Paul Walker, but nixxing Jordanna Brewster was just weird …. the automated car sequence in the middle was only a hint of how cool a movie version of ROBOPOCALYPSE would be … the next installment – The Fat of Falfurrias: the cars drive around a butter factory in south Texas until they have turned everything into cream ….

  2. Dr Wally Rises says:

    I reckon I’ll wait for this one. It seems to me that this franchise is now in its late Roger Moore 007 phase, and it’s tracking to do around two-thirds of the opening of F7. I’d expect a more grounded, earthier and scaled-back instalment next time around, like The Living Daylights following A View to a Kill.

  3. Bulldog68 says:

    @Dr Wally, I’d like to agree with you about this franchise getting back to a more grounded formula, but the last instalment made more money internationally than Star Wars, and sits as the third largest overseas grosser of all time. They’re aren’t changing anything anytime soon. Maybe the last ride into the sunset.

    They actually have a chance at being the first billion dollar R Rated movie if they go the Logan route for the last one.

  4. Sideshow Bill says:

    That’s the Dave I love to read!

    I have no love for this franchise. I don’t even think I’ve seen any of the movies straight through. That’s not a knock on those who are fans. I’m just so not the audience for this stuff, in every way. And even the presence of a minor deity like Kurt Russel won’t get me in the door.

    To those who enjoy it, rock on.

  5. Bitplaya says:

    Dave did you watch the last movie? Pretty sure Vin Diesel made a parking garage crumble by stomping his feet. The man has super powers now. The movies are straight bullshit at this point.

    Even my GF a diehard Rock fan has no desire. This is over for people with taste. I predict it will take a few movies for the rest of the world to catch up.

  6. Pete B says:

    ^ “This is over for people with taste.” Really?

  7. EtGuild2 says:

    This whole franchise has the Odd/Even STAR TREK phenomenon going on, but in reverse. The original movie, TOKYO DRIFT and FAST FIVE are genuinely very good action movies, with FURIOUS 7 admirable in how it balances extreme-over-the-top goofiness with as great a sendoff as you could hope for Walker, sheened by the biggest soundtrack hit since THE BODYGUARD.

    2 FAST and FAST AND FURIOUS are terrible movies. I didn’t find this one any different than FAST 6….not outright garbage, but close. Mind-numbing if occasionally engaging in its hubris. Bad villains, the family torn asunder by soap opera plotlines, and virtually every major setpiece marked by physics defying WTFness. But yeah, it’ll take awhile for overseas to catch up if it is jumping the shark.

    I would check out the sixth one, Dave, before labeling FATE as a shift in direction. An 80MPH submarine isn’t much different than a 26-mile long airplane runway.

  8. Alex says:

    > EtGuild2: But yeah, it’ll take overseas awhile to wise up apparently.

    The thing with overseas is, there are many more people new to cinema (or watching movies in a nice movie theatre) .

    Experienced moviegoers in other countries probably give up on franchises and ignore remakes or old/new trends as often as americans.

  9. EtGuild2 says:

    That’s true. But I think there’s no question this franchise has established ties to its characters and themes in China and developing countries more than you’re giving it credit for. And Diesel and Johnson are massive as actors.

    XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE finished with $331 million worldwide. Johnson’s movies typically takes a 70% overseas share, and he has the power to drag international poison like Kevin Hart to respectable totals. Hell, Diesel even managed to carry the obscenely bad LAST WITCH HUNTER (based on his D&D character!) to $120 mil offshore.

    There’s a reason RIDDICK 4 is gearing up. This cast has forged a weird personal connection with China and the Global South. And they need that, as the now quarter-billion-dollar price tags mean anything less than $900 million is a true disappointment.

  10. Alex says:

    From an asian perspective both Johnson and Diesel with their big muscular bodies, shaved heads and general manliness must be real exotic attractions. I think that plays a huge role.

    And I’ve seen a few of the bigger chinese blockbusters of the last couple of years. They are full of all this loyalty respect and family-crap that’s also present in the F&F-Movies. They seem to like it. But it’s too much for the average cynic in western europe. I watch those movies just for the absurd action scenes not for the melodrama.

    Every culture/country forgives or honors different flaws or strengts. The upcoming Thor 3 will probably make much more money here in Germany than Captain America 3. Just like the respective movies before. Quality plays second fiddle.

  11. Geoff says:

    How nice! We get the long-awaited return of the Dave the Blockbuster Killjoy….and not a moment too soon. 😉 I haven’t even seen this yet but I could already tell they were pushing the boundaries of Moonraker-level absurdity with the last entry. Do I even HAVE to see this one?? Fun review regardless.

    I would gather that I am in the EXTREME minority here but I really enjoyed the first two Fast & Furious movies and haven’t been dazzled by any of them ever since…..they both were very self-aware and had a nice sense of scale as well. I would consider the first one akin to Saturday Night Fever or Top Gun, though not NEARLY on the quality level of either of those films…..it is a PURE time capsule movie that will take you back to a very specific time and place: LA in the early ’00’s BEFORE 9/11, when the FBI could designate a task force to take down a few street racing thieves who were stealing mass quantities of DVD players in the outskirts of LA. Ted Levine had a nice character turn, Paul Walker was doing his best imitation of Point Break-Keanu, and Vin Diesel was actually semi-articulate. Not sure why it gets shit on so much nowadays.

    And I do NOT see what was so objectionable about the second one – Paul Walker was clearly having fun with the role, Tyrese Gibson was fun and charismatic as well, John Singleton directed the action nicely, it was a good entertainment that never wore out its welcome.

    The franchise probably has a few films left in the tank (so to speak) and maybe even a spin-off – they’re likely to clear $1 billion worldwide with this one, probably even a little more so like the last Avengers film there’s probably some domestic fatigue setting in but it’s not going away anytime soon.

  12. EtGuild2 says:

    @Alex, China’s definitely more into that stuff than I’d originally thought, which I guess is good since I thought it was only for BOOM BANG POW!

    The results in the last year, with ZOOTOPIA #1 in 2016 there, JUNGLE BOOK outdoing both STAR WARS and all superheroes aside from CIVIL WAR, LOGAN doing unbelivably well given the tone/setting and virtually everything else having a deep regional connection (Warcraft+Res Evil=beloved video games, Kong=long tradition, XXX=Diesel)….really does make me think you need an element of traditionalism to succeed. JOURNEY TO THE WEST def has that despite the over the top CGI…

    FATE almost blows that up (just say something Dom!). Dicey territory.

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