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

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

Another case of the screaming oopizootics.

Doctor Who Season 14 – Worst to Best The best Doctor Who season? In terms of general recognition and unadulterated celebration, there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Fourteen. The zenith of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s plans for the series finds it relinquishing the cosy rapport of the Doctor and Sarah in favour of the less-trodden terrain of a solo adventure and underlying conflict with new companion Leela. More especially, it finds the production team finally stretching themselves conceptually after thoroughly exploring their “gothic horror” template over the course of the previous two seasons (well, mostly the previous one).

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

That’s what people call necromancer’s weather.

The Changes (1975) This adaptation of Peter Dickinson’s novel trilogy carries a degree of cult nostalgia cachet due to it being one of those more “adult” 1970s children’s serials (see also The Children of the Stones , The Owl Service ). I was too young to see it on its initial screening – or at any rate, too young to remember it – but it’s easy to see why it lingered in the minds of those who did. Well, the first episode, anyway. Not for nothing is The Changes seen as a precursor to The Survivors in the rural apocalypse sub-genre – see also the decidedly nastier No Blade of Grass – as following a fairly gripping opener, it drifts off into the realm of plodding travelogue.

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).