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Friday, April 14, 2017

The Fate of the Furious

Sometimes a review is merely a technicality.  You already know what you think of The Fate of the Furious given your history with the franchise.  It's the rare film series that has gotten more successful with each passing entry.  And now, here's the eighth film, which once again centers on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his "family", who do a lot of insane and practically impossible car stunts as they do battle with shady terrorists and criminals.  I feel I described the series as a whole best when I described the last movie as being about cars doing things that cars can't do, being driven by people doing things that people can't do.

A lot of people love these movies, which goes without saying, as the series is now getting near the double digits in terms of sequels.  I can even admit to enjoying some of them.  But as of late, the series seems to have become all about the special effects and the obviously green screened stunts, rather than building on these characters or its story.  The Fate of the Furious is a particularly mind-numbing entry in the series.  The movie itself not only seems to go on too long, but so do most of the action set pieces.  You know a movie is not working for you when there's a massive chase/car pile up sequence occurring on the streets of Manhattan, and it goes on so long, you start looking at your watch after a while.  If you haven't had enough of these films yet, you have my permission to ignore this cranky critic, and go have fun.  As for me, I think my cup has begun to overflow on these movies.

It's not that I don't admire this series in some way, and I even have no qualms with the audiences who turn out for them.  In theory, it sounds like a blast.  Take a lot of souped up cars, and then throw them in a bunch of over the top action scenes that make the stuff in James Bond seem subtle and withdrawn in comparison.  Throw in a globe-trotting adventure, a lot of cool spy gadgets and computers, and snarling international terrorists who have their plans foiled by a bunch of street racers working for the government, and I can see how it could be fun.  But for some reason, these movies seldom work with me like they should.  I just can't get into these characters and the expanding lore, because the movie's not really about them.  Each sequel is about topping the last one in terms of stunts.  Last time, we had cars moving inside and around a skyscraper, so this time we have city streets being turned into a demolition derby when a parade of computer-guided cars go haywire.  In one of the movies, we had cars parachuting out of a plane, so this time we get cars battling a submarine on the icy planes of Russia. 

I get that this is supposed to be all-out fantasy, and we're not supposed to take this seriously for a second.  Heck, these movies have become so detached from reality that they don't even bother putting a safety warning about not trying the stunts depicted in the film, like they did in the earlier entries.  However, with each passing film, I find myself enjoying this approach less and less.  The movies have become about smashing your senses instead of thrilling them.  It doesn't help that many of the big action set pieces this time around seem to go on a lot longer than they should.  I guess there's only so much you can do with cars flipping over and exploding, and no, adding a submarine or an armored tank to the mix does not change things enough to keep it interesting.  I eventually started to feel assaulted with the way the movie just piled on the action bigger and bigger.  I didn't find myself getting more involved with each increasing challenge the film threw at the heroes.  I actually didn't find myself all that involved in the action at all.

That's because The Fate of the Furious just keeps on throwing stuff at its audience, but never gives a chance for any of it to sink in.  By the time something has happened, something else is waiting to pop up just a second later.  It got to be more exhausting than fun, at least to me.  There is also a certain emptiness to the spectacle here.  There are no real stakes, since the heroic drivers are all but invincible.  It doesn't matter if these characters are breaking into an armored base to steal a deadly weapon, or if they're breaking into a Russian stronghold to stop a nuclear war, they're going to do it with minimal damage to their perfect faces and hair, as well as their perfect automotive paint job.  I guess for some, that's the fun of these movies, but I expect a few more stakes or peril in such situations.  When these guys are having guided missiles fired at them, they seem way too flippant and causal about it.

Before I forget, there is a plot to all this.  A cyber terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron) uses some private information to blackmail Dominic, forcing him to turn against his friends and work for her.  The trailers really play up this whole betrayal angle, and it's pretty easy to figure out that he's clearly being used.  With the team of heroes down their most important member for a majority of the film, they are forced to turn to a former enemy, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who is not crazy about working with them either, but wants to get back at Cipher for his own reasons.  Of the heroes, it's Statham who makes the best impression, as he gets a few genuine laughs with his dialogue, and especially during his big action scene near the end, which is a comedic high point in the film.  There's also a cameo for Helen Mirren, as a new character in this film's universe.  Like a lot of movies, this one probably would have been better off if she had more screen time in it.

I don't want to sound jaded.  I walked into The Fate of the Furious to have a good time, just like everyone else.  But the movie is simply a bombardment of action without enough to carry through to the end of its bloated two-hour-plus run time.  I won't take away anyone's enjoyment of these movies, as they are well done on a certain level.  I simply feel like this franchise has run its course, and I may be bailing out shortly.

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