“Me and you. One on one. No one else around. I will beat your ass like a Cherokee drum.”
The Fast and Furious series is certainly the strangest of the billion dollar franchises around right now. They’re over-long melodramatic epics punctuated with impressive, tightly choreographed action scenes, more reminiscent of Bollywood than anything Hollywood is currently doing. Or maybe their particular brand of detailed and overtly complicated plots spanning almost two decades and almost 100 characters is more like anime. And although the films sometimes fall short of what they set out to do, it’s always a blast to watch the latest instalment. The Fate of the Furious, or Fast and Furious 8 as it’s known in the UK (although I’m ignoring this boring name change and sticking with the US way) is no different in tone or scale to the last few herculean instalments in the franchise. If anything it’s the biggest yet – an possibly even the best.
The F&F films are often all too easily dismissed as stupid and throwaway popcorn entertainment by certain film critics. The sort who think they’re above blockbuster films, as if there is something wrong with a film not in black and white or directed by Terrence Malick. The The Guardian recently classed The Fate of Furious as a ‘dumb movie’ and that prestigious actress Helen Mirren is ‘slumming it’ for appearing in it. Forgetting the fact that Mirren had actually stated multiple times that she wanted to be in the franchise, going against The Guardian’s theory that it was a ‘one for them one for me’ type situation – ala Michael Caine in Jaws: The Revenge, saying the film is lesser than Mirren’s usual fare is insulting to the franchise. It suggests there isn’t hard work or as much innovative talent involved in F8 as there is Mirren’s usual prestigious Thespian stuff. Calling the film ‘dumb’ suggests a lack of knowledge on the part of those involved but I don’t think anyone involved in the production of the eighth film in the Fast and Furious franchise had any illusions about what sort of film they were making; The Fate of the Furious knows what it is, it never makes any illusions that’s it’s anything other than an action movie. But that doesn’t mean the film makers and cast are any less dedicated than those involved in the types of film that reviewers in publications like The Guardian usually praise. It might be a action movie but a lot of effort had to go into making it a good action movie.
The direction by the always reliable F Gary Gray is the first noticeably impressive thing in F8. He ably stages the massive set pieces and even bigger cast, including the worlds shiniest headed action heroes Vin Diesel, The Rock, and Jason Statham. A third act chase along a frozen Russian lake is a highlight of not only the film but the whole franchise. And while Gray’s direction might not have the flair of the franchises previous director, horror maestro James Wan, he makes up for it in sheer explosive spectacle. A mid-film jaunt to New York see’s Charlize Theron’s villainous hacker, Cipher, remotely hijack hundreds of vehicles that surge through the city like the zombies from World War Z, creating pile ups that make the Rio set hijinks of Fast 5 look decidedly small scale in comparison. And Gray has to be commend for the sheer amount of ‘ real’ action he uses. Things a lot of directors would use CG for Gray instead opts for an old school ‘do-it-for-real’ approach.
“While Gray’s direction might not have the flair of the franchises previous director, horror maestro James Wan, he makes up for it in sheer explosive spectacle.“
The Hard Boiled-esque ‘gunfight whist holding a baby’ sequence is another franchise highlight, and proves the series doesn’t even need cars to create an entertaining action scene. In it Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw fights his way through a plane full of enemies, gun in one hand and a baby seat inthe other. Not only is it just downright brilliant it also cements Statham as one of the franchises key characters, despite his murdering of Han just a film ago. Not that anyone really mentions it though, the gang sort of just… gloss over it. Not that he doesn’t make up for some of his past misdeeds over the course of 8 (and he really is the best character) but I mean, he killed Han. There’s not really any coming back from that unless it turns out in 9 that Han isn’t actually dead. After Letty’s death in 4 it is something I could actually imagine the series doing.
It’s Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto who heads up the film once again although, in this unfortunate post-Paul Walker world, he no longer has best friend and brother in law Brian O’Connor to bounce off of. In fact the film works this into the plot as Dom is coerced into working with the bad guys away from his ‘family’. Team family has a new figure head this time around as Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs is promoted from scene stealing supporting character to scene stealing main character. A seasoned leading man, Johnson manages to fill a lot of the void left by Walker’s tragic passing without it feeling like he’s carrying the film. His action scenes are brilliantly over the top and his introduction performing the haka at his daughters little league soccer game is side-splittingly hilarious. His begrudging, insult-laden friendship with Statham’s Deckard Shaw is a high point too, rivalling even Dom and Brian’s famous bromance.
“Team family has a new figure head this time around as Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs is promoted from scene stealing supporting character to scene stealing main character.“
It would have been interesting to see this film with Brian at the head of team family vs Dom on the enemy team – I think that would have created a very interesting dynamic. As it is, the film instead goes for a Letty vs Dom narrative, which thankfully works pretty well. Both Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodrieguiez carry many of the films emotional beats. Diesel especially delivers an excellent performance, reminding you of just how good a dramatic actor he can be. The franchises long running theme of family is even more personal for Dom this time around and Diesel and Rodriguez sell it completely. The other cast members are still brilliant, and the balance between them all is probably the best it’s ever been, but they are secondary to Dom’s story.
The series’ best character, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), once again steals the whole damn film. His wise-cracking antics will never get old, not for me at least, especially now he’s got Scott Eastwood’s ‘Little Nobody’ to fire off insults at. Kurt Russell reappears again, strolling through each scene with the sort of badass carelessness that only Kurt Russell can manage. He doesn’t get an action scene this time around (his night vision shootout in 7 was a highlight of the film) but every time he appears on screen the movie gets that much cooler. The films villain, Cipher (Charlize Theron), is similar in that she doesn’t really get an action scene – a missed opportunity really, Furiousa could’ve kicked all their asses – but she is still very cool. Theron does a lot of her work isolated from the rest of the cast shouting orders and staring at computer screens. But she does it so well, never going full on hammy but also obviously having a blast playing evil.
A couple of faces, both old and new pop up in the film also; Owen Shaw as the psychotic little brother to Statham’s Deckard and Helen Mirren as the Shaw matriarch. It’s good to see Owen Shaw again, who doesn’t love Luke Evans, although I don’t think his defecting to team family would be quite as convincing as his brother. Mirren seems like she realised she’s only got a minute or two of screen time so squeezed in an entire films worth of memorable performance. Whether it’s her ‘cockney’ accent or her believable relationship with her supposed son, Jason Statham, she ends up being one of the most unforgettable characters in a film full of of unforgettable characters.
The bottom line: The Fate of the Furious is ridiculous in all of the best possible ways. The stunts are ludicrously over the top and the dialogue is taken straight from a wrestling arena. There’s so much emotion flying around that the film feels more soap opera than mindless action movie. And I think this is where the charm of these films lie. The plot twists and turns through increasingly ridiculous emotion and action beats but the characters are so sincere about it all, so earnest about the characters they portray (in some cases the characters they’ve been playing for the best part of two decades) that it’s almost impossible to not get swept up in it all. Add in some fantastic action from director F. Gary Gray and pitch perfect performances across the board and you have a Fast and Furious film that places somewhere in the franchises top 3. The word family is said more than ‘car’, ‘fast’, or ‘corona’, but it’s refreshing to see a long running franchise that, deep down, holds the same values as it did in the very beginning. We may be on the eighth instalment but there’s still NOS in this series’ tank.