Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Even though I’ve been an avid fan of The Fast and the Furious since before the release of its first pun-tastically titled sequel in 2003, I really wasn’t all that excited about seeing the saga’s much discussed eight instalment. To my mind, Furious 7 served as the perfect stopping point for the series and not just because of Paul Walker’s tragic death. Director James Wan did such a good job of bringing the franchise full circle while wrapping up all of its unresolved storylines that the idea of doing another sequel seemed extremely superfluous.
My scepticism was only heightened when the trailers divulged that the narrative would revolve around Dom’s betrayal of the team and apparent turn to the dark side. However, I’ve been invested in this franchise long enough that I was willing to give this latest contribution to the continuity the benefit of the doubt and now that I’ve seen it for myself, I’m genuinely dismayed that, despite adoring all seven of its predecessors, I don’t have anything particularly positive to say about The Fate of the Furious.
To be fair, I did enjoy that it opened with Dom and Letty vacationing in Cuba as well as The Rock’s ridiculously dramatic approach to coaching his kid’s soccer team. The insight into the characters’ personal lives that these scenes provided was a nice touch and showed that everyone’s lives had reverted to some sense of normalcy after the events of the last few films. But then Dom goes rogue and things quickly take a turn for the worse.
While I won’t reveal the reason for Toretto’s treachery, I will say that it involves some fairly major retconning that I’m not sure even makes sense when you consider the timeline of the movies from Fast Five onwards and this is really at the root of what’s wrong with this movie. The action scenes may quite literally be unbelievable and the set-piece with the submarine is basically just a carbon copy of the cargo plane sequence from Fast and Furious 6, but it’s all completely in line with what we’ve come to expect from these films. What really bothered me about The Fate of the Furious is that series scribe Chris Morgan seems to go out of his way to contradict the established canon at every available opportunity.
Thanks to the trailers, it’s no secret that Statham teams up with the protagonists this time around and Morgan makes no effort to present a plausible reason as to why the dastardly Deckard Shaw would want to help our heroes. Likewise, Dom’s team don’t seem too reluctant to welcome a man who murdered one of their own into their midst. On top of killing Han in cold blood, Shaw almost ended Dom, Brian, Mia and Jack by blowing up their house in LA, but bafflingly, none of that seems to be an issue any more.
Hobbs actually has more of a problem with Shaw than any of Han’s so-called family and even though The Rock and Statham display good chemistry together, it’s difficult to enjoy their banter because it completely undercuts the terrific tension that was built up between them in the previous film.
Shaw’s awesomely intense demeanour coupled with his ability to hold his own against Toretto and Hobbs in hand to hand to combat made him feel like a genuine threat to the protagonists in Furious 7 and I was hoping he’d return with a vengeance here. But instead of capitalising upon his potential as an antagonist, Fate transforms him into a cheesy action hero. At one point he even refers to his brother as being a “lost cause”, despite the fact that he spent the entirety of the last movie attempting to punish Dom for defeating said sibling in Fast and Furious 6.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jason Statham and The Rock, and in a different film their interactions here would have been pure gold. Unfortunately though, most of what they do during The Fate of the Furious contradicts their previous character arcs to the point that it’s difficult to believe that this story was conceived by the same person who penned the last five instalments of the franchise. And they’re not the only ones who act out of character either.
Diesel does his best to channel Toretto’s inner turmoil, but, setting aside the awkward retconning that results from what makes him turn on his team, Dom’s betrayal feels very unnecessary. Without giving anything away, there is a window early on in which he could have sought out less extreme solutions to his problem and while I do understand why he was conflicted, I don’t buy that Dom would take such aggressive action against those closest to him.
On the other hand, Rome’s wit is dialled up so much that he ends up coming across as a painful parody of himself. I loved the sense of playfulness that Tyrese brought to the table during all four of his previous appearances as Roman Pearce, but The Fate of the Furious transitions the once street-smart smooth talker into a full-blown buffoon whose immature remarks and total lack of decorum make him trying to watch whenever he’s onscreen.
At least Ludacris is still likable as tech specialist, Tej Parker. It’s just a shame that his skills are often rendered redundant by the presence of Nathalie Emmanuel’s crack computer hacker, Ramsay.
The only actor who succeeds in shining throughout is franchise veteran Michelle Rodriguez, who very effectively conveys the pain and perplexity that Letty experiences in the wake of Dom’s betrayal without compromising the character’s typically tenacious demeanour. This is arguably Rodriguez’s best performance in the franchise to date and I commend her for being the only major player who manages to inject some genuine emotion into the proceedings.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, Charlize Theron isn’t especially bad as cyberterrorist Cipher, even though her character feels like an incredibly clichéd Bond villain; Kurt Russell’s enigmatic Mr. Nobody is basically just a plot device who shows up to spout exposition when the occasion calls for it; and Scott Eastwood is so inconsequential as Eric Reisner that you’d be forgiven for forgetting he was in the movie at all.
For me, a lot of the fun of the first seven films arose from the sense of camaraderie that existed among the core characters. But with Brian, Mia, Han and Gisele gone, Dom working against what’s left of the team and so many plot contrivances, contradictions and retcons at play, The Fate of the Furious is a disappointingly pale reflection of what came before it. If you’re a fan of the franchise, I’m not going to say you shouldn’t go see it. I sincerely hope you enjoy it more than I did if you do. But if this is indicative of what we can expect from the next two movies in the series, then I’m content to pretend that the story ended when Dom and Brian’s roads diverged at the end of Furious 7.
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