As a celebration of both their 20th anniversary, and the upcoming release of F9, Past of the Furious is a series of retrospectives going through the Fast and/or Furious film franchise, one by one, movie by movie. Together we will discover how a series that began about stealing DVD players became a modern-day GI Joe riff and Universal Pictures’ third biggest franchise ever (only behind Jurassic Park and Despicable Me/Minions).
With the Fast Films now established as a literal billion-dollar, world-wide phenomenon, the future direction of the films was a big question mark after the passing of Paul Walker. While there were original plans to recast Brian O’Connor as one of Walker’s brothers, it was wisely decided to officially retire the character, leaving Dom as the sole lead at the top of the franchise. Well, sort of.
It is not our typical standard as an outlet to get into film gossip circles, but it is impossible not to discuss the behind-the-scenes drama that impacted both this film and the franchise going forward. While the specifics are somewhat foggy due to none us being there, the basics are that there seemed to be a strained relationship between Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, specifically over who held the considerable star power that elevated the series to a certain status. The final resolution: to use Fate of the Furious (Fate? F8? Get it?) as means to spin off Johnson’s Luke Hobbs into his own sub-franchise, separate from the family, playing double bill with Jason Statham. To this end, this film functions at least partially as a bridge to bring Hobbs and Shaw closer to being…well, ready for Hobbs and Shaw.
The other mission of the film is to solidify the super-spy tone of Furious 7 as the series’ now third identity, and to finally introduce something the films have long kind of gestures towards: having a longer term villain. Enter Charlize Theron as Cipher, previously thought to be an organization but revealed to actually be an individual with some very convoluted concepts of global control through terrorism. After presenting Dom with some significant blackmail material, Cipher “turns” Toretto against the family, having him help her organize an attempt to capture a decommissioned nuclear sub. This leads to the structure of Dom versus the family, who for very convenient reasons also recruit Statham’s Deckard Shaw. You know, despite his murdering of beloved Han.
Behind the camera this time around was F. Gary Gray, hot off of his well-received N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, but also with plenty of work in his filmography that would make him an obvious choice for a fast film. He made the remake of The Italian Job after all. Other than Theron, the other main cast addition was Helen Mirren, who was cast in a mysterious uncredited role, but as most swiftly surmised, the matriarch of the Shaw family.
Fate is the first Fast movie to make less than its predecessor since Tokyo Drift, but it still crossed the billion dollar line, which assured that the franchise maintained its significance. As per planning, it allowed Universal to greenlight not just multiple sequels, but an entire spin-off potential franchise with Johnson, both to appease his wishes to earn more control of his appearances and also to allow the main “Family” films to continue without him.
But what do we think about it?
I’ll be honest. I don’t like Dom in the villain role. Of course, he’s not REALLY the villain, but I didn’t love the plot decisions or the way they structured this film as much as I hoped. However… I still dug it overall. In other words, it’s not my number 1, but every film in this series is enjoyable. And, in the end, I got over most of my gripes because the climax was cathartic and the action was fantastic.
One important note that I feel needs to be made. This film really misses Paul Walker — or, more specifically, this film misses Brian O’Connor. Where Tokyo Drift worked without him, he’d become so integral in the chemistry of the family that he was noticeably missing here.
In short, it’s a fun movie, and I’ll surely revisit it, but I can’t imagine it’ll ever rank near the top of the series for me. That said, it still has me pumped for F9.
I finally understand the “Justice for Han” movement.
The Fate of the Furious is actually pretty enjoyable, and I quite like the plot mechanic of pitting Dom against his own crew. It’s one of those “this is the EIGHTH damn time we’re doing this” kind of deals, and for the most part it pretty much works as a standout from the rest. I love all the silent glares Dom gives his Fambly as he’s stuck doing the bidding of Charlize’s Cipher, and it makes you be patient for a time, knowing that Dom will prevail but not knowing exactly how.
The scale of Fate Of The Furious is also pretty wonderful, with giant zombie car chase scenes and the Fambly versus a nuclear sub being among my favorite car bits, and the enormous prison break scene being an energetic and top notch action set piece for The Rock and Jason Statham where their chemistry was so good it sparked a most unfortunate spin off which needn’t be named at this time.
I even think director F. Gary Gray does a good job bringing a massive blockbuster to market that feels properly slick and silly and exaggerated. But it’s our screenwriter Chris Morgan who has stewarded these characters so well through so many adventures thus far who seems to have lost the thread this time out and written in some questionable drama that is the source of the Justice For Han outcry. I’ll leave aside the “fridging” of Elena and the unfortunate conclusion of her arc as simply being a birthing machine for Dom’s surprise child because at LEAST from a screenwriting standpoint this does provide a plausible mechanism for Dom to betray his team.
But it’s the Fambilization of the Shaw family that really seems to be a betrayal of Han’s legacy and the audience’s investment. I always had a sense that the fan frustration had more to do with Han’s actual death, and not the fallout afterwards. But having now journeyed through all the films in a short period, I get it. Previously my sheer enjoyment of Jason Statham, Luke Evans, and Helen Mirren overpowered any sense of betrayal I might have felt. And while I’m not an outsized fan of Han (he’s great, but he’s not my favorite), it does feel like the whole direction of the Shaw family undercuts their villainy in the 6th & 7th entries, to the detriment of the franchise as a whole, not just to the legacy of Han.
Here’s hoping that whatever scriptwriting necromancy is employed to resurrect Han’s moldering corpse in F9 feels like justice for the character and that the Shaw family’s teeth can somehow be re-sharpened as well.
An addendum: I’ve enjoyed taking this trip down Fast & Furious lane. I’m far from the world’s biggest fan of the series, but found more to enjoy this time around and gained new perspectives on the franchise as a whole. Yet that said… I find myself pretty ambivalent about about seeing F9 and where the franchise goes from here. In part, the real world loss of Paul Walker does loom over the future prospects of the franchise for me, and his absence is felt. Maybe the irreconcilable real world feud between Vin Diesel and The Rock has also soured my ability to believe in The Fambly. Or perhaps the fact that I really did not care for the latest spin-off entry (a clear result of said dispute) combines with Paul Walker’s loss to make me feel like there may not be much Nos left in the tank for our Fast & Furious friends. But, as always, I’ll hope for the best with F9. And I’ll keep riding and/or dying until this franchise drives off into the sunset.
I always feel bad when I am watching Fate of the Furious that I don’t like it better. It has severally really well executed action sequences, including a frantic prison break that directly riffs on the prison set piece from Face/Off and a scene where hacked zombie cars demolish the streets of fake New York. Moment to moment, there is a lot to enjoy in Fate, and it isn’t like these movies aren’t somewhat silly in their DNA anyway.
But there are just enough nagging issues I have with it that don’t allow me to ever fully buy-in on it. Chief among them is the alarmingly swift re-imagining of the Shaw brothers, especially Deckard, who both function well as hyper competent foils for the Family. Trying to fold Deckard into the family here, and giving only passing concern for his responsibility for the death of Han is all so…lazy in a way this film rarely treats its admittedly ridiculous lore.
But that’s not the only problem with the film. While I think Theron is fun as Cypher, she is ultimately a fairly poorly written villain in a series that has had a few great ones. Her rationale is muddy at best, her plan mostly works as a means of convenience. Even worse, the way the plot does so poorly by Elena as a means to clear her from the board to keep things from being complicated, when having her around and making things MORE complicated is clearly the more dramatically interesting choice? This is the film that makes me question how much the Lin//Morgan run being such a high watermark for the series was Chris Morgan’s doing at all.
Which is not to lay blame at F. Gary Gray’s feet either. Again, those action sequences worked, and to his defense, he stepped into an impossible situation of a messy script, messier behind the scene drama and a franchise edict to set forth two separate tracks the movie could follow. His touch here does service to a movie that has a lot to overcome. But the ultimate betrayal of the audience’s investment in this world and characters drowns out the inherent benefits of a well constructed bit of action movie distraction.
Our Next Pit Stop: Thus we get to the end of the journey for the Family, until we get to our next quarter mile in the US release for F9. With Justin Lin back and Chris Morgan out, the future remain unknown, but early box offices suggest that there is still gas in the tank at least for interest, and Diesel is suggesting that there are only three more mainline films left in the story. But until then, an unknown road lays ahead.