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It’s all resting on his shoulders now!

It’s late, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t a chance to see The Fast and the Furious 8 or otherwise known as The Fate of the Furious (I’ll refer to it as Fast 8 as we go) when it first came out. Weird time of year for me, what can I say? I’m seeing more movies now, though, and I finally got around to the latest entry in one of my absolute favorite franchises. This is a key entry, too. When Paul Walker died, everybody asked “how the fuck is this thing gonna work from now on?”. Many critics wondered whether the series would focus more centrally on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) with the beloved ensemble taking a back seat. The central relationship of the series was always Dom and Brian (Paul Walker) and it seemed like there were two possible directions for this to go: try and replace Brian, or center it on Dom alone (at least for now). It looks like they decided to focus on Dom after all, and the results are just fine though that central relationship is certainly missed.

In many ways, Fast 8 feels more thematically grounded and focused than the last few. This was a bit of a surprise, and worked better than I think a lot of people might have expected given the general attitude about Diesel’s ability to shoulder a movie. I think he’s pretty good, though, and while he isn’t stretching the emotional range of Dom much here, there are a few nice subtler moments and we’re definitely seeing Dom in a new situation. With the key relationship of the series missing, Fast 8 decides to trouble the very thing that has kept the characters and the audience along for this very bizarre and now very lengthy ride: fambly.

Is Fast 8 better than the last few movies? Not really. As always, the highs are pretty high but I think this is maybe the least light-hearted of all of them and offers less of the jokes, camaraderie, and goofy warm heart the series is known for. Of course, all this stuff is still here, but this is also the entry where Fast 8 goes darker. That’s not going to work as well for some people, but I think this movie is less uneven than Fast 7 was (particularly the action). The important question isn’t even really if this movie lives up to the rest of the franchise, because of course it does, it’s more about whether it leaves you with a sense that this franchise can keep going without Paul Walker. I think it can, but I think Fast 8 is unable (and probably this is intentional) to fully get to a new stable dynamic on its own. There are seeds of it, but it’ll probably take the next movie before we see where they’re going with certain elements, which this review will explore in detail.

DOING SPOILERS A QUARTER-MILE AT A TIME

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The trailers may have suggested a “dark” Dom, but the movie never holds back from showing us how conflicted he is and how unwilling.

Fast 8 opens with a series staple car chase. We’re reminded charmingly if familiarly of the ethos of Dom and his weird movie universe. Here he’s winning the respect of a local thug in Havana, Cuba. He and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon and things seem peaceful for the crew until Hobbes (Dwayne Johnson) calls them back to recover the EMP device that’s now made its way to Berlin. The crew gathers and goes to work, but not before a mysterious woman entices Dom to some sort of side deal, using leverage the movie only reveals later. This mysterious woman is the cold mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron), a control-obsessed super-hacker who is brought to life by Theron with her special brand of intense, feline menace. People who loved her performance in Snow White and the Hunstman will love this too. She’s just great at villains.

The job goes okay, again it’s a charming but familiar “super car” sequence and serves as a refresher taste of the time honored car-based action and jokes at Roman’s (Tyrese Gibson, still the secret weapon of the franchise but less so in this one) expense. Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) also return, but the crew is starting to feel small and in need of some additional fresh blood. Especially because this is the second movie that still can’t figure out what to do with Ramsey besides give her something for Roman and Tej to fight over, which is still kind of gross even if the movie also gives her room to show how dumb she too thinks it is. I was really hoping for her to reveal she’s into girls, since a gay character is something Fast 8 still hasn’t done even though it’s one of the most diverse franchises, if not the most, in Hollywood history.

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The answer to the series’ diminished cast is NOT Scott Eastwood, I fucking promise.

When Dom splits off, stealing the EMP device and apparently going rogue, Hobbes winds up in the same jail where Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, stealing the movie) is being held. These two immediately engage in the most flirtatious and delicious homoerotic rivalry since the 80’s. It completely makes up for the relative lack of lightness and humour throughout most of the rest of the movie, and you can feel the fun and self-awareness oozing out of Statham and Johnson. People have been asking for a spin-off with these two characters for a reason, and they may even get it. However, I think that’d be a bad move for the series as the only new character is Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), a guy who should work on paper but feels too much like a lame attempt at a Brian 2.0. Eastwood just isn’t his dad and cannot bring this character something to get him off the page. Everything he says and does feels lame and forced, from being dressed down by Nobody (Kurt Russel) to finally unclenching later in the movie when the Fast crew finally infect him with their irreverent way of doing things.

The Shaws factor big into Fast 8, providing one of two sets of tracks laid down for future entries in the series. Deckard is back and almost instantly charms his way into being part of the team. Every one says they won’t forget what he did, killing Han (Sung Kang), but everyone actually does. The movie really needs the audience to get over it too, so they somewhat clumsily wrote the Shaw brothers’ misdeeds into their supervillain’s backstory, so some of the responsibility is shed by the Shaws. Now that Fast has an actual supervillain that isn’t the Shaws, it makes sense that they be the way this series changes up the cast. However, fans have been hoping that it’ll turn out Han didn’t die in Tokyo and I think this, too, would be a wise thing to bring into the canon because it’ll not only bring back the amazing Sung Kang, it’ll help everybody buy into the Shaws being incorporated into the Fast Fambly.

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Oh Deckard, you scamp! We can’t stay mad at you.

Though Cipher’s leverage keeps him doing her dirty work, Dom is never passive and never not trying to rebalance the scales. It’s actually him who brings the other Shaws into the mix after Nobody secures Deckard’s help (he just wants a chance at Cipher). Owen (Luke Evans) briefly returns to help out, all scarred up and sheepish after his fuckery has cost his brother so much. And centering this Shaw alliance is a surprising turn from Helen Mirren as the Shaw Bros’ mother. When I heard Mirren would be in this and who she’d be playing, I expected an urbane and pompous British lady. Instead, she’s a cockney gangster moll who knows exactly how to get her boys to play ball. This stuff is a lot of fun, but only in the movie briefly though the Shaws seem to be set up to be a big part of whatever happens going forward.

Dom needs their help to get the upper hand on Cipher. She’s got hostages and while many theorized it would be Han or maybe Dom’s sister Mia, the movie wisely keeps to the “Brian and Mia are done” book-closing sentiment of Fast 7‘s ending. Instead, and totally left field, it’s Elena (Elsa Pataky) and a baby she’s kept secret from Dom so that he could get his life with Letty back on track. The baby, who Dom later names Brian, totally seems like the kind of thing that would get Dom to betray his people. I was pretty satisfied because I half-expected the reason for his “dark side” stuff to be much less plausible. That said, the movie kills Elena off and some fans are not pleased with the way this was done. I kind of think arguments that it’s fridging are overstating things since Dom is already motivated to save her and the baby, and her death doesn’t advance his storyline whatsoever… it simply ends hers. Would it be nice to keep Elena around? I think so, I always liked the character and felt like her “ending” in Fast 6 was a great series moment. But people die and villains sometimes kill them, even just to make a point. Cipher thereby cements her villainy in a much more final way than any other similar character in the series, except of course for Deckard who killed (or maybe not?) Han, a much more beloved character than Elena.

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Still, I totally understand where people are coming from when they say that they were just trying to get rid of the character because they didn’t know what else to do with her.

The movie is far more interested in what’s going on with Dom and Cipher than anything else, except maybe for the bromance of Deckard and Hobbes (who is so mad at Dom). This means the rest of the cast does take a back seat to the main priorities of the movie, but I don’t think this is a big deal. They still find time to sneak the Mexican brothers from Fast 5 back into the mix for a cameo, and Dom turning the tables on Cipher is as satisfying as the metaphoric he trades with her is lame (but in a way that is delightful and perfect for this series). While the rest of the crew is doing the next phase in the evolution of this series’ progressively more outlandish and high-stakes action sequences (the next one really will have to take place in space or something), Dom is just trying to save his kid. This gives the movie its personal stakes, something this series has almost always tried hard to have and, goofy as it is sometimes, managed to have. It’s one of the reasons why people like these characters and their silly movies. There’s always someone who needs help and, as the prologue in Cuba suggests, people who are willing to help as long as there’s respect and some good old fashioned hyper-masculine bonding.

By the time the third act action climax started to unfold, I started to become worried that Fast 8 was going to be the most “grounded”. Aside from the ridiculous bit where Cipher uses a remote controlled horde of cars to steal nuclear missile codes and Dom plays car-tug-of-war with his whole crew (and boy is that a fun bit of nonsense), I was like “is that it, Fast 8?” and feared that things weren’t going to reach those ridiculous heights again. I am pleased to report that I was super duper wrong. It’s just that Fast 8 spaces that shit out and saves those ridiculous, completely implausible moments this series has become famous for. It saves them until the movie really needs to hit that release valve of bonkers, physics-defying car-based superheroics that push a triumphant and signature Fast series climax into the stratosphere.

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I mean, it’s still a Fast movie after all.

This is a series that has been knowingly raising the bar in its own universe for the size of threats, the resources of enemies, and the set-pieces involved. Every installment takes it up a notch. Fast 6 featured weapon-cars like Owen’s, superhero tricks like Dom’s insane leap to save Letty, and climaxed in a Hercules airplane. Fast 7 had TWO instances of flying cars and ended with a chase/fight against a goddamn predator drone and military attack helicopter. Fast 8 gives the team a tank, an arctic battleground, and a Russian nuclear sub to contend with. All that and the Shaws flying fucking jetpacks to invade Cipher’s evil plane. Where do we even go from here? I’m stoked to find out, because I know that franchise writer Chris Morgan will push it to the limit again. The logical next step is transforming mecha-cars all fusing Power Rangers style into a giant robot, or maybe battling an alien invasion, or racing rovers on the Moon or Mars. If we’re really lucky, we’ll get all of the above by the time Fast 10 rolls around.

Dom being a dad now is an interesting shift. I wondered what they had in mind with this since Brian’s fatherhood was such a big part of his story in Fast 7. How can Dom be Dom and also be a dad? Maybe instead of going even bigger for the next one, the series will switch gears (hehe) and become even more internally focused than Fast 8. What if they did a time jump with the new central relationship being one of Dom and Brian as father and son instead of unlikely brothers and comrades? I could see them going for this, especially since Diesel is 50 while Dom is still probably in his mid-30’s. Moreover, it’d be a way to bring Lucas Black into things, since there’s no way the dude can convincingly play a teenager anymore (which Fast 7 demonstrated). Shit, it’s just as much fun for me to speculate about this as it is to speculate about the future of the MCU after Infinity War wraps up.

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Just marvel at this.

I was worried about a lack of awesome car bullshit, but then this movie responds to a giant fiery explosion threatening Dom’s life (that’s him down there in the lower right corner) by having his fambly circle him with their cars, impossibly shielding him from the hellfire!

Whatever they do, I’m definitely still along for the ride.

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