Hey! He did kill Han, right?
by Thom Yee
If you had asked me all those years ago in 2001 as I waited for the lights of our theatre to dim and The Fast and the Furious to begin if I thought it would be a movie that could spawn more than six direct sequels, I probably would’ve asked right back, “Who are you? Why are you talking to me?” I was hostile like that. And I usually didn’t talk to strangers. But if you had, nevertheless, somehow convinced me to share my honest opinion of the movie and its potential to grow into the powerhouse, box-office-ruling franchise it’s become? I’d probably say, “Pfft. Yeah. And the American people will one day elect Donald Trump as their first Nazi President.”
But enough with the misdirection jokes.
It was around the release of 2015’s Furious 7 that questions seriously arose about the potential ending of the series (i.e., when’s enough enough?) and it was later that year we learned from Vin Diesel himself that the Fast and the Furious movies had become a series that should be measured less in sequels and more in trilogies. But if The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Fast & Furious formed a trilogy telling the story of Brian O’Connor (née Earl Spilner) becoming a true brother to Dominic Toretto and Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, and Furious 7 brought in all their other friends to play too before ending with Brian’s departure/retirement, what then, would be the point of this final trilogy? When it comes to these types of movies, that question might seem a little over-considered and much more thoughtful than necessary, but after seeing The Fate of the Furious this past week, I’m starting to think that, maybe for the first time ever in watching these movies, the Fast and the Furious producers might actually know what they’re doing. And they may have always known.
What’s it about?
Dom’s gone rogue, Charlize Theron’s a hacker bad guy, and they make out with each other. Got it?
At least from the outside looking in, Fast and the Furious doesn’t appear to be a franchise with a whole lot of legitimate reasons left to continue, particularly given the untimely real-life death of long-time series co-lead, Paul Walker, the surprisingly touching end with which the producers retired his character in Furious 7, and how genuinely heartfelt an ending that retirement could’ve been for the franchise as a whole. Even beyond the strength of that character’s goodbye, any movie centred around doing crazy things in cars should only have so much storytelling material or potential. You can dress these movies up with unexpected story “swerves”, you can “turn” former mortal enemies into uneasy allies, you can even (direct) “inject” a new character played by the finest actor of his generation (Kurt Russell, obviously!), but it’s hard to believe that a story with any real cogence could sustain itself for more than seven continuous installments. And yet here we are with the eighth (or F8? F8th? Feighth?) in the series, an entry that’s shattered the worldwide opening weekend box office record (formerly held by a little indie movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens), so for the Fast and the Furious producers, the thinking is probably more along the lines of: “Cogence? I don’t even know the meaning of the word!”
Of course, the cynical answer as to why we keep seeing more Fast and the Furious movies, why we’ll continue to see more direct sequels through at least 2021, and why we may see more than a few spinoffs is that they keep making money, lots of it, and in a generally upward trend. Though “money” has rarely made for the most satisfying reasoning when it comes to telling stories, it’s perhaps important to remember that that’s what movie studios exist to make. The movie business exists to make money. Who convinced you otherwise? What did you think was happening here? When did you think that wasn’t the case? Where have you been that you didn’t think we’re all here to make money? In this fast and furious world and the Fast and the Furious franchise, money will always be the best answer, and so the only question then left is “How lucky are we that these movies are as good as they are?” Considering some of the alternative franchises (cough, Transformers, cough), I would say very.
Is it any good?
“It is what it is” is an incredibly reductive statement, born more out of a resigned sense of defeat and withdrawal than anything else, but the simplest and maybe most accurate answer to “Is The Fate of the Furious any good?” is “It is what it is.” It’s no worse than any of its recent predecessors, it’s no better than the best in the series, I doubt you’ll be that surprised by anything that happens, and the word “family” gets mentioned a lot.
With Vin Diesel’s Dom playing the bad guy this time around, the biggest single difference in Fate is that we get to see Dom as no longer the fast and furious patriarch of our wayward group of heroes but as a bit of a mastermind, one step ahead of every other character in the movie, and that includes the dreadlocked computer hacker Cipher, played by Charlize Theron, who’s somehow managed to turn Dom to the dark side. Is it a good look for the character? Uh… mmm… well, it’s not like anyone else on the crew seems much smarter. I guess Dom has always been the furthest out in front of any of our main protagonists, but… I mean, Vin Diesel’s just so dopy looking, and, no offense, his looks have been going downhill pretty steadily. He just doesn’t cut the same kind of intimidating, leading figure that he did earlier in the series. Still, it’s a twist that mostly manages to work if only because it is such a departure from what’s come before, though I really wish they hadn’t revealed why he turned so early on in the movie’s run time. It’s a mystery that could’ve served Fate much better had it lasted longer. Or been less banal, but I won’t reveal the reasons why here other than to say it has something to do with family.
Other than that, it’s pretty much just another Fast and the Furious movie, this time upping the ante with cars vs. submarine. As uninspired as that might seem, on the whole, I have to give the series credit for more or less staying the course since the 2009 Fast & Furious that brought the original gang back together and set the franchise on a more action-oriented path. There’s a level that these movies maintain, always moving, but never taking too big of a step forward. In Fast & Furious it was bringing down a Mexican drug lord by driving fast, in Fast Five it was bringing down a Brazilian crime lord by driving fast, in Fast & Furious 6 it was bringing down an international criminal with extensive military training by driving fast (and some getting out of cars to be beat people up), in Furious 7 it was… well, a big mess, but cars were dropped out of planes and that wasn’t too stupid. The obvious joke to be made is that cars in space must be next, so a nuclear submarine is a reasonable step in the meantime.
What ultimately makes me kind of, sort of respect the franchise beyond consistency and competent direction (again, see the Transformers franchise for the exact opposite) is that, with the amount of moving parts in these movies, there are actually a lot of hoops and a lot of really strange, uncomfortable plot points that these movies have to jump through to make them work enough for us to care at least a little bit about these characters, and I actually think I do. His whole “family” schtick is way over the top at this point, but I like Dom. I miss Brian. Every time we see Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Luke Hobbes, the scene is instantly elevated. Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw is probably the most entertaining thing to watch in all of these movies. Add Kurt Russell to that, and what more can you ask for? Well, maybe a little more coherence.
At some point while watching The Fate of the Furious I realized that the active movie-watching side of my brain wasn’t exactly firing up, I never had much of a mind towards how the plot of the movie had brought us to the moment or scene I was seeing, I didn’t really know what was going on most of the time, and it was probably right when two theretofore unseen, unknown characters in flight suits landed in the hangar bay of Charlize Theron’s plane (to do something) that I realized that a lot of things are kind of coming out of nowhere. And then when our heroes managed to bring down the nuclear submarine with a missile and I didn’t even know if Charlize Theron was on that submarine or still on the plane, that’s when I knew that I was actually a little confused. Is that bad? Yes. Do these things make The Fate of the Furious a bad movie? Kind of. But would I say that I didn’t enjoy watching The Fate of the Furious? Hell no. In retrospect, given what this movie is supposed to be and all it likely could ever be, those types of flaws actually make the whole experience better. There’s a certain type of satisfaction you only get when you can say “Who cares?” at weird, sudden, and unexpected-because-what? things happen and really mean it, really not care why something happened, and The Fate of the Furious has exactly and specifically that type of satisfaction in spades.
So should I see it?
After eight movies, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever see a great deal of variations in quality between installments of Fast and the Furious. It’s like McDonald’s that way, you don’t go to it for anything great, you go knowing almost exactly what you’ll get ahead of time (with only minor variations in satisfaction depending on how freshly cooked the fries/ideas are). For the most part, you’re always going to get a 3.5 (out of 5) stars and you’re never going to get a 4.5 stars with these movies.
The best thing I can say about any of them, and it applies just as much to Fate of the Furious, is that the producers know their audience, they care about that audience enough to do something they’ll like, and they respect that audience enough to never insult them by taking things seriously. Lately, part of knowing that audience has meant wisely casting charismatic actors as their antagonists and then bringing them in to the extended family, and these new additions have brought enormous vitality to the franchise. It’s like Dragon Ball that way, an anime series famous for drawing its enemies in to the family fold (even if they did kill one [or more] of their friends before getting there). Hobbes is almost like Piccolo, this intimidating, adversarial badass who you would, nevertheless, trust with your own child, and Shaw is like Vegeta, the ultimate bad guy counterpart who you suspect might wind up impregnating someone close to you even though you thought they were supposed to end up with someone else (Yamucha? With Bulma? Do any of you guys even know what I’m talking about? Ah, maybe you should’ve skipped this paragraph.)
I have a feeling that if I think about The Fate and the Furious too much, there are going to be a lot of plot details that don’t fully make sense (but damned if I’m going to go back and watch all previous seven movies in a row to find that out [again]), and that’s bothersome, but the fact that it all seems to work and these movies all add up to ultimately become more than the sum of their parts? It somehow makes seeing these movies all worth it. No matter how obviously stupid they are, they don’t hate their audience (again [and for the third time] like Transformers).
Thom’s Fate of the Furious final score
On the Edge
- So is Scott Eastwood the new Paul Walker? He’s the one drivin’ Subarus in this one.
- Remember when Tyreese was supposed to be this franchise’s new Vin Diesel?
- So glad they acknowledged how bad a Lamborghini would be in snow and ice.
- I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Jordana Brewster, being attached to Paul Walker’s character, that she’s also necessarily written out of these movies. It’s not like she’s dead in real life (or has any better roles being offered her).
- Speaking of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, are we going to forgive Kylo in The Last Jedi as easily as we’ve forgiven Deckard here in Fate?