25 April 2017

First Impressions: The Fate of the Furious

By this point we've talked ad nauseam about the miraculous nature of the continuation of the Fast and Furious franchise. So we'll skip that in this review of the latest, The Fate of the Furious (2017), which features an evil Vin Diesel to separate it from the pack, but feels quite a bit lesser without some of its major players, from Han to Gisele to of course, Paul "Brian O'Conner" Walker himself. We'll get into all that and more today, on Norwegian Morning Wood.
So many ass shots in the glorious paradise nation of Cuba.

While it's continuously entertaining and ridiculous in every way that the modern Fast films are (I feel weird writing that, but it's true), Fate is definitively the worst installment of the updated globe-trotting spy adventures these films have become. It lacks the fun camaraderie of Fast Five (2011), the sheer obnoxious thrill of Fast & Furious 6 (2013), or the emotional impact of Furious 7 (2015). The result is a film that feels more like it's going through the motions, caught up in its current boffo spy thriller direction instead of adding anything really new or interesting.

And that's with what should have been a heartbreaking development with Vin Diesel going rogue. For example, what happened to all of this? Simple blackmail with the blockhead's heretofore unseen baby son seems like too simple of a cop out. The film continually flirts with "bringing back the Old Dom" or unleashing his freedom, which is a concept you can trace back to the original 2001 installment, but Dom never seems to budge or even be tempted by the devil Charlize Theron. Any of that could have made his progression more interesting - if he went all the way, seduced by the darkside, then Letty had to turn him back instead of him finding his way on his own. There's all these truly terrible moments where Diesel betrays his team, but they're robbed of emotional weight since his character never actually undergoes any change. Turning your main character against his own team is a wonderful, fascinating idea, that Fate really bungles. Here's to Tranformers: The Last Knight (2017) getting it right!

Beyond that, there's something a bit off with the rest of the cast's chemistry. Maybe that's because without Brian and Dom we're basically down to Michelle Rodriguez and a pair of random dudes from 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003). Sure, Ramsey is in there, but she's largely useless, especially when Ludacris already fills her role on the team (even if she's better at hacking. I'll get more into how stupid the hacking is in this flick in a bit). There's not a lot that demonstrates that this group is a bunch of friends, they still feel like "friends of friends" which hinders the whole set-up.

I suppose The Rock can and should be officially counted as part of these people by now, though, and if anything, Fate cements him as part of the gang, notably in the ending New York rooftop picnic scene (which has some of the worst greenscreen in recent memory somehow). No more baby oil for him. And I guess Jason Statham and Owen Shaw are part of the team now, or something? I'm fine with that - Statham really shined in this movie, and his parts with Dom's baby are some of the best, besides his prison escape alongside the Rock.
The Rock is a fucking Hulk.

Between this and SPY (2015), Statham has shown he can be incredibly funny, which is an amazing gift to the world. In a film overflowing with bald men (literally the entire main non-Ludacris cast), he's a welcome addition. The Rock and him steal this whole movie, though, especially once the gag of the Rock lifting and punching impossible things really gets going. I'm not sure if it's even a gag, actually, but there is a carefreeness to this performance, starting at his daughter's soccer match, that is well above anything he's ever done for this franchise. To be sure, none of that seems pleasing to Vin Diesel, who is mostly fat and grumpy in this movie. I also don't know why the whole Shaw family is apparently a thing now, nor why they felt the need to introduce Charlize's Cypher as a big overarching baddie responsible for the past two films (seemed like shades of SPECTRE's hackneyed Blofeld reveal).

Now, I'm definitely a Theron fan, but she's wasted here. She only exists in weird whisper voice, blathering weird vague philosophical platitudes that again, don't seem to actually affect Dom at all. It's all horseshit. She could have been a greater infection, a more worthwhile adversary. And the hacking - ugh. This franchise seems very comfortable leaving his gearhead origins behind (despite opening with the most gear-heavy car race in perhaps the entire series), but it's far too comfortable being James Bond with cars right now. I mean, this "hacking" is probably some of the worst in movie history. Like 90s bad. Jurassic Park (1993) bad.

As for the rest of the cast, you get the feeling that they introduced Scott Eastwood because Kurt Russell has had enough, and he does a fine enough job and is surprisingly resembling young Clint really well. I got really excited in the opening credits to see Don Omar and Tego Calderon, but they only showed up in the briefest of cameos. C'mon - they were integral in Fast Five, part of the original family scene - everyone else is dying, throw them in the mix again!

As you can tell, I'm full of unending disappointment over this film, but the action really is pretty good. The Rock and Statham are brilliant, and there are still stories to be mined here. They gotta go tot space, after all. But this really does suffer without the balance of Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster, who kind of gets the shaft (although she hasn't had shit to do in like the past four films anyway). There is a really awkward moment where Roman says they should call Brian, who obviously would be a great asset in this specific circumstance. The issue is that they retired the character instead of killing him, so now his absence in truly desperate times makes no sense.

This still isn't the worst Fast film, mostly on the backs of its production value, great side characters, and kind of interesting story. But I'd watch any of the past three instead. That's an insane sentence.

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