BY Hanajun Chung
*Originally written on April 27, 2017.
While the entries can be scattered regarding continuity and character, each “Fast and Furious” film entertained through fun characters and incredible car stunts. Despite the overall silliness of the franchise, one can’t fault the series for committing to this constant “expression” of ideas, emotions, stakes and further character work through cars. Who cares if a boat, tank, or even a plane might better suit their pur-pose—why do any of that when they got fast-ass cars?
But all of that only works if the people behind the wheel are able to get the audience along for the ride. “Fast Five” (the fifth entry) is probably the one that has the most harmonious execution of character and stunts, culminating with a climactic heist in Rio that’s brilliant.
“Fate of the Furious” will also show audiences car stunts that they have never seen before. At this point, it’s expected. Yet the film doesn’t adhere to the characters in the same, loving lens as previous directors have done in the past. As a result, “Fate” loses a lot of the fun and energy of prior films.
Away and living the life with his recovering-amnesiac lover, outlaw Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) is confronted by a cyber terrorist group led by the enigmatic Cipher (Charlize Theron), forced into betraying his former team after she shows him some-thing that he cannot ignore. As a result, his former team must stop Cipher and rescue Dom, while siding the previous film’s villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).
This premise alone is one that can worry and excite series’ fans. As fun as it is to see Statham in these films, his role here is a tone-deaf betrayal to the franchise’s logic and ethos. In the prior film (or third, depending on who you ask), the character’s brutal murder of a franchise regular is the inciting incident in the seventh entry. Even if you excuse that, Statham simply can’t fill the void left by Sung Kang, Gal Gadot and the late-Paul Walker—which is a shame, because he has the best action scenes in this film. Additions such as Kurt Russell and Helen Mirren try to add some humor and play, but they’re barely in the film. Don’t get me started on Scott Eastwood...
If insane action is what’s desired then this somewhat delivers. There’s one set piece that takes place in New York City about midway through that’s outstanding. The level of destruction and ingenuity in that sequence is staggeringly scary. There’s the obligatory street-race sequence that’s surprisingly good which opens the film, but the film ends on big, slightly confusing mess of CGI, explosions, ice and Tyrese yelling. In fact, the two standout action scenes don’t really feature cars, rather just creatively executed hand-to-hand brawls in a prison and an airplane.
The direction here by F. Gary Gray is a seamless one from all the other films, meaning that it does look and at times feel like a “Fast and Furious” picture. Yet he doesn’t have the glee and playfulness that Justin Lin and James Wan brought in previous sequels, playing this one a bit more straight-faced, much to its detriment. Gray gets a good performance out of Diesel, but that’s about it.
But Chris Morgan’s script brings this whole thing down. On one hand, it hits the minimum requirements to make a “Fast and Furious” film, but Morgan forgot one of the most important elements to this series: family.
Gone is the sense of comradery and teamwork that made these outlaws transition from boosting DVD-VHS combo players to international spies. People come for the action, but they stay for this oddly tight group. Some characters from previous films do show up, but they do so without a sense of agency or individual purpose. They be-come the worst kind of plot devices, emblematic of this whole film’s practice of repurposing character to deliver the worst kind of blockbuster. The live-action adaptation of “Need for Speed” is proof that excellent car stunts alone (and trust, that film has incredible stunts) aren’t enough to fill seats.
“Fate of the Furious” is on track to mak-ing record-breaking numbers in the box office, and will most likely result in the studio fast-tracking the ninth entry. But if this is the direction they’re going to take these characters, the fate of the franchise is heading toward a troubling path.