Saturday, 15 April 2017

IN THEATRES: Fate of the Furious

Two years after the blockbuster success of Furious 7, the Fast crew return in the eighth instalment of the un-killable petrolhead franchise.

Following the departure of Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker), the family of vehicular superheroes is torn asunder when growly patriarch Dom (Vin Diesel) goes to the dark side, joining forces with a hi-tech terrorist (Charlize Theron) intent on doing something bad. With cars.

The F&F movies, especially since Fast 5, has become one of the biggest franchises in the world. Embracing the 'family' dynamic, and exploding every idea of what a car can do, this series has somehow become one of the few non-superhero related film series out there. And this instalment is no different.

Let's get this out of the way, this movie is stupid. It's not 'Vin Diesel wearing a white tank and jeans to his wedding' stupid, but it is in the ballpark.

The arrival of F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) in the director's chair  initially had me a bit skeptical. Apart from his recent success with Compton, Gray's filmography has not been strongest: could he catch the same lightning in a bottle that previous helmer Justin Lin (and to a lesser extent, James Wan) had captured? Honestly, it's hard to detect much change from the usual palette. We do get some more high-stakes (melo)drama, which leads to something you don't usually see: Vin Diesel emoting.

On the action front, Gray earns his stripes. While the car stuff remains good (the nature of some of the action does require more CGI than the last few), the hand-to-hand combat and gunplay here is fantastic. The prison break sequence features the Rock and the Stath barrelling through a riot, body-slamming and beating up prisoners and guards alike. It's so cleanly shot and exciting, it had a shot at being my favourite scene in the movie -- up until the ending, which features Jason Statham rocketing around an airplane nailing bad guys while holding a baby. It's amazing.

Going into the plot will make my brain bleed, so let's just roll through the key players.

Screenwriter/franchise godfather Chris Morgan has given Dom a really strong motivation for turning heel (even though it does throw a spanner in the previous movies' timeline which makes no sense), and it makes his character far more interesting than he's ever been. His motivation is quite dark (and involves the death of a familiar character), but it boils down to something very primal, which gives his eventual escape an emotional resonance I have not seen in the series before.

As usual, The Rock is great as hard ass Hobbs, but his appearances in these movies feel like teases for a spinoff we'll never get. Even outside of the franchise, the Rock has not gone full action star in years. This guy needs a Predator or a Commando. He has the charisma, the muscles and the one-liners, but he needs a whole movie to kick ass in. The Rundown is still the closest thing he's had to an action vehicle, and that was over 13 years ago.

Tyrese Gibson is so good in these movies. I recently watched Baby Boy, which was his first starring role, and watching him here really clarified what he can and cannot do. In a complex character study like Baby Boy, he cannot navigate between the character's conflicting impulses. With a character like Roman, a man of extremely limited goals, he is perfect. He gets most of the movie's best jokes. He also gets a couple of clunkers you can see coming from the opening credits.

Ah, Nathalie Emmanuel. So beautiful, so boring. To her credit, her character is involved in two of the movie's better jokes. Apart from that, she disappears into the scenery. It does not help that she has to share hacking duties with Chris Bridges. It's ludicrous.

Scott Eastwood
But if anyone takes the non-entity award it is Scott 'Son of Clint' Eastwood. He is the butt of everyone else's jokes but he's so lifeless even on that level it doesn't matter.

On the villain front, Charlize Theron does not get enough to do. Chris Morgan has a depraved, cocaine-fueled genius (I'm guessing?) for writing these movies, but he totally misses the boat with the villain, sticking her on a plane and giving her pages of the most inane speeches I've heard in a F&F movie -- and that's saying something. Theron spouts a couple of metaphors which take about five minutes to get to the point. Or she gets meaningless garbage like this:

"You always said you live your life a quarter-mile at a time. So why don't you live your whole life that way?" 

Ah... Wait, what?

Theron does her best with what little she has, but the inspiration for her character appears to have finished with her hair extensions.

Jason Statham is great in this. He gets to be a part of the movie's best set pieces -- the prison riot, and the finale on the plane -- and forms a rapport with the Rock that made me want to see a buddy movie with these two. He follows the trend of the franchise redeeming its villains (remember this guy killed fan favourite Han), which makes none of the sense. But then again, the filmmakers kinda screwed up having him as a villain in the last movie, so his turn here is irrelevant.

This movie does not have the comic √©lan of Justin Lin's instalments, nor the emotional heft of James Wan's, and some of wear is starting to show. But I laughed from beginning to end, from the first gratuitous butt shot to the Rock nudging a speeding torpedo with his hand. The main actors have eased into their roles (Kurt Russell is having a blast), Helen Mirren pops in for a cameo, and the action scenes are all great. 

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