The Fate of the Furious (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Fate of the Furious (2017)

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Life is good for Dom Toretto.  He's mostly retired, has the love of his life Letty by his side, and is content to race for respect over cash.  His idyllic existence comes to an end with the emergence of a criminal hacker known as Cipher who has information that gets Dom to turn on his team.  F. Gary Gray directs The Fate of the Furious, with the screenplay written by Chris Morgan, and stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, and Jason Statham.

It's a small miracle the Fast and Furious franchise has produced a couple of good films.  The larger miracle is that they've made two excellent films, a handful of good ones, and two snoozers (with respect to Ryan's conversation, Tokyo Drift is way better than the fourth entry.)  The writing was on the wall with the seventh installment and I couldn't help but feel the doubt creeping in that this franchise could last much longer.  After dragging a safe all over Rio and keeping a plane grounded through sheer force of car in the fifth and sixth entries, Dom (Vin Diesel) doing a bit of inter-skyscraper automobile parkour felt like a step back.  Now, with The Fate of the Furious, Dom and his team are outrunning a nuclear submarine and it feels as though this creative endeavor needs a hard reboot after James Bond did something similar in the worst Pierce Brosnan 007 film.

One problem with The Fate of the Furious is unavoidable.  Paul Walker's tragic death left these characters without his heartfelt character work to bounce off of.  The other problem is similar but was written into the fabric of the series with Sung Kang's Han killed off by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in the seventh installment.  Much of the best comedy in the sixth installment - still my favorite - came from Kang and Tyrese Gibson's Roman Pearce flailing in fights way out of their league.  Now Roman's cowardice has less people to bounce off of, and the law of diminishing returns kicks in as there are less fresh ways to frame him.

Dwayne Johnson's a once-in-a-lifetime mountain of charisma, but his character takes a sharp downfall now that it's written to be more like the performer than staying true to the character.

While Roman's issue is repetition without variation, other characters have been written to align with their public persona more than their fictional counterparts.  This is painfully obvious with Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who has gone from hardass semi-reluctant member of Dom's crew to a cheeky family man who finds time to spout one-liners.  Luke's rough exterior was a boon to the Fast and Furious franchise, giving a lean edge to Dom's motto of "family first."  Now he's Dom-lite, going through stages of forgiveness with Deckard when the latter blew up the former's friend one installment ago.

Turbodrive character development works with a similarly paced plot which The Fate of the Furious does not boast.  Despite Charlize Theron's best efforts, vaguely menacing cold hacker lady ain't gonna cut it as the Big Bad needed to make one team member forgive the murder of another.  Bare minimum, cold detached hacker types as villains is old hat, and for a series like The Fast and the Furious with its international cabal of eccentric thieves is positively pedestrian.  There's intrigue in the background of her dark hacker layer with a bit of color coming from her diverse underlings, yet The Fate of the Furious never divulges their personalities in a way previous installments did.

All of this is to say that The Fate of the Furious' biggest problem is its screenplay.  Chris Morgan is the screenwriter for the sixth time in this franchise's history and, while it's fair to say he might not have anticipated the forces inside and outside the fictional universe pulling characters from it, The Fate of the Furious shows he's written himself into a corner.  One of my least favorite screenplay tics is to shoulder a baby onto a man to generate sympathy for the character.  2007's Shoot 'Em Up showed this could be done well if taken to comic extremes.  The Fate of the Furious' approach of having Statham do his generic flippy fighting stuff in obstructed environments just frustrates me by hitting the tired baby beat and needlessly obscuring the action.

Director F. Gary Gray seemed like a good fit for the series until I remembered his action films have been fitfully successful.  He directed the Italian Job remake that featured a number of small cars weaving in and out of traffic, and Gray revisits this moment in a scene with less tension as cars are taken over to serve as shields.  The Fast and Furious films call for sustained lunacy, and Gray's uneven hand at large-scale setpieces keep the subpar story in full focus.  Compare any of Gray's hyperactive action scenes in The Fate of the Furious to the sustained tension from a magnificent crane shot in Straight Outta Compton.  There are too many cuts to get a feel for the speed of the opening chase, though the one shot of an old man and his donkey was worth a chuckle.

Did anyone in the audience take Dom's heel turn seriously?

Most unfortunate is the way the women of the Fast and Furious franchise have slid back into almost total irrelevance.  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) spends most of her time in bed with Dom or behind the wheel of a car, giving her none of the room to take part in spectacular brawls like the sixth installment's brutal subway fight.  The characterization of women is so poor now that a meta-joke about Ramsey's (Nathalie Emmanuel) last name is thrown in at the end.  We don't know her last name, but it's not like the screenplay has bothered to provide her one either.

Word is that the ninth and tenth installments are going to be the last in the Fast and Furious franchise.  Given the sad artistic performance of The Fate of the Furious (as it made bank in the box office) I'm fine with the idea of Dom and his gang winding down forever.  I'll keep my hopes high for the last two films, but after The Fate of the Furious I'll be approaching them with more exhaustion than excitement.

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The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Directed by F. Gary Gray.
Screenplay written by Chris Morgan.
Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, and Jason Statham.

Posted by Andrew

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