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.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

They say if we go with them, we'll live forever. And that's good.

Cocoon (1985) Anyone coming across Cocoon cold might reasonably assume the involvement of Steven Spielberg in some capacity. This is a sugary, well-meaning tale of age triumphing over adversity. All thanks to the power of aliens. Substitute the elderly for children and you pretty much have the manner and Spielberg for Ron Howard and you pretty much have the approach taken to Cocoon . Howard is so damn nice, he ends up pulling his punches even on the few occasions where he attempts to introduce conflict to up the stakes. Pauline Kael began her review by expressing the view that consciously life-affirming movies are to be consciously avoided. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but you’re definitely wise to steel yourself for the worst (which, more often than not, transpires). Cocoon is as dramatically inert as the not wholly dissimilar (but much more disagreeable, which is saying something) segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie directed by Spielberg ( Kick the Can ). There