Review: Fast & Furious 8 – The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Fast & Furious 8 – The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Directed by: F. Gary Gray | 130 minutes | action, adventure, crime, thriller | Actors: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Charlize Theron, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Luke Evans, Elsa Pataky, Kristofer Hivju, Scott Eastwood, Patrick St. Esprit, Janmarco Santiago, Luke Hawx , Corey Maher

The writers of the ‘The Fast and the Furious’ films apparently feel compelled to always come up with a – more or less – original title, but why the effort? It’s all not very enlightening and it doesn’t matter much to the viewer: if only crazy stunts with boosting, colliding and flying through the air, half the work is done. Add some macho behaviour, brutal fistfights, explosions, a barrage of (often lame) one-liners, a can of babes in way too short shorts, and a pounding soundtrack, and you have guaranteed box-office success. Still, for the more discerning viewer, it’s always nice to have something of a dignified or gripping story to hold on to. And ‘Fast & Furious 8’, the eighth episode, unfortunately scores few points in that area. This is partly made up for by an eclectic cast and an overdose of spectacle, but it does make for a slightly lesser experience than the surprisingly entertaining and effective ‘Furious 7’.

‘Fast & Furious 8’ starts off excellently, with a characteristically exotic location, in this case Havana, Cuba, where Dom (Vin Diesel) and his Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) make contact with some local car wrenches in the bustling, sunny environment. Of course it doesn’t take long before Dom finds himself in a situation where he has to go street racing with an unsympathetic Cuban for his car; but really it’s all about respect, of course. Not that it will bother the viewer much. Before we know it, the men are ready for the start in their roaring cars while a graceful young lady – with a graceful piece of cloth around her hips that must pass for a skirt – waves a handkerchief to give the go-ahead. And gone are they, and the viewer with them. It’s going to be a ridiculous, but certainly an exciting race, which will certainly put a smile on your face. This is what the Furious movies are essentially about: uncomplicated fun, lots of testosterone, and daring street racing. You can take the latter very literally, because the life-threatening actions that take place here and the risks that are taken are too bizarre for words. It does make it a bit difficult to really empathize with the characters, but on the other hand it’s a good thing that the makers take everything so much to the absurd; that the film is so clearly set in a fantastic, unrealistic world. Otherwise this would hardly have been justifiable, especially given the tragic passing of ‘Furious’ hunk Paul Walker.

Yet this lack of – any – realism is a point of attention. When you see how easily – and often without a scratch – the (main) characters survive the most awe-inspiring violence, and how easily they dodge things like missiles, submarines and huge wrecking balls; and, for example, casually taking a selfie seconds later (quite a funny scene, but that aside) this removes practically all tension from the film. Fortunately, it’s entertaining as well, because of the ‘creativity’ – make a tornado change course by hand? Cause a rain shower with self-driving cars? It’s all possible – the humor, and the nice collection of actors. But it does have something to do with engagement.

The latter is also at issue at the main plot point in the film: Dom’s ‘passing over’ to the other side and betraying his friends, his family with a big ‘F’. Yes, there’s a good reason for it, but when you see how far Dom goes into this – and actually puts their lives on the line – it’s hard to feel any sympathy for him anymore. Let’s just say it’s nice that someone like that isn’t president. The credo ‘we do not negotiate with terrorists’ could in any case go out the window. The way to get Dom to cooperate and turn him against his friends is also not very original and the potential it contains for beautiful dramatic tension with Letty is also not sufficiently exploited. With a playing time of 130 minutes you would say that there was time for this.

But enough grumbling: ‘Fast & Furious 8’ offers, let’s be honest, also a lot of entertainment. Dwayne Johnson now clearly feels completely at home in this film series and has nice dry comments again and can roll his muscles exaggerated. His wrestling experience also comes in handy a few times in his fight scenes. Vin Diesel is less effective verbally, but as a threatening muscle and action hero he can keep up with Johnson. Which brings us to Jason Statham. Physically less impressive than the previous two boys, but in skills and attitude he is not inferior to them. His trash talk moments with Johnson are witty and an action-packed performance starring a baby in maxi cosi is an unexpected highlight. As regular team members, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris Bridges) are back in the swing of things, including favors from the attractive hacker Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel, known as Missandei in ‘Game of Thrones’). But Kurt Russell and even ‘Dame’ Helen Mirren stop by too. Even an Oscar winner doesn’t feel too good for this kind of tasty nonsense.

What a nice bridge to Charlize Theron, who hasn’t even been mentioned yet. Her character Cypher is not interesting in itself, but with her intensity and ice-cold killer instinct, Theron manages to make something memorable out of it. Like a true Bond villain – and with a kind of blond rasta braid – she subjects everyone to her will and mercilessly eliminates her opponents; in a film that, with its grand action sequences, secret missions and adventures around the world, is also starting to resemble the agent 007 franchise. Not such a bad idea, Charlize as the next bad guy in Bond. In the meantime, it’s not that hard to see what the “fate” of “The Furious” is. To continue to please the movie viewer with at least two – if not more – films with this kind of absurd, over-the-top spectacle around flashy cars, brawling machos and seductive women. Not much wrong with that in itself.

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