The Fate of the Furious is a Fun Movie with Problematic Writing

The Fast and Furious series has overcome humble beginnings to somehow become one of the biggest blockbuster movie franchises in recent memory. The eighth and most recent installment, The Fate of the Furious, was released in April and grossed a staggering $1.2 billion, which puts it at the number 2 spot on the list of the highest-grossing films of 2017 so far (only Beauty and the Beast has made more).

I saw the movie when it came out but I was in a bit of a funk at the time and never got around to writing about it. But since the movie just came out on Blu-Ray I thought it would be a good time to share some thoughts about it. Besides, given the fact that it made such an immense amount of money, most people who wanted to see it probably already have, so I figure the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired. This is my way of saying that the rest of this post will be chock-full of spoilers. You have been warned.

I like The Fate of the Furious. It’s a fun movie that delivers exactly what the fans of the series expect: nonstop over-the-top vehicular action and an emphasis on family and teamwork among the protagonists. So I can’t fault it too much for delivering on its promises. However…I do have some issues with the storytelling.

I might sound like a prude for saying that. After all, no one, myself included, goes into a Fast and Furious movie expecting Shakespeare. But while it is entirely possible to forget the storytelling issues and enjoy the movie for the solid piece of entertainment that it is, there are some glaring flaws with the writing that are hard to ignore.

Image: Universal

The movie’s trailers intentionally caused a bit of a stir by making it look like Dominic “Dom” Toretto, the unkillable protagonist played by Vin Diesel, had turned on his team and become the villain. He does work against his team for a good part of the movie, but he never goes full-evil. That’s okay, because he’s the main character of the series and the filmmakers would never kill him off or make him permanently evil, so clearly the film’s true villain, the dreadlocked super hacker Cipher (played by Charlize Theron) was manipulating him somehow.

Let’s backtrack a bit. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Dom’s girlfriend and now wife Letty (played by Michelle Rodriguez) was presumed dead for a while, and during that time Dom shacked up with a Brazilian cop named Elena. It turns out that this relationship resulted in a child whom Dom was never aware of, and Cipher now has Elena and Dom’s baby son held hostage. This is the leverage she uses against him to make him do her bidding, which includes stealing an EMP device and a Russian nuclear football.

It’s a pretty decent twist, and since the series emphasizes family so much, it makes a degree of sense that Dom would risk so much and work against his team in order to save his son. I’m okay with that part, but it starts to get messy.

The movie re-introduces Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham), the villain of the previous film, 2015’s Furious 7. Deckard was one of my favorite villains of 2015, an unstoppable ass-kicking force of nature. The grudge match between Deckard and Dom felt like it had real dramatic stakes, but The Fate of the Furious retroactively undermines it.

Deckard reluctantly joins the team to help them catch Dom and Cipher, and this leads to some fun macho rivalry between Deckard and Dwayne Johnson’s character, the equally-unstoppable badass Luke Hobbs. But then the movie starts to try to make Deckard look like not such a bad guy, by revealing that he had won medals for valor while serving as a member of British special forces. He even starts to bond a little with Hobbs, and Hobbs appears genuinely upset when they hear Deckard has been killed by Dom.

But before this happens, Deckard explains that Cipher was the mastermind behind the team’s most recent adventures, hiring Deckard’s brother Owen (the villain of Fast and Furious 6) and other villainous characters in Furious 7. Remember in Spectre, when it was revealed that Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld was the mastermind behind the villains of the previous Daniel Craig Bond movies? I thought that approach worked well enough in that film, but in The Fate of the Furious it feels…rushed.

It turns out that Deckard is not actually dead, and that he and Dom (somehow) faked his death. And then, during the movie’s climax, Deckard and Owen (who got kicked out of a plane during the climax of Fast and Furious 6 and was last seen catatonic at the beginning of Furious 7, kicking off Deckard’s plans for revenge against Dom) infiltrate Cipher’s mobile command center to rescue Dom’s son.

If all of this sounds convoluted, that’s because it is. The movie ends as these movies usually do, with Dom and his team (which now includes Deckard) sitting down to dinner.

I have so many problems with this.
Image: Universal

First of all, this series has a tendency to take antagonists from previous movies and turn them into allies. Let us not forget that Dwayne Johnson’s character Hobbs started out hunting Dom and his team back in Fast Five. I’m fine with Hobbs joining the team, because who doesn’t want more Dwayne Johnson in their movies? Hell, I want Dwayne in every movie.

But it’s so much harder to accept Deckard (and potentially Owen) joining the team as well. Hobbs was never portrayed as a bad guy in Fast Five. Dom’s a criminal, Hobbs is a cop, his job was to catch Dom and by God that was what he was going to do. Hobbs was a guy doing his job, and even though his job was to catch Dom and his friends, Hobbs was never evil, and he became sympathetic towards Dom once he realized that there were far worse criminals around.

That makes sense as a character arc, but with Deckard is just doesn’t work. Furious 7 spent the entire movie establishing Dom and Deckard as the most bitter of enemies. Dom kicked Deckard’s brother Owen out of a plane, in return, Deckard killed one of Dom’s team members. But The Fate of the Furious undermines this by showing that Owen is apparently fine now, aside from some facial scarring he seems A-Okay despite having been kicked out of a plane that was going at several hundred miles an hour. Deckard’s grudge against Dom is therefore nullified, but Deckard still killed one of Dom’s team members. Dom seems willing to forget about this, and since the movie makes no mention of Dom’s friend that was killed by Deckard, I’m guessing the filmmakers wished the audience would forget about it too.

This also undermines the conflicts in Fast and Furious 6 and Furious 7. It makes it seem like Owen and Deckard were not that bad after all, despite both movies working hard to set them up as Really Bad Dudes. I mean heck, even if Owen was hired by Cipher to steal whatever the hell it was he was trying to steal in the sixth movie, he still drove a tank on a highway and annihilated several carloads of innocent people. Even if Owen and Deckard had been manipulated by Cipher to some extent, that doesn’t exonerate them of their past misdeeds.

You might argue that in a movie full of over-the-top action and people surviving things no actual human ever could survive, the storytelling issues aren’t that big of a deal, but for me, it’s the other way around. The Fast and Furious movies have always been about crazy action and stunts. Sure, some of it may be impossible, but after eight movies of death-defying mayhem, I can accept it. The plot contrivances, however, are much harder to swallow.

It also doesn’t help that it’s inelegantly done. Much of the final half-hour or so of The Fate of The Furious is composed of non-stop action, and for the most part it’s great fun. As much as I don’t like the whole “let’s make Dom and Deckard be friends now” angle, it is always a lot of fun to watch Statham kick ass, which he’s very good at. The scene where he battles Cipher’s henchmen with a gun in one hand and Dom’s son in a baby carrier in the other hand is one of the highlights of the movie (and also owes a clear debt to John Woo’s masterpiece Hardboiled).

But before this happens, the movie cuts back to show the audience how it transpired that Deckard was not killed earlier and how his mother (played by an uncredited and of course fabulous Helen Mirren) hatched a plan with Dom. I hate it when movies go away from exciting action scenes to show us people talking. It kills the momentum of the movie. I understand why the film is structured this way (so that the appearance of Deckard and Owen comes as a surprise) but for crying out loud, there’s got to be a better way of doing it than cutting away from the frenetic action scenes that are this series’ bread and butter. It interrupts the pacing and always feels like the filmmakers patting themselves on the back for being so clever, but to me this sort of thing always feels contrived.

My other main issue with the movie is Tyrese Gibson. I HATE Tyrese Gibson. The guy is an absolutely terrible actor and his character Roman is an irritating, obnoxious, loudmouthed asshole who does his best to ruin every scene he’s in. What’s worse, every director of every Fast and Furious movie seems to think that he’s hilarious and gives him way too much screen time for his incessantly smug mugging (smugging?). I REALLY wanted him to die during the movie’s climax, although I was sure it wouldn’t happen and sure enough, it didn’t. GAH. I HATE HIM.

Anyway, Tyrese Gibson rant over. Despite its profoundly flawed and somewhat lazy storytelling, The Fate of the Furious is still a fun movie. Even though I spent most of this post dissecting its many problems, I don’t want people to think that I hate it. I don’t. It’s a fun movie that delivers what fans want, and I can watch it and enjoy it as long as I don’t think too much about it. Maybe I’m my own worst enemy here and I need to stop thinking so much (DAMN YOU CLASSICAL EDUCATION) but I can still enjoy the movie as a fun piece of popcorn entertainment, even if it ultimately fails in its aspirations to be much more than that.

Thanks for checking out this spoiler-filled discussion of The Fate of the Furious. I hope it didn’t seem like a rant, except for the part about Tyrese Gibson. That part was definitely a rant. Next up is Christopher Nolan’s epic-looking war movie Dunkirk, which I’m very excited about. Tune in next Wednesday for a review.

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2015: The Year in Villainy

Another year, another roundup of baddies. There were a lot of big-franchise movies this year, with a lot of big-name villains, as well as a couple of memorable new (evil) faces. Without further ado, let’s get to the villainy!

Richmond Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service

2015 villains valentine

Samuel L. Jackson played one of the most unique villains of the year. A billionaire who wants to destroy humanity because he believes they are a disease that must be exterminated in order to save the planet, he speaks with a lisp and grows nauseous at the sight of blood. He’s also got a first-rate evil lair hidden in the mountains, protected by surface-to-air missiles and an army of henchmen. He may not be the scariest villain of the year, given the film’s comedic tone, but certainly one of the most entertaining.

Deckard Shaw in Furious 7

2015 villains shaw

I love Jason Statham, and he doesn’t usually play bad guys, so it was really fun to watch him cut loose and turn to the dark side for a while. I’ll admit that his character didn’t have all that much personality, but every time he showed up in the movie, his appearance was accompanied by a fight, shootout, or ridiculous car chase. He kicked plenty of ass, and probably got his hands dirty more than any other villain on this list, which earns him a spot as one of my favorite villains of 2015.

Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron

2015 villains ultron

For a while, Gollum was the most realistic digital character around, but some of the recent Marvel movies have given old Smeagol a run for his money (Rocket and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy are other examples of this). But in terms of digitally-created villains, Ultron steals the show. Age of Ultron was a mixed bag, the story was a bit of a mess and the whole film felt overstuffed, but it was still plenty of fun and James Spader gave a fantastic performance as the titular villain. He gave Ultron distinctive mannerisms that made him feel like much more than just your average everyday murderous robot. When you’ve got five or six superheroes in one movie, you need a villain capable of standing up to all of them, and Ultron fit that description perfectly.

Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road

2015 villains immortan joe

I may be biased here because Mad Max: Fury Road was far and away my favorite movie of 2015, but Immortan Joe was also my favorite villain of 2015. A classic dictator and a first-class bullshit artist, Immortan Joe was the kind of villain who would scare the pants off you, but he was so magnetic you couldn’t take your eyes off that terrifying visage. He was the kind of villain you love to hate, and his was also one of the most viscerally and emotionally satisfying deaths of the year. When Charlize Theron’s equally-badass Furiosa hooked his mask to the wheel of his truck and ripped half his face off, it was enough to make you want to stand up and cheer.

John Connor in Terminator Genisys

2015 villains connor

You’ve got to give the makers of Terminator Genisys some credit. It took some serious cojones to make John Connor, the savior of humanity in the previous Terminator films, the bad guy in the most recent installment. That would be like making Harry Potter a dark wizard. But what one hand gives, the other hand takes away, since the reveal of Connor as the bad guy was relentlessly spoiled in every bit of the film’s advertising. Posters, trailers, you name it, all of it gave away the big twist. It was really too bad, since it hugely undermined the film’s big reveal of the villain. Jason Clarke still did solid work in the role, but the damage was done and the twist didn’t have as much of an impact as it should have. Still, it took balls, and I do have to give the filmmakers some credit for that.

Yellowjacket in Ant-Man

2015 villains yellowjacket

Ant-Man was great fun, one of the most purely entertaining movies I saw this year. And it just makes sense that Ant-Man’s nemesis would be another insect-based character. Yellowjacket had the same shrinking abilities as Ant-Man, but of course he added more laser guns, as any self-respecting villain probably would. The climactic battle between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket is one of the most unique in all of cinema. You will not find anything else quite like it, and that alone makes the movie worth checking out.

Solomon Lane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

2015 villains lane

The fifth installment in the venerable spy series was all about providing Tom Cruise’s superspy Ethan Hunt with equals. Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson neatly stole the movie as slinky, sexy spy Ilsa Faust, who was every bit the equal to Cruise’s character, but she’s not on this list because she was not the villain. That title belongs to Solomon Lane, the devious criminal mastermind who managed the difficult task of frequently out-maneuvering Ethan Hunt himself. He’s a shadowy figure for much of the film, speaking in a silent, raspy voice that drips with menace. The villain in the previous Mission: Impossible movie was a bit flat, but Solomon Lane more than made up for that.

Franz Oberhauser in Spectre

2015 villains oberhauser

Spectre was a bit of a comedown after the awesomeness that was Skyfall, and that included the film’s villain. Christoph Waltz is an amazing actor, and it’s always fun to watch him be evil, but his character was not quite as memorable as Javier Bardem’s was in Skyfall. Still, Waltz is more than up to the task of being a Bond villain. Few actors provide more reliable villainy than Waltz, and he does so again here. There’s nothing really wrong with his character or his performance, but it would be tough for anyone to follow up Javier Bardem’s villainous turn in Skyfall, even an actor of Waltz’s caliber. But it’s still a kick to watch Waltz do his thing, even if his character wasn’t all it could have been.

Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

2015 villains kylo ren

Don’t worry, this entry will be spoiler-free. Although, given the ridiculous amount of money Episode VII has already made, most people reading this will have probably already seen it. But on the off chance that you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t give anything major away. Suffice to say that Kylo Ren’s true identity drops a pretty big bombshell in the middle of the Star Wars mythos. He’s played by an actor named Adam Driver, who I was unfamiliar with, but I thought he did a pretty great job playing a role that he must have known would be carefully scrutinized by legions of rabid fans. The Force Awakens was a hell of a ride, and it did exactly what it was supposed to do, in that it left you wanting more, and wanting more NOW. It’ll be a few years before we get to see the continuation of the story, but I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for everyone’s new favorite dark Jedi.

So there you have it, the best of the best of 2015’s villainous vagabonds. There are plenty of big movies coming in 2016, including a whole slew of comic-book movies that feature some truly iconic baddies (does the name the Joker ring a bell?), so I’ll see you at the movie theater.

Why Fast Eight Will Be a Must-See

Two years ago, when Fast & Furious 6 was released, my review of it was entitled, “Why Fast Seven Will Be a Must-See.”

At this rate, I think I can see where this is headed, because Furious 7 is furious fun.

Furious-7 banner

It was supposed to be released last year, but as most people probably know by now, it was delayed by the tragic death of Paul Walker in a car accident in November of 2013. Walker’s death occurred when Furious 7 was still in production, and the film was put on hold while the filmmakers figured out how to complete it without Walker.

They ended up rewriting the script to serve as a send-off for Walker’s character, and completing his scenes using a combination of CGI, carefully-chosen camera angles, and body doubles, including Walker’s brothers Caleb and Cody.

I think that they handled it pretty well. I’m glad that they didn’t simply kill off Walker’s character. That probably would have been easier from a technical perspective, since if they just killed him off they wouldn’t have to deal with CGI and body doubles. But again, I’m really glad they didn’t go that route, since it would have cheapened Walker’s character and his contributions to the series.

Another good thing about how the filmmakers handled Walker’s death is that the techniques they used to complete his scenes are very convincing. There weren’t any moments where I found myself thinking that Walker’s character looked weird, or that he looked like a special effect. It’s a testament to the skill of the filmmakers that I have no idea how much of Walker’s footage was actually him and how much was simulated.

furious 7 paul walker

Furious 7 ends up being a fitting tribute to Walker, and ends with a very nice little montage with some of his highlights from the series and the simple dedication, “For Paul.” It gives the movie real emotional heft and leaves the viewer feeling that the cast and crew of this big-budget action blockbuster really cared about Walker and really sought to honor his legacy.

So now that all that’s been said, what is the actual movie like?

Well like I said earlier, it’s pretty damn fun.

Part of the reason I was so excited for Furious 7 in the first place was because Fast & Furious 6 ended with such a great tease, in which a mysterious character played by Jason Statham kills one of Vin Diesel’s character Dominic Toretto’s buddies, and then calls him on the phone and intones ominously, “Dominic Toretto. You don’t know me yet. But you’re about to.”

Turns out he’s Deckard Shaw, the big bad brother of the previous film’s villain, Owen Shaw. His brother is now comatose (he seemed pretty dead at the end of the sixth movie but whatever) and Deckard has sworn revenge against Dom and his crew.

Partly it’s because I already like Jason Statham so much, but he’s my favorite villain of the year so far. He’s like a freaking Terminator. Pretty much every time he shows up it’s in the middle of an already-crazy action sequence, or his appearance sets off another crazy action sequence. I saw the movie a week ago so my memory on this may be a bit hazy, but off the top of my head I can’t remember any appearance Statham makes in the movie that isn’t action-related somehow.

He gets to drive fancy cars really fast (and wreck them too, of course), shoot machine guns and he gets to fight both Vin Diesel AND Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, so Statham fans such as myself will definitely get a satisfying dose of Statham badassery. It’s also a bit of a departure for Statham since he usually plays the good guy in his movies, but based on this film I would love to see him cast as a villain more often.

This is actually the first time Statham and Johnson have been in a movie together, which in my opinion has been far too long in coming. I’ve been trying to convince my dad of the cultural and historical significance of this event for some time now, but he’s still not buying it for whatever reason. Oh, well. He’ll come around eventually (I’m not giving up on this, dad).

furious 7 statham vs johnson

Pictured: cultural significance. Can’t you just feel the culture radiating off those biceps? I can feel it like a punch to the face.

Johnson doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time in Furious 7, since his initial encounter with Statham puts him in the hospital for most of the movie, which is too bad. But he still gets some cool moments, such as (spoiler, I guess) crashing an ambulance into a Predator drone and shooting down a helicopter with a minigun, so there’s that, and his battle with Statham at the beginning of the movie is a knock-down drag-out brawl for the ages. He also gets to break a cast off his arm simply by flexing his enormous muscles, which is all kinds of awesome.

Furious-7-Dwayne-Johnson

The plot of the movie is fairly simple. Deckard Shaw wants revenge. Dom and his pals have to stop him. In order to find him, they need to get their hands on a computer program called God’s Eye, which is capable of finding anyone on the planet no matter where they are. They are assisted in this particular endeavor by a government agent played by Kurt Russell of all people, who also gets a couple of badass moments, one of them involving night-vision sunglasses. Just throwing that out there.

The cast is mostly the same as the previous films. Vin Diesel is really quite likable as the gravelly-voiced Dom, Michelle Rodriguez returns as his amnesiac girlfriend Letty, and Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and of course Paul Walker all reprise their roles from the previous films. They’re all pretty great in roles each of them have been playing for years, the only one I don’t really like is Tyrese Gibson’s character, an irritating loudmouth who just gets on my nerves after a while. The only new addition to their crew is a computer hacker named Ramsey played by Game of Thrones alum Nathalie Emmanuel, who helps them get their hands on the God’s Eye program and of course looks gorgeous.

furious-7 cast

All of this involves substantial amounts of mayhem. Cars dropped out of airplanes, cars jumping skyscrapers, cars getting blown up by missiles. I read that 230 cars were destroyed in the making of Furious 7, and I think it’s safe to say that they gave their lives for a good cause. The action sequences in the movie, and there are a lot of them, are consistently thrilling and just an absolute blast to watch, in many cases literally.

The movie was directed by James Wan, known mostly known for his horror films (among them Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring). He acquits himself quite well as an action director, with a couple of cool camera moves during the fight scenes. The previous four films in the series were directed by Justin Lin (who I think is going to direct Star Trek 3), but the change of directors doesn’t affect the quality of the movie.

furious7-carfly

Furious 7, like its predecessors, isn’t high drama. It’s not a masterpiece in the arts of storytelling and subtlety. But it is an extremely well-made and endlessly exciting action movie, as well as a satisfying send-off for a gifted actor gone too soon. Popcorn flicks don’t get much better than this. Bring on Fast Eight, which I seriously hope will be called F8, and pronounced “Fate.” You can use that, Hollywood. I’ll expect my royalty check in the mail any day now.