More noise than signal

The Fate of the Furious

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

So, Dom’s off on his honeymoon to Cuba with Letty after the conclusion of all that nonsense at the end, middle and beginning of FF7, but only has time to fit in one silly race sequence before being approached by a mysterious operative we’ll soon know as Cipher (Charlize Theron). Despite the marketing material trying to claim she seduces him into following her evil whims, it’s obvious from the get go that Dom’s being blackmailed into helping her with her plans.

And what plans they are, starting off with the heist of an EMP, itself confusingly already heisted by some random other party, leading to Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) being called on to countersteal it in an off the books black op. Calling on Dom and his team, those being Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), the latter two being the team’s dualling hackers, because the one thing this film series needed was more redundant characters.

Dom double crosses the team, leaving Hobbs to be thrown in a German jail alongside old enemy and Bladerunner Deckard (Jason Statham), leading to jibes aplenty. It doesn’t stay like that for long, as G-man-in-black Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) arranges a prison break for Hobbs and Deckard under the condition that they team up with the remants of Dom’s family to hunt down thier former leader.

A former leader who is now assaulting Russian defense secretaries along with a flotilla of hacked self-driving cars, because in this film computer hacking is essentially magic, and Cipher makes Merlin look like a two bit three card Monte hustler. Before too long we’re concerned with stopping the hijack of a nuclear submarine from a Russian base – again, we’re told a base that’s been taken over by a group of ultranationalists without the Russian government caring to do anything about it, because of reasons. The current Russian administration of course being notoriously lenient and forgiving of this sort of thing.

In a nutshell, it’s the by now usual chain of increasingly silly motor-based action set-pieces, with Dom and Cipher being a half step in front of Hobbs, Deckard and crew, waiting for the moment when the tables can be turned on Cipher and her crew of heavies led by GoT’s Kristofer Hivju, and we find out what caused Dom to agree to all this heistery. What is the only thing more important than family? Spoiler: it is family.

There’s sections of FF8 that I actually rather enjoyed, which gives it a substantial leg up on FF7. Tellingly, these are almost entirely limited to when The Rock and Jason Statham are bouncing off each other like two slabs of sentient muscle that have learned to wisecrack. I will happily watch the hell out of a spin-off series of these two having zany hijinks with Statham’s dear old ma Helen Mirren in the background.

The rest of the film, however, is a dumpster fire. I was sort of onboard with that opening drag race as being a much needed return to the roots of the series, but it’s as good a distillation of the series arc as a whole, going from a fun bit of driving into an increasingly daft set of stunts, ending in a flaming wreck that must be driven into the sea.

It’s increasingly clear that this franchise needs to get rid of Dom’s team, even if we must be lumbered with Vincent Diesel himself. I don’t even mind Vin Diesel all that much, but the franchise has changed markedly and Diesel and co haven’t come along for the ride. I’m overjoyed to see The Rock cutting loose and Statham Hard Boiling his way out of an aeroplane, shooting goons and gurning at a baby. That fits the bombastic nature of the beast that this has become.

But Mumbly Joe dribbling on about family to a team of underwritten also rans by this point needs to be jettisoned. Again, I’m not even particularly offended by any of them, there’s just not enough screen time to have many them do anything meaningful. You don’t need a comic relief character if everyone cracks jokes. You don’t need two hackers. You don’t need Scott Eastwood’s Junior G-Man at all.

Theron’s Cipher, sadly looking to be a returning nemesis for the series, is also badly underwritten, and could really have used some of the ultimately wasted screen-time Dom’s team consume. She’s written as some sort of Bond villain, but without any motivations or reasoning. Now, by no means did all Bond villains get more than a vague, cursory backstory or reason for their schemes, if that, but the memorable ones tended to. I have no idea why Cipher’s doing anything that she’s doing, and some vague reference to putting world Governments “on notice” hardly counts. As a result, I care not a jot for her or her largely faceless crew.

Look, overall I enjoyed this more than the last few installments, and I don’t mind that these are being made and are successful in the way that Craig seems to take it as a personal insult. Frankly, I’m even okay with them doubling down on the silly side of things. I’d just tired of being asked to care about Vin Diesel and his family, when they’re by far the least compelling thing in their own films.

Good start, good end, dragging hugely in the middle. C’est la vie.