To quote the Bard, "Things won are done, joy's soul lies in the doing."
In case that didn't tip you off, I'm a sucker for bad action movies, and I take the "Fast and the Furious" series far too seriously. While the films haven't really been about street racing for at least five films now, they sure have been bad action movies. The kind of movies that don't really matter when all is said and done, but are absolutely joyful in the doing.
The eighth and latest outing, "The Fate of the Furious," turned out to be a bad action movie. Imagine my genuine surprise when I didn't enjoy it.
The film opens with a street race in Cuba and steers through plot beats we've seen before. The team needs to come together to stop a bigger threat. They'll use cars. They'll save the day by being a family. It's a journey as preset as a sat-nav.
The spanner in the works this time, as we're shown in the trailers, is that Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto, chief of the Furiouses, turns against the family. Sadly, this plays out almost apologetically. Rather than having fun with the concept and seeding a few reveals later in the film, the film gives you exactly what you'd expect. The thing that's missing is the sense of fun.
Eight movies deep, "Fate" is mired in its own history. All the constituent elements are there: Vin Diesel talks about family in his V8 growl. There's a defiance of automotive logic, physics and common sense. The Rock sweats through his Under Armor tees and flexes his way out of a plaster cast. Jason Statham is British. The movie's clearly swinging for a Greatest Hits, but it runs more like a 136-minute clip show.
Settling into my seat, I was ready to switch off and enjoy some gloriously stupid action scenes zooming past like high-octane race cars following the track of a loose plot. Instead, it's laboriously paced, which is a cardinal sin for a movie series with "fast" in the title.
We spend far too much time dealing with Charlize Theron uncomfortably muddling through as the main antagonist, Cipher. Cipher can hack anything, and she has a plan that's about world domination but also maybe revenge? For all her screen time, it's never really explored and you can never really bring yourself to care.
Under the direction of Justin Lin (director of films 3-6) and James Wan (film 7), the previous movies artfully reveled in the fast fury. There was a car so fast it could fly between skyscrapers (No. 7). There was an evil car so furious it flipped other cars over by driving at them, or something (No. 6). It didn't really matter, because those movies were dumb, and they had fast, furious fun doing it.
Director F. Gary Gray doesn't bring the same joyous recklessness or eye for action to his first "Fast & Furious" movie. The action sequences don't have the same flair as earlier installments and the film leans heavily on exposition nobody really wants or needs. There's nothing anywhere as visionary as an enormous safe dragged through city streets like a wrecking ball (No. 5). Even the dialogue seems to have taken a dip, trading the sparkling banter that kept the earlier movies bouncing along for groan-inducing cliches.
There are a couple of standout fights, mostly featuring Jason Statham (on foot, not behind the wheel). Statham and fellow Briton Helen Mirren are among the few cast members who remember this was meant to be fun, but it seems like Toretto's heel turn brings the mood down further than it had to.
Maybe it's just fatigue. Eight is a lot of movies for a series that started out with a ring of thieves boosting DVD players and now has something to do with stopping nuclear warheads. The escalation had to run out of fuel at some point. But to use the obvious metaphor, it's a shame the series had to take a wrong turn.
"The Fate of the Furious" is in US theatres on 14 April, and in Australia and the UK (where it's called "Fast & Furious 8") on 12 April.
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