Originally published Apr. 14th, 2017 on thedistantcloseup.com
Few movie franchises have the success, popularity or even stubbornness to make it to eight films. The Last Jedi will surely break trailer records, Halloween: Resurrection featured the fight to end all fights between Michael Myers and Busta Rhymes and hey, it only took eight films for Friday the 13th to take Jason to Manhattan – for all of 10 minutes, that is. If it weren’t for the creative and financial resurrection induced by Fast Five, we quite possibly wouldn’t be here talking about the series’s new entry, The Fate of the Furious.
It’s hard to ignore what this film represents in the franchise’s history. These films thrive upon rhetoric of family and loyalty to family, and for many movies, Paul Walker was certainly family to his fellow costars, both onscreen and off. Vin Diesel is even quoted as saying, “Seven was for Paul, eight is from Paul,” referring to the guarantees Walker made that an eighth film would come to pass.
You can understand why working on this film must have been a more personal experience, and this film’s plot frequently paying lip service to ideas of mortality shows that it was written as such. The intentions are noble, but as a whole, this overly serious approach doesn’t mesh with the conscious, exponential stupidity that has lifted this franchise to obscene heights, and is further dumbed down and loaded up unlike any of the films that came before.
So don’t worry, as there’s still plenty of slick, juicy action to sink your teeth into, and half of the film is a guaranteed good time. Considering none of these films are about racing anymore, there is the obligatory racing sequence that primes the audience for maximum entertainment the way a shot of cask strength whiskey does the same for someone just beginning a night out; it quickly gets the job done and leaves you exasperated, but gleeful. It also sets the bar so that filmmakers may consistently raise it with every set piece.
The necessarily threadbare storyline races by during the big set pieces, which aren’t as plentiful as the previous outing, but are nonetheless thrilling in their mind-boggling conception and execution. Cars wind through busy streets, fall from the sky and escape death with such flawless precision inside incomprehensible editing that elicits the purest definition of popcorn thrills. With self-aware idiocy being the saga’s new hallmark, the pleasure, especially the giggles and bursts of laughter that come with it, are guilt-free, and it gives us time to appreciate the chemistry between the protagonists that’s still going strong in this franchise’s over a decade and a half of existence.
Unbelievably, it’s the franchise’s asinine over-commitment to blockbuster conventions that’s helped us care in the first place. But when Fate isn’t happily providing gratuitous amounts of vehicular carnage, it tries to develop a dramatic subplot with Diesel’s Dom that suddenly rips the viewer from self-parody into intentional heartstring tugging. Pointless manipulation and jarring tonal cues aside, these handfuls of scenes point out the material’s copious length, reducing it to a plodding Neanderthal who thinks it’s just invented fire.
Longer runtimes have been one of the facets to the franchise’s new identity since Fast Five, but in those previous three cases, the egregious padding has been easy to overlook thanks to gripping action sequences. Here, it keeps the film from fully revving its engine and sending shockwaves through the eardrums of every viewer in the theater. Not to mention this film’s new antagonist, an elusive cyberterrorist known as Cipher, though decently portrayed by Charlize Theron, never feels naturally compelling given how little she actually does rather than commands as an evil ringleader. In that way, for better and for worse, she’s reminiscent of Timothy Olyphant’s Thomas Gabriel from Live Free or Die Hard.
How can audience members be expected to take a film so seriously while it simultaneously hands out inane chases and fights with self-reflexive abandon? It’s easy to appreciate the attempt to shift the franchise in a new direction, but instead it potentially establishes a precedent for future additions – the formally untitled 9 and 10 are set to release in 2019 and 2021, respectively – and betrays the spirit it worked long and hard to attain. Now that the Fast and the Furious chronicles have had their little diversion, it’s time to get back to basics, and who would have thought that’d be asked of this, of all series?