Thursday, April 13, 2017

Zaki's Review: The Fate of the Furious

Read my 2013 review of Fast & Furious 6 here

Read my 2015 review of Furious 7 here

Eight movies in, there are relatively few surprises left to be had from Universal’s Fast & Furious films, which is probably fine. Like with any long running series, be it Star Wars or Star Trek or Harry Potter, it’s the thrill of the familiar as much as anything else that has that has audiences lining up for each new installment. And from 2001’s The Fast and the Furious to now, the films’ single defining characteristic has become their chameleonic ability to switch up tones and genres with whiplash rapidity, morphing from “Point Break with street racing” to Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist pictures to glorified superhero movies.

Of course, I doubt anyone would have predicted sixteen years ago that Vin Diesel’s Furious alter ego Dominic Toretto would end up becoming -- through sheer power of repetition -- one of the most enduring action icons of the next two decades (which certainly can’t be said for Diesel’s other recurring characters). Nonetheless, here we are with the new entry, saddled with the borderline-hilarious title The Fate of the Furious, to raise the curtain on what promises (threatens?) to be a final trilogy to close out the whole magilla four years from now.

As with the rest of the series, “family” is once again the word of the day for this latest go-round. Dom’s long-delayed Cuban honeymoon with new bride and longtime love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is interrupted when he’s drafted into dastardly duty by comely computer terrorist Cypher (Charlize Theron) for reasons TBD. This, in turn, forces him to turn on his team of regulars following the heist of an EMP device in Berlin, in the process making an enemy of fellow bald-pated man-mountain Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, upped to second-billed status after the sad passing of Paul Walker four years ago).

While the trailers and promo campaign have hinged almost entirely on the “Dom is eeeeevil now!” heel turn, I don’t think it’s a massive spoiler to say there’s more going on than we’re led to believe, so most of the film is then about quietly watching the clock until that inevitable reveal happens. Thus, we gamely go through the paces as Letty pines for Dom, Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) exchange witty banter, and the perpetually-sweaty Hobbs glistens in the sun, and the gang drives their souped up sports cars through increasingly bonkers locations (culminating in a third act chase over a Russian ice floe).

Returning in an extended cameo is Kurt Russell as the enigmatic Mr. Nobody, aided this time by Scott Eastwood as his aide-de-camp, who sure seems to have stepped into the equivalent of Paul Walker’s role as the gang’s “token white guy” by the time the credits come up. Also dding some additional spice into the mix is Jason Statham, returning as Furious 7 baddie Deckard Shaw, forced to work with his one-time foes. Statham is, as always, fun to watch, but he’s the recipient of some truly baffling creative development after last time that I’m still not sure I’m entirely okay with.

After director James Wan was tasked with the nigh-insurmountable job of finishing Furious 7 without Walker (and also making it a worthy farewell to the star), F. Gary Gray takes over the big chair for this installment (having previously teamed with Diesel on 2003's thriller A Man Apart). And while the Straight Outta Compton helmer has a singular and polished style, he can’t help but feel like little more than a hired gun coming in to helm an episode of a TV show. After all, this is writer Chris Morgan’s sixth Furious script, and more than anyone it’s producer Diesel who’s the creative force of the Furious.

The problem with that, however, is that while each film tends to revolve around Dom, he also tends to be the least interesting character. His old school honor code and stoic demeanor leave little room to really surprise us, and it was always his banter and chemistry with Walker’s Brian O’Conner that were a big part of the series’ enduring appeal (which may also explain why the Diesel-less 2 Fast 2 Furious and the Walker-less Tokyo Drift are generally considered lesser entries by many). As such, the absence of Brian, while addressed in-story, is nonetheless acutely felt.

While previous sequels were increasingly far-fetched as they progressed, this is the one where things tipped over into outright science fiction, with evil hacker Theron sending hordes of self-driven cars through the streets of New York and into the paths of our motley band of do-gooder drivers (and why the heck they’d cast Furiosa and not put her behind the wheel of a car I’ll never understand). In the end, The Fate of the Furious is neither as gonzo revelatory as Fast Five, nor as sadly consequential as Furious 7. It does keep the engine idling on the brand for another few years, but things are starting to get a little tired, like maybe we’ve gone a bridge too furious. C+

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