By on April 17, 2017

Fate of the Furious

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. The Fate Of The Furious is the eighth installment in what has become a surprisingly important cultural touchstone for an entire generation. With its lack of reliance on old comic books and/or Nicholas Sparks novels, the Fast/Furious saga probably ranks as the closest thing to original, innovative storytelling on the modern silver screen. That’s depressing, because you don’t exactly have to be Joseph Campbell to spot the multiple debts these films owe to everything from Henry James to James Bond.

In my previous reviews of installments five and six, I suggested the odd-numbered movies tend to be better than you’d expect, and the even-numbered ones tend to be worse. The Fate Of The Furious is in no danger of breaking this pattern; it’s a by-the-numbers action flick, half-hearted both in the sense that it’s missing Paul Walker and that it often feels like everybody involved is simply grinding out a paycheck. It’s very far from the worst episode in the series; that would be either the cartoonish 2Fast2Furious or the confusing, needlessly dark fourth film.

The irony, if you can use “irony” within shouting distance of a flick where a Russian nuclear submarine engages in battle with an all-wheel drive, Chevrolet powered, bulletproof Seventies Charger, is that Fate Of The Furious owes both its best and worst moments to the strength of a particular idea, one that has been at the heart of these movies since the very beginning.

(Mild spoilers ahead)

The usually insightful folks at TV Tropes call it the Heel-Face Turn, a term that comes from the storylines written for pro wrestling. In the Heel-Face Turn, a bad guy turns out to be a good guy after all, often as a result of a conscious choice but occasionally because he was a good guy all along. This idea of redemption is critical to both the first and third movies in the series, both of which feature an impressionable young man who discovers the humane, admirable side of a criminal. Fast Five expands on this by having a federal law enforcement officer decide to join the “team.”

The concept of Heel-Face Turn eventually expands to encompass Dominic Toretto’s entire “family,” which in the sixth film becomes a sort of automotive-enthusiast strike team saving the world from nuclear holocaust. In Furious 7, Jason Statham appears as a vengeful James Bond type who kills Han and nearly takes out everybody else — which means he’s ripe for a Heel-Face Turn of his own. That’s what he gets in this new film. It turns out that he was really a good guy working under very deep cover. Naturally, he fits right in with the rest of the team, despite the fact that he’d killed somebody who was very important to all of them.

If Statham’s character is now a good guy, who is the bad guy? The answer appears to be Dominic Toretto himself, who “goes rogue” under the influence of the evil cyber-terrorist “Cipher.” Those of you with functioning frontal lobes and a taste for movie popcorn will recall that “Cipher” is the English translation of “Le Chiffre,” which should serve as a final Hollywood-sign-sized notification that we are essentially in a secret-agent movie. Toretto’s actions seem impossible to explain, but seasoned Furious-watchers will immediately guess that Toretto has good reasons for what he is doing, and they probably involve family.

This could have been a much better movie if Vin Diesel and his sock-puppet useful idiot of a director, F. Gary Gray, had possessed the moral courage to let Dominic Toretto be a slightly more complex character for even half an hour. Too bad. If you want subtlety, watch The Piano. Instead, we get Charlize Theron as a screeching would-be scene-chewer of a villainess. Just a few moments of her antics made this author wistful for Jonathan Price’s widely despised appearance as media mogul Elliot Carver in The World Is Not Enough. Ms. Theron has not improved as an actress since Reindeer Games, and she no longer has youth or gratuitous toplessness on her side. The fact that her head-honcho mook is most famous for being the “Wyndham Rewards” guy doesn’t help things much.

Every time this movie has a chance to be brave or even interesting, it steps carefully back from the precipice and keeps its mind on its money. It’s a shame because the first and third installments derived most of their interest from moral ambiguity. But that was then and this is now and everybody has their franchise characters to protect. On the positive side, I don’t think you can come up with another series of movies that treats so many ethnic groups with respect and affection as the Furious films do. The core actors in this movie range from lily-white to Hispanic to African-American to Asian, with plenty of bi-and-tri-racial people in-between, yet the interaction between these different people rarely feels forced or unlikely. It’s a seductive vision of the post-racial future, where blue-eyed blond men work side-by-side with Samoans and Chinese and Latinas and black British girls. This diversity is reflected in the audience and has been from the very first film.

Naturally, much of that audience is more concerned with the cars and the action and the pyrotechnics than they are with nuance or character. So the movie dutifully hits all the expected notes: beauty shots of the Dodge Demon, dozens of exotic cars and pro-touring specials, various Bond-style weapons and stunts. The amount of hand-waving that occurs to explain why the “team” needs to have cars appear from nowhere for every set piece is enough to cause a mild breeze in the theater, but so what? That’s all part of the fun.

When this series is at its best, it is capable of some surprising moments: Ted Levine’s short speech to Paul Walker about “all kinds of family,” the dreamlike street-crossing scene in Tokyo Drift, Vin Diesel’s sad smile when he says, “I remember everything about my father.” But when it’s on autopilot, you get a lot of CGI shots of jumping cars and some half-hearted banter between Ludacris and Tyrese. The Fate Of The Furious is on autopilot, for better or worse. There’s plenty of room left in the plot, and the franchise, for another episode — and after the half-billion-dollar opening weekend, there’s obviously more than enough gas left in this tank to keep going.

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39 Comments on “TTAC At The Movies: The Fate Of The Furious...”

  • avatar

    Fast and the Furious: Part Twelve. When we last left our heroes…

    “there’s obviously more than enough gas left in this tank to keep going”

    I’m hoping for a fuel line leak.

    • 0 avatar

      Unfortunately, the gas tank on the Trek franchise is even drier…and you know it’s bad when the guy with the Starfleet avatar says this. The first JJ Trek movie was good, but the last one was…well, let’s just say I’d watch the one Shatner directed over that one any day. At least Kirk going to war with God with a $2.75 special effects budget was funny.

      JJ Trek needs to be banished. Forever.

      • 0 avatar

        I second this, JJ Trek needs marooned on Ceti Alpha V.

        • 0 avatar

          Disagree. For crimes committed against both ST and SW franchises, he belongs on CA 6. Or Alderaan. Or better yet, with LV-426 with Scott serving time for ‘Prometheus’.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m still regretting having been part of Bjo Trimble’s letter writing campaign to save TOS.

        And they completely lost me after not having the guts to keep Spock dead in the third movie. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than Trekkies whining.

      • 0 avatar

        Haven’t seen the 3rd Trek (yet), but I would agree with FreedMike that the first one was well done (with the exception of all the “lens flares”). Somewhat disappointed they chose to do Khan for the 2nd, but I understand where they “thought” they were going. Since the timeline had been altered to allow the franchise to continue with younger actors playing the core group of characters, it was natural they would encounter at least some of the same people the original timeline contained. Khan was a “lazy” choice. My hope is “everyone” will stop doing relatively direct remakes and come up with some original story lines.

  • avatar
    John R

    Fast Five is still probably the best one, notwithstanding the surprisingly tasteful tribute to Walker at the end of the last one.

    A couple takeaways

    – I wouldn’t mind seeing a spinoff featuring Statham, Mirren and Evans.
    – The Tyrese/Ludacris banter is improving, glacially, but it’s going in the right direction.
    – The 2500 hacked automobiles running amok in downtown Manhattan set-piece isn’t that far-fetched nowadays.

  • avatar

    I thought Kylo Ren killed Han?

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    Just by the headline photo, you know the CGI is aces.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Ugh. Thanks for making me think about Reindeer Games.

  • avatar

    When the first movie debuted, my small group of car enthusiast friends called it “The Rice and the Ridiculous.”

    Still can’t believe a live action cartoon about snot colored cars with 13 speed manual transmissions became a global franchise. How many upshifts does that DSM need?

  • avatar

    If you think the F&F franchise represents the best ready-made example of original film-making, you need to see more movies.

    • 0 avatar

      I presume we’re sticking to films people actually go to see, and not indie art-house social dramas of two lesbian women talking to each other for an hour and a half in a cafe.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Alright. Give me another example of a long-running modern franchise that isn’t based on a comic book.

      • 0 avatar

        1) Star Wars
        2) James Bond
        3) Star Trek

        And “franchise based on comic book” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as the franchise is good. No real complaints about the MCU. Now, the DC universe…”Martha” ends Batman’s little jihad? LOL…so stupid.

        Maybe “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” won’t be lame.

        • 0 avatar

          The statement was “Alright. Give me another example of a long-running modern franchise that isn’t based on a comic book.”

          I would not consider the things you mentioned ‘modern’ as their origins all predate 1980

          • 0 avatar

            Well…given that in the last year and a half, there have been four Star Wars, Bond or Star Trek movies released, I’d argue they are all quite modern.

      • 0 avatar

        Transformers and the Bourne series are probably the most modern, in movie form at least. Transformers can be traced to the mid 70’s. the first Bourne book was from 1980.
        Transformers was also a cartoon and comic book series(and still is), but they started out as clever commercials for toys.

      • 0 avatar

        Can I go with the money and tallent to the small screen? Fargo. House of Cards. Etc.

  • avatar

    Only two more until you can “Fast-Ten Your Seatbelts!”

  • avatar

    Thanks for the heads up. I wasn’t going to see it in the theatres. I’ll probably eventually catch it on Netflix late at night and fall asleep 1/3 of the way in.

  • avatar

    The fact that her head-honcho mook is most famous for being the “Wyndham Rewards” guy doesn’t help things much.

    The “Wyndham Wizard” is in this film!?!?!?

    How about for the 9th film you hire the Trivago Guy to seduce somebody?

  • avatar

    I haven’t seen the first 7 of the FF films. Do I need to see them in order to know what’s going on in the new one? ;)

  • avatar
    Sam Hall

    Everyone I know pegged the original F&F as the kind of ridiculous paint-by-numbers action flick that the 7th movie actually was. I saw something different–yeah it had rococo rice rockets, stereotypical Asian gangsters, and goofy CGI trips through the exhaust system, but in between all that it had soul. Every character was relatable, and the BS didn’t distract from the story. Hell, you even had to like the dickhead friend with the Maxima who hated Paul Walker for moving in on Dom’s sister. And some of the filler scenes were great, like the one between Brian and Mia: “Where I come from, the cook doesn’t clean.” “Yeah? I’d like to go there.”

    Think maybe I’ll get that one out for the kids tonight.

  • avatar
    Rick T.

    Never seen one of the movies but count Dame Helen Mirren a fan, though:

    “Diesel said in a Total Film magazine interview that, “People don’t know that I’m the one working for a year beforehand with the writers and coming up with the story. She (Mirren) came up to me at a party last year and said, ‘I want to be in ‘Fast & Furious’ with you.’ The script was [already] greenlit, but she told the right person, because a week later she got written in.”

  • avatar

    The best installment never got a release…. Youtube 3Fast33urious.

    “You better just drive”

  • avatar

    After seeing the first forgetful F&F movie, and any other Vin Diesel movies, I couldn’t care less if all of them fell off the planet and burned up in the sun. They all suck wood.

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