Friday 5 May 2017

The Fate Of The Furious (2017) - Movie Review

Okay, time to once again address a certain… pattern I’ve been noticing with my last few reviews. Since the GG meltdown, and I swear that this wasn’t intentional, the last three films I’ve covered on here have all involved some form of feminism. Whether it’s the showing of strength in Begum Jaan and Smurfs: The Lost Village, or the misogynistic bullshit of CHiPs, it seems that I subconsciously made a bit of a theme. Time to change that up, with a look at the latest instalment of the most macho film series running today: The Fast & The Furious.
Now, there are very few film franchises nowadays that I would consider myself be an out-and-out fanboy for; the MCU is the closest I’ve gotten so far, and even then it’s more surface level. Fast & Furious, on the other hand? Since Fast Five, I’ve been strangely vibing with this series; I say strangely because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m really not into car-centric action beats. And yet, between the unabashed and self-aware silliness of the action, the solid character interaction and even a few instances of legit emotional impact, this is a series that I have a lot of respect for. Keep that fanboy bias in mind as we get into the latest instalment of the franchise that restraint forgot. This is The Fate Of The Furious.

The plot: Cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) is the latest in a line of criminals set to dominate the world if left unchallenged. However, this time, it seems that Toretto Gang leader Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is on her side. While trying to figure out why Dom would turn on his family like this, the Toretto Gang are once again tasked by government spook Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to save the world. Only this time, they're forced to work together with Deckard (Jason Statham), who nearly tore the family apart himself not too long ago.

It’s almost pointless to do my usual cast rundown with films like this because, quite frankly, I’m running the risk of repeating myself: The actors that make up the Toretto Gang are all solid, fill in their niches quite well and their chemistry with each other is as good as ever. However, there are definitely some true highlights here that are worth bringing up. For example, holy hell, Vin Diesel is great in this thing. Knowing how ingrained Dom’s character is into Diesel’s public perception, the shake-up he gets here could have turned out quite badly if it weren’t for the fact that he sells every single moment of it. What’s more, he manages to do it without full-on betraying the character that he’s cultivated over the past 16 years.
Nathalie Emmanuel, the newest member of the team, fits in remarkably well with the main cast like she’s just always been there. Jason Statham, returning from F&F 7 but as a good guy, will always be welcome around here but, again, his banter with the cast is very smooth considering how much he screwed them over last time. I swear, I would watch an entire film of just Statham and Dwayne Johnson insulting each other; they’re that good at trading verbal blows.
Helen Mirren makes a cameo here, sporting the kind of hokey British accent that might make you forget that she actually is British, and Charlize Theron… wow. Considering what happened last time we saw Theron and Diesel together in an action film, I am genuinely shocked at how good her performance is here. The very cold and calculating air she gives the character is incredible, leading to some moments where she outshines pretty much every other bad guy this series has had so far in how chilling she gets. Bear in mind that she’s sharing space with Jason bloody Statham, the previous antagonist, that is quite an accomplishment.

When it comes to action franchises, especially those that have run for as long as this series has, there is always that underlying fear that, before too long, the series will lose its steam and start to fall behind itself. Kind of a natural feeling, given how this is a series built on being increasingly ludicrous with each new installment. I’m not entirely sure how they managed it but, once again, this film upped the ante in terms of action spectacle. The main set pieces of the film, like the prison riot and the submarine attack and the flood of cars, are front and center in the marketing but, somehow, they are even more ridiculous when seen in full.
What’s more, these might be some of the best action beats in the series so far. While the camera work can get a little too chaotic in some scenes, making the finer details difficult to make out, the sense of gradual escalation and full-blown ballsiness of the production wins out because not only are these scenes genuinely impressive in how tightly compacted they are with macho-grandiosity, they are also incredibly funny due to how immense and bordering-on-parody they are. Of course, I’ve never taken much stock in the self-parody claims made towards this series since, with how ambitious and grand these moments are, I doubt that just anyone would be able to come close to copying this with any amount of success. Not every studio is willing to fork out the budget for a car crash scene that would make the Blues Brothers weep with envy.

We’re dealing with the eighth film in the series and, along with going further in terms of visuals, it seems that the writing is along for the ride as well. It’s mostly what we’ve come to expect from these films, with lots of banter between the characters and a general irreverence to the nonsense going on around them. However, with that said, the undercurrent themes of family and brotherhood that have been with this series from the beginning reach a new plateau here. When the trailers hit, and we saw the well-established family man Dom Toretto turning on his team, I was definitely hesitant since this sort of heel-turn would require a damn good reason behind it.
And sure enough, not only do we get that reason but it is woven into the fabric of the narrative itself. The idea of family, especially the relationship between parents and their children, plays a heavy role in a lot of the bigger plot turns, resulting in a film that is strangely sentimental when it comes to the kids. Starting out with an embarrassingly cute scene of Hobbs doing a haka with his daughter’s soccer team, the emphasis on children and what adults are willing to go through for their children gives a surprising amount of emotional impact to the proceedings. Hell, even considering the pathos that oozed out of the seventh film, this might outdo because not only does this genuinely feel mapped out and carried through to a satisfying destination, but Brian O’Connor’s in-universe fate plays into it as well.

However, more so than the emotional impact, it’s the way that this film ties the previous films together into a singular narrative that actually impresses me. It does end up going down rather cheesy and slightly troubling roads, particularly when it comes to Deckard’s place as a reluctant member of the crew, but the definite effort put into tying together all of the actions of the villains together, combined with bits of character backstory sprinkled in throughout, shows that Chris Morgan is probably one of the better franchise writers out there. In fact, with the way this puts work into threading together the last couple films’ worth of villain motivation, this reminds me a lot of what Sam Mendes attempted with Spectre.
Except here, it actually works out. Partly, this is because the pieces amount to a lot more than just convenient retcons to make them connect, but also because the character behind it this time around, Cipher, is the kind of antagonist that you can see being the puppet master. Add to this how even some of the bigger plot points are brought back, like the omniscient computer program God’s Eye, and you have a film that feels like a natural continuation of the overall story. Hell, even outside of specific plot moments that most audiences won’t even care about beyond their connection to the glorious action scenes, this film even comments on the staples of the series in a rather poignant way. It bookends on depictions of the male gaze, glorifying it in the opening scene and credits sequence and then commenting on its shallowness at the end with a surprisingly powerful line delivered by Ramsey. When it comes to franchises that are this deep in when it comes to sheer numbers, that is a rather impressive feat that even some of the more lauded series couldn’t manage.

All in all, aside from being an incredibly fun action flick with great set pieces and even some decent pathos, this film needs recognition because of what it represents. It’s the eighth film in a love-it-or-hate-it franchise that is not only managing to one-up its predecessors but even dares to tweak the formula for the better, keeping up with what the series so fun while also building towards new territory. Seeing a series this far in and still managing to be this bombastic, entertaining and inventive is quite remarkable.

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