Skip to main content

I will beat you like a Cherokee drum.

Fast & Furious 8
aka
The Fate of the Furious
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Fun. Brio. That’s what any director needs to bring a sense of to the ever more absurd Fast & Furious franchise at minimum. Action chops are definitely up there, but paramount is an active affinity with how plain silly the series is. And it’s a quality F Gary Gray doesn’t really have, or if he does, he’s never shown it, previously or here. Even his action leaves something to be desired (his The Italian Job remake is far superior in that regard). Which isn’t to suggest there isn’t fun to be had from Fast & Furious 8/The Fate of the Furious, but it’s much more sporadic and performance-based than the previous outing, lacking the unbridled gusto James Wan brought to Furious 7.


But maybe I’m wrong about this. While I’ve seen every instalment in the franchise (only the once, mind) I haven’t followed it avidly in order (1, 4, 5, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, I think, only the first and last two at the cinema), although, it isn’t as if the makers subjected the series to anything approaching a linear unfolding. I don’t claim to be an authority on its unlikely alchemy, and I’m not one of the faithful who attest to hidden depths explaining its phenomenal global appeal, those who might justify a soberer approach. I certainly don’t subscribe to its key word being family (and neither do mutual off-screen tiffers Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, by the sound of it), any more than I considered Paul Walker’s Bryan crucial or missed his absence (except that, if Scott Eastwood is intended to represent a nominal replacement, the makers need to go back to the casting couch, or virtual Walker drawing board). Not that Walker couldn’t be a strong presence, given the right material (check out Running Scared), but he was no more indelible than Diesel.


Yeah, I don’t think these movies would have any problem existing without their “parent” figure, particularly since Vin’s presence seems to rest on spouting sick-making platitudes when he isn’t offering an air of chrome-domed, gimlet-eyed impassivity, even when the scene doesn’t ask for it (like Tom Cruise, he isn’t someone you want to get bogged down with doing love scenes, or even suggesting a sense of emotional contentment). And even more so because, as one of original’s stars – although 2 Fast2Furious is surely more seminal, for introducing Tyrese and Ludacris – a paid-up producer and purported headliner, he sees fit to serve himself great chunks of storyline to show off the depths of his talent and the awesomeness of Dominic Torretto. Hence Furious 8’s Dom-goes-rogue plotline, which isn’t, to be fair to Vin, such a bad idea as far as mixing things up goes. Less so when it calls on Diesel to be heartfelt or raging (the funny thing is, the guy can act, even if steely resolve tends to be his best foot forward, as in the Riddicks), and particularly when he deems fit to have the plot turn on a baby (again this has a positive consequence in terms of another character’s subplot, but not when it comes to Dom getting all angsty).


The extent of my superficial interest in the series is underlined by only very, very vaguely remembering that Elena (Elsa Pataky) had appeared previously. That she actually showed up in 5, 6 and 7 before this just elicited a “Huh?” of stunned realisation. So I’m afraid I didn’t really share Dom’s pain. To a lesser degree, in that the makers don’t appear to know what to do with Ramsey, aside from introducing her to a pair of tight jeans, I also failed to recall that Nathalie Emmanuel (who I did recognise, but from Game of Thrones) was part of the team. On the subject of thankless female roles, I’m quite sure Charlize was paid handsomely – and her hairdresser, for sculpting her dread head – to kiss Vin and be one-note nasty Cipher, so she probably doesn’t need a whole lot of sympathy, but she should be commanding better roles than this. Then I remembered that she’s due to co-star in a romantic comedy with Seth Rogen, so I guess not.


The rogue Dom storyline is resolved in the least satisfying manner (roughly along the lines of “I knew he couldn’t be the bad guy!” when he saves his pals in an astonishing piece of driving whereby he manages to arrange for the bad guys’ rockets to blow up their own evil convoy), but the upside of Diesel being not much fun at all is that, once we get past the cloyingly preachy opening (something about acceptance, forgiveness, racing and polluting the ocean with the explosive remains of your cousin’s clapped-out car), there are significant stretches of the picture devoted to the rest of the team, and that’s really why I go to see a Fast & Furious movie.


Apparently, Vin, being a big insecure baby and needing a pacifier (see what I did there?), nixed a credits scene between Luke Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (The Stat). And apparently Universal, knowing gold dust when they snort it, have just greenlit a spinoff with the pair (the suggestion being Johnson has no wish to work with Vin again). It’s easy to see why, as their feuding banter in the early part of the picture, before, during and after a rather cool prison escape (only dented by Gray’s decision to go shakycam and thus render swathes of the action and geography incomprehensible) is easily the most satisfying element of Furious 8. Such that, when they make pals, amid a crummy joke, it’s rather disappointing: what you don’t want is spinoff where they’re best buds (Shaw joining the gang has also elicited a disconcerted response from Furious faithful, who will never forget the death of Han, never). The other highly satisfying element is Deckard subsequently diving onto a plane to save Vin’s baby from evil Cipher, despatching villains while cooing at the tiny tot (evidently inspired by Clive Owen starrer Shoot ‘Em Up). His brother (Luke Evans), I can take or leave, although even his presence is distinguished by the Stat constantly rebating him.


Indeed, it’s difficult to recall, so essential is the Stat’s deadpan delivery and in-your-face sense of humour, how this series got by previously. There’s something immensely satisfying about the swimmer-cum-actor being invited to double up as both action and comedy guy (he’s also by far the best thing about Spy). I’m not so sure about the Rock, on this evidence. He’s always giving 100%, but the material often isn’t up to the task. At least, when he isn’t reacting to the Stat calling him a musclebound moron. Teaching his daughter’s football team or, unforgivably, rehearsing the “Daddy’s gotta go to work” line from Furious 7 (the best moment in that movie, and a sign of creative bankruptcy to try and reformat/encore it) fall flat. He has some nice beats, shouting at Roman “Why are you always shouting?” during the ice chase and quipping “Nasty” after Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) drops a heavy into a propeller. And, hilariously, redirecting a torpedo shooting along the surface of a frozen lake with his bare hands (albeit, you just know Wan would have made the moment sing louder) but you notice how inconsistently serviced he is here, possibly because there’s more of him than last time.


Of the rest of the family, Rodriguez gets just enough to do to suggest she isn’t merely a spare wheel (much of it relating to look pained at Dom’s betrayal, and then elated at his non-betrayal), Tyrese is required to shout a lot, often about shrinkage, express dismay at not making Interpol’s 10 most wanted list (he languishes at 11, below Ramsey) and generally bounce agreeably off any given player (about the only time Eastwood makes an impression is when they’re trading insults), trying his hardest to make this seem more fun than the movie Gray is making (the beat where he’s skating on a car door, like the torpedo moment, would have been all the better with a zesty director shooting it). Ludacris is likewise always good value.


Kurt Russell brings effortlessly cool with him and seems right at home playing a character who’s enjoying himself and his status immensely.  Eastwood is carved out of pure wood, so his inexperienced, by-the-book character works, just about, when everyone is treating him horrendously but completely doesn’t when he’s asked to loosen up and has no personality to unveil. Helen Mirren makes a significant impression, but mostly because of her posh-lass-does-cock-ernee accent.


It seemed to me there was more conscious violence in this one, although I may just be misremembering previous instalments. Killing off Elena in front of Dom makes for a brutal moment, but would have more impact if any one cared about the character (admittedly, I’m assuming I’m not the only one who didn’t; Dom certainly seems to get over the life-changing incident quite easily). More than that, though, did the entire gang always kill people so cheerfully prior to this? I mean, I can see Deckard and Hobbs doing it (and Bryan, historically), because they’re professionals, but for the rest it seems a bit off. Shouldn’t they stick to daredevil driving and technical wizardry?


In terms of wizardry, script-wise and visually, Chris Morgan has penned every instalment since the fourth, and he manages the occasional coup here – the sudden attack on the base and stealing of the God’s Eye – but the remaining items on Cipher’s shopping list (nuclear football, nuclear submarine) are much less disciplined in conception, and Gray singularly fails to take up the slack in execution. There’s an enormous amount of carnage produced during the nuclear football sequence, but none of it engages (aside from the sight of a passenger leaping out of an out-of-control car into oncoming traffic). The one personal stakes moment, as the crew harpoon Vin’s car, is resolved in a manner that entirely fails to convince, a shame as it’s a great “now get out of that” (Morgan probably needed to devise it backwards). The ice lake climax just seems to go on and on, occasionally arousing a glimmer of interest, but lacking finesse in its choreography (Gray’s all over the shop) and failing to muster clear, dramatically-engaging goals for each character. When you’re watching it, you’re waiting to get back to the Stat on the plane.


Certainly, if one of the lessons from Fast & Furious 8 is that the series doesn’t need to rely on Vin, and doing so will probably be to its ultimate detriment, a more important one is that they should be ensuring another key team member, the director, will lift Furious 9 to the level of the gloriously demented the series deserves. Gray’s the most pedestrian director these movies have seen since the first two instalments, and it’s moved on a long way since such (relatively) grounded adventures. There’s also the question of what happens if the Rock and the Stat are off doing their own thing. I guess bring in some replacement larger-than-life characters; there’ll still be Diesel, keeping things real, talking up his serious Dom arcs, waxing seriously lyrical about family and looking seriously uncomfortable when he’s called upon to crack a smile.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

He's a wild creature. We can't ask him to be anything else.

The Shape of Water (2017)
(SPOILERS) The faithful would have you believe it never went away, but it’s been a good decade since Guillermo del Toro’s mojo was in full effect, and his output since (or lack thereof: see the torturous wilderness years of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit), reflected through the prism of his peak work Pan’s Labyrinth, bears the hallmarks of a serious qualitative tumble. He put his name to stinker TV show The Strain, returned to movies with the soulless Pacific Rim and fashioned flashy but empty gothic romance Crimson Peak (together his weakest pictures, and I’m not forgetting Mimic). The Shape of Water only seems to underline what everyone has been saying for years, albeit previously confined to his Spanish language pictures: that the smaller and more personal they are, the better. If his latest is at times a little too wilfully idiosyncratic, it’s also a movie where you can nevertheless witness it’s creator’s creativity flowing untrammelled once mo…

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…