Sunday, April 30, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: The Fate Of The Furious

The Fate Of The Furious was written by Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson, and directed by F. Gary Gray.

Morgan is no stranger to the series, as he previously wrote The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, and co-wrote Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7. He also wrote Cellular, Wanted, 47 Ronin and The Vatican Tapes. Looks like he'd be better off sticking with the Fast & Furious franchise.

Thompson is also heavily involved in the franchise, as he previously wrote The Fast And The Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and co-wrote Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7. He also wrote The Underachievers, White Ghost, Split Second, K-911, Hollow Man, Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision, Hollow Man 2 and 88 Minutes. I've never even heard of ninety percent of those. Sounds like he'd be better off sticking with the Fast & Furious films as well.

Gray previously directed Friday, Set It Off, The Negotiator, A Man Apart, The Italian Job (ah... now I understand why Charlize Theron is in The Fate Of The Furious), Be Cool, Law Abiding Citizen and Straight Outta Compton.


In my review of Furious 7, I said it was interesting that the franchise began as a small-stakes movie about California street racing culture. Somehow along the way it's evolved into a series about indestructible superheroes, who speed around in cars that effortlessly defy the laws of physics. It's like a live-action cartoon at this point. In fact it reminds me a lot of M.A.S.K., the 1980s cartoon about a task force of crime fighters with transforming cars, who battled the evil criminal organization V.E.N.O.M.

In fact I have a theory that the screenwriters watched a child sitting on the floor playing with his Hot Wheels cars, and took careful notes in order to come up with this script.

And you know what? I'm fine with that! I'm a big fan of dumb, loud action movies, and this is one of the dumbest and loudest I've seen in quite a while. Turning it from its street racing roots into a series of superheroes fighting over-the-top Bond villains has kept the franchise fresh, and is no doubt why were up to movie #8.

As I said back when I reviewed Furious 7, I've only seen three of the previous films— the first two, and the seventh. So a lot of the references and callbacks were lost on me, especially the reveal of the reason for Dom's betrayal of his "Family."

This is the second Fast & Furious movie without the late Paul Walker, and the first since his untimely death in 2013. Does this new film suffer from his absence? With all due respect to Walker, not a bit. Dwayne Johnson and his larger-than-life charisma is more than able to fill the Walker-shaped hole in the cast. 

Jason Statham is no slouch either, and his chemistry with Johnson is one of the highlights of the film. In fact the two of them completely overshadow Vin Diesel, who's the ostensible star of the franchise. After the first act he's shoved completely to the side, becoming little more than a guest star in his own film.

In fact Universal Studios just announced plans for the first ever Fast & Furious spinoff movie, starring Johnson and Statham!

Supposedly there was some kind of tension or feud between stars Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson during filming. Some say it was all just a publicity stunt, while others swear it was real. Either way, I'm not even gonna get into it here. They both have dream jobs that pay more money than the average person will ever see in his lifetime. Maybe they should quit acting like five year olds and try being adults for a change.

Earlier this year I reviewed xXx: Return Of Xander Cage. It featured a highly diverse cast of superhumans performing physically impossible stunts as they traveled the world in search of a high tech McGuffin. Compare that to The Fate Of The Furious, which features a highly diverse cast of superhumans performing physically impossible stunts as they traveled the world in search of a high tech McGuffin. 

They're the same goddamned movie! At this point there is absolutely no difference between the two franchises, other than the character names and cast. In fact I'm ninety percent convinced that Vin Diesel just took a rejected Fast & Furious script and used it to make Return Of Xander Cage.

Last month Ghost In The Shell, starring extremely white actress Scarlett Johansson as Major, a role many moviegoers believe is an Asian character. Predictably, the internet lost its collective mind, as terrabytes of bandwidth was wasted arguing over the film's "whitewashing."

Meanwhile, The Fate Of The Furious features an incredibly diverse cast of actors. Blacks, whites and Hispanics of both genders, all working together and contributing to the team. Yet I've not heard one word of praise about the casting in the film. Not a single peep. 

Apparently the Social Justice Warriors only complain when a film isn't diverse, but can't be bothered to praise one when it is. So as far as I'm concerned, the Casting Police need to shut the f*ck up. You can't boo if you're not willing to cheer, guys.

Before the movie came out, there was lots of online speculation as to what was causing Dominic Toretto to betray his "Family" this time around. Some believed he'd been some sort of double agent all along, while others were sure Dom had been replaced by a double in an effort to destroy the "Family" from within.

There was even a theory floating around saying the reason Dom was attacking his "Family" was because he'd been replaced by some sort of Terminator-like robot (!!!). Now THAT'S a movie I'd like to see!

I can certainly understand why so many people bought into the robot theory. With his stony, immobile face, Vin Diesel definitely seems like an emotionless android throughout most of the picture.

As expected, The Fate Of The Furious is kicking major ass at the world box office. Here in the States it's scraped up a surprisingly mediocre $192 million against its $250 million budget. It's grossed a whopping $870 million overseas though, pushing it past the BILLION dollar mark! Yeah, there's definitely gonna be a Part 9.


SPOILERS!

The Plot:
We begin in Cuba (now that its borders have been opened) as Dominic Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (played by Michelle Rodriguez) celebrate their honeymoon. Dom admires the way the Cuban people have been keeping their cars running without new parts for the past fifty years. Dom's cousin Fernando approaches him, saying his car is being towed away because he can't keep up the payments to a man named Raldo. Dom challenges Raldo to a street race (in Fernando's ancient car). If Dom wins, he gets Fernando's car PLUS Raldo's. If Raldo wins, he get's Dom's souped-up Impala, free and clear. Raldo agrees.

Dom begins knocking body panels off of Fernando's car to make it as light as possible (sure, why not). He tunes up the engine as well, and hooks up the requisite nitrous tank while he's at it. Dom and Raldo begin racing down the Cuban Mile, whatever that is. Raldo easily pulls ahead, until Dom activates the nitrous. His car then blasts off like a rocket, passing Raldo.

Unfortunately Fernando's cobbled-together car can't handle such abuse, and the engine quickly starts glowing red hot. It catches fire and the heat shatters the windshield, sending flames straight into Dom's face (luckily, he doesn't have any hair). Dom does what anyone would do in this situation— he simply spins the car around and finishes the race in reverse. Um... I don't think that's possible, but let's just go with it or we'll be here all day. Dom wins the race (backwards) and jumps out of the car just before it flies off the road into the ocean and explodes (!).

A crowd gathers as Dom and Raldo size up one another. Finally Raldo hands Dom his keys and says he has his respect. Dom gives the keys back to Raldo, saying his respect is enough (insert the first of many eye rolls here). Dom apologizes to Fernando for blowing up his old car, and offers him his Impala in return (riiiiiight).


The next day Dom and Letty relax in bed. She asks him if he's ever thought of starting a family (Foreshadowing Alert!). Later he's walking through the streets with a bag of groceries (that actually has a loaf of French bread sticking out of the top!). He sees a woman having trouble with her car, and offers to fix it. As he looks at the engine, he realizes she sabotaged it herself. The woman reveals her name is Cipher (played by Charlize Theron) and menacingly says she has a job for Dom. He scoffs until she shows him a photo on her phone. An expression almost flashes across Dom's stoic face as he stares at the photo the audience can't see.

Meanwhile, Luke Hobbs (played by Dwayne Johnson) is coaching his daughter's soccer team. He's approached by a government agent, who wants him to go to Berlin and recover an EMP device that could disrupt the power of entire cities. The Agent warns Hobbs that this mission is off the books. If he fails the government will disavow any knowledge of it, and he'll go to jail. For some reason, Hobbs agrees to the mission, but only after his daughter's team wins.

Hobbs gathers the "Family," consisting of himself, Dom, Letty, Tej (played by Ludacris), Roman (played by Tyreese Gibson) and Ramsey (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) and head to a base in Berlin. They quickly recover the EMP and hightail it out of there, chased by a number of armed goons. Taj reveals his secret weapon— a comically over-sized wrecking ball (attached to lord knows what, high overhead) that swings through the streets and demolishes the pursuing cars.

Hobbs pulls up next to Dom's car and congratulates him on another successful mission. Dom swerves into Hobb's car, causing him to crash. He then makes off with the EMP. As the police surround Hobbs and arrest him, he radios the others and tells them Dom's gone rogue. Dom then arrives at an airport, and drives his car into a large jet that does a touch and go landing. Take THAT, Laws Of Physics!

As Hobbs is taken to jail, he's approached by Government Agent Mr. Nobody (played by Kurt Russell) and his new partner, "Little Nobody" (played by Scott Eastwood, son of Clint). Mr. Nobody offers to get Hobbs out of prison if he accepts another mission. Hobbs refuses, saying he doesn't trust Nobody (heh), and will take his chances with the court system. He's locked up in the same maximum security cell as Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham), the man who murdered at least one member of Dom's "Family" in the previous movie. Hobbs' cell is right across from Deckard's, and they begin "comically" threatening one another.

Meanwhile, the rest of the "Family" regroups in a garage somewhere. Are they still in Berlin? Back in the States? Your guess is as good as mine, as it's often unclear just where things are happening in this movie. Anyhoo, the group is stunned by Dom's actions. Letty stands by her man, refusing to believe he would betray them (even though he just did).

Back at the prison (which I guess is in America?), Hobb's cell door opens by itself. When guards arrive to force him back in, Deckard grabs one of their batons and uses it to escape, inadvertently opening ALL the cell doors. This starts a prison riot, as Hobbs and Deckard fight off both guards and other inmates in an effort to escape. They make it out of the prison, where they're met by a smiling Mr. Nobody, who engineered the whole thing.

Mr. Nobody takes Hobbs and Deckard to his HQ, where the rest of the "Family" have already gathered. There he tells them about Cipher, a mysterious woman who's the world's most clever and dangerous hacker. He says Cipher tried to steal both the Nightshade and God's Eye McGuffins from the previous films. Nobody notes that Dom foiled both those plots, which is likely why she's targeting him.

Mr. Nobody says no one can locate Cipher, as she constantly flies around the world in a command jet. Roman suggests they use the God's Eye (the magical software program from Furious 7 that can locate anyone anywhere on Earth) to find her. They try, but get pings from all over the planet. Tej and Ramsey remove the fake signals, leaving just one— which is coming from the building they're in! The killer's in the house with you! Get out of there!

Suddenly an explosion rocks the building, stunning the whole crew. Dom and Cipher enter and steal the God's Eye. Letty sees Dom, and asks if he's really going to turn his back on "Family." Um, since he just tried to kill you all just to steal a piece of tech, I'd say yes. Yes he is. Cipher walks over and plants a wet, sloppy kiss on Dom, making sure Letty gets a good look, and the two saunter out.

Cut to Cipher's jet, where we finally get to see why Dom's working for her. She's captured Dom's old flame Elena, who apparently bore him a son he never knew about, and is holding them in a cell on her plane. Elena shows Dom his son, and explains that she gave him the middle name of Marcus. She says she wants Dom to give him an official first name (Foreshadowing Alert!). Dom is furious with Cipher, and threatens to kill her. Cipher pulls out a gun and hands it to him. She says he can shoot her if he likes, but the instant he does, her men will storm the room and kill Elena and Marcus, before killing him. He hands the gun back to her, and for some reason, hangs his crucifix over the cell door (MAJOR PLOT POINT ALERT!).

Cipher then orders Dom to New York City, where he's to steal a briefcase full of nuclear codes from a Russian Ambassador. As he drives through the city, he pretends to have car trouble and pulls over in an alley that's strategically hidden from Cipher's omnipresent cameras. He then enters a pub and asks Magdalene Deckard (played by Helen Mirren, if you can believe that!) for help in rescuing his child. He returns to his car before Cipher becomes suspicious.

Hobbs and Deckard are still seething with rage at having to work together. Hobbs discovers that Deckard was a highly decorated British Army Captain, and then suddenly the two become fast friends, which isn't the least bit unrealistic at all. Somehow Deckard tracks Dom to NYC and the "Family" follows him there.

Cipher detects the crew and causes a diversion by hacking into every self-driving car in the city, in a huge "trailer moment" action setpiece. She creates a massive stampede of driverless cars, which immobilizes the Ambassador and blocks the "Family" from him. Dom threatens the Ambassador unless he hands over the briefcase, which he reluctantly does. He drives off, but is soon pursued by his "Family." They fire several grappling hooks into his car, stopping it in its tracks. Suddenly he backs up rapidly, which somehow causes the other cars to flip end over end, and gets away. Take that AGAIN, Laws Of Physics!

Dom exits his car with the case, and is confronted by Deckard. Dom shoots him, and Deckard drop dead to the pavement like a sack of wet laundry. Don't worry, I'm sure he'll get better. No one stays dead for long in this world. Dom runs down an alley, where he's stopped by Letty. She grabs the case from him and says she knows he won't shoot her. Suddenly Cipher's henchman Connor Rhodes (played by Krisofer Hivju, of Game Of Thrones fame) appears and points a gun at Letty. Dom points his gun at Rhodes and tells him to let her go. Letty gives the case back to Dom, and he and Rhodes scamper off.

Back on the plane, Cipher's disappointed that Dom let Letty go. She holds Marcus in her arms, while Rhodes executes Elena. OK, SHE'LL probably stay dead.

Mr. Nobody says now that Cipher has the Russian launch codes, she'll likely steal a nuclear missile next. The "Family" deduces she'll strike the base of a Russian Separatist Group, who've "acquired" an ICBM in Siberia. Mr. Nobody outfits the crew with souped up cars and tech from a secret government warehouse.

Dom approaches the Siberian base and uses the EMP device to knock out the security, so Cipher can hack into their nuclear sub. Unknown to her, two figures parachute INTO the cargo hold of her plane (take THAT yet again, physics!). The figures turn out to be Deckard Shaw, whose "death" at the hands of Dom was all a ruse, and his brother Owen Shaw, who died in the previous movie, but apparently got better.

Meanwhile, the "Family" somehow arrives in Siberia just minutes after deducing that's where Cipher would strike. It's a small world after all! Letty and Hobbs infiltrate the Separatist base and liberate the control center. Ramsey hacks into the center, and tries to gain control of the nuclear sub. Unfortunately Cipher is the better hacker, and locks her out. She somehow pilots the sub by remote control into the sea, even though seconds earlier it was in dry dock. Continuity, schmontinuity! Ramsey notes that the sub's heading for a gate ten kilometers from the base, and if it passes through into open ocean, there'll be no chance of stopping it. The crew jump in their cars and race across the ice for the gate.

Back on the plane, the Shaw brothers gun down Cipher's numerous grunts. We take time out for a flashback, so the movie can explain how Deckard faked his own death, as for some reason, his mother Magdelene somehow talked him into teaming up with his brother to help out his former mortal enemy. Deckard makes his way to the cell and rescues Marcus. He radios Dom and tells him the "package" is secure.

With his son safe, Dom no longer has any reason to obey Cipher. He kills Rhodes, and radios Cipher, warning her he's coming after her next. Cipher orders her men on the ground to wipe out the "Family." There's a big action setpiece as the vehicles careen across the ice and the two sides shoot at one another. When it looks like the "Family" is winning, Cipher launches torpedoes at them. The torpedoes break through the surface and travel along the ice toward the crew's cars, which I don't think is possible, but let's just move on. A torpedo approaches Hobbs' vehicle, and he actually leans out and uses his bare hands to shove it off course, where it slams into one of Cipher's trucks and explodes. Now I'm positive the screenwriters watched a kid playing with his Hot Wheels cars for inspiration.

Cipher then crashes the sub through the ice, and launches heat seeking missiles at Hobbs and the others. Just then, Dom dramatically appears, letting his "Family" know he's back for good. He gets the missiles to chase his car and then jumps it over the sub. The missiles slam into the sub, causing a massive explosion that somehow doesn't harm any of the "Family."

Back on the plane, Cipher is furious. Deckard confronts her, and revealed he found her "untraceable" plane after Dom placed his crucifix— which contained a secret homing beacon— on Marcus' cell. She grabs a parachute and leaps out of the plane, ensuring she'll return in the inevitable Furious 9. Deckard— still holding Marcus— lands the plane. On the ground, Dom and Letty are reunited and embrace.

Cut to New York, where the "Family's" having a rooftop barbecue. Mr. Nobody tells them Cipher is still on the loose, but is confident they'll catch her. He offers Hobbs his old job back, but he turns it down, saying he'd rather continue coaching his daughter's team. Deckard returns Marcus to Dom, who introduces everyone to his new son. He says he's picked out a first name for him: Brian (insert the world's largest eye roll here). Wow. Didn't see that one coming.

Thoughts: 

• I don't have many thoughts about this film, as it's pointless to nitpick such a big, dumb, over the top action movie. After all, it's designed to excite, not to make sense. That said, here are a few ridiculous moments that leaped out at me.

 I was very surprised that the word "family" is only uttered thirteen times during the film.  #restraint

And yes, I actually kept a running tally there in my theater seat!

• At the beginning of the film, Dom's in Cuba, and for reasons wagers his beloved Impala in a street race. Um... how'd he get his car to the island? Is there a ferry from Miami to Cuba? Is that a thing now that we're all friends again and can travel there once more? 

Going from Miami to Cuba isn't like trundling across a bay. It's over a hundred miles. Is there really a ferry that can go that far?

• The Fast & Furious films are what I like to call a
 "Barnacle Series." Any time a new character is introduced, they immediately become part of the "Family" and appear in all subsequent entries. These movies add characters like a ship picks up barnacles.

Take Ramsey, for instance. She was introduced in Furious 7, where she served more as a cheap expository device than an actual character. Sure enough, she's back for The Fate Of The Furious, even though we still know virtually nothing about her, other than she's a hacker. The writers seemingly realize this, as the movie suddenly goes meta. When Tej and Roman shamelessly hit on Ramsey during the barbecue, she playfully tells them she'll go to dinner with whichever one of them knows her last name!

Same thing with Nobody Jr. He makes his debut at the beginning of the film, and by the end he's driving around and blowing up sh*t with the others as he seemingly becomes an official member of the "Family." There's no doubt in my mind he'll show up in the ninth film. 

But most amazingly is Deckard Shaw. Even though he murdered Han in a previous film, all is forgiven as he's also brought into the fold. His chemistry with Hobbs practically guarantees he'll be back in the next movie.

As the series goes on (and on, and on), eventually they're going to have to think about weeding out the "Family" a bit. You can't have a movie with twenty five main characters.

• In Fast & Furious 6, Dom seriously injured Owen Shaw, putting him in critical condition. This understandably upsets Owen's brother Deckard, so in Furious 7 he swears vengeance on Dom and his "Family." He murders Han and blows up Dom's house.

Annnnd then we get to this film and suddenly all is forgiven. Hobbs and Deckard comically trash talk one another for a few minutes, then they throw their heads back, laugh heartily and become good friends. Dom somehow even talks Deckard and Owen into going on a ridiculously dangerous mission to save his infant son!

I dunno... I guess I'm just not as forgiving as the people in this cinematic universe. I can't see myself sharing a beer with a man who killed a close friend. Or trusting my son to him! 

Not to mention the Shaw brothers have absolutely ZERO motivation to save their sworn enemy's kid. Even if their mom did bully them into it. That's another thing! Why possible reason would Magdelene Shaw have for helping Dom, after he seriously injured her son?

• Jason Statham and Charlize Theron are reunited here, after co-starring in 2003's The Italian Job. Theron also worked with Michelle Rodriguez in Battle in Seattle, in 2007.

Sadly, we never get to see Theron behind the wheel in this film. She's certainly no stranger to chase movies, as she starred in the aforementioned The Italian Job, as well as Mad Max: Fury Road.

• At one point Deckard mocks Hobbs' hulking physique by calling him "Hercules." This is no doubt a shoutout to the fact that Dwayne Johnson, aka Hobbs, starred in the sub-par Hercules in 2014.

• I'd really like to know how the filmmakers talked Helen Mirren into starring in a Fast & Furious movie. She's an Oscar winning actress, for Thor's sake! I guess they conned her into it the same way Michael Bay tricked Sir Anthony Hopkins into being in a Transformers movie.
• I won't liec I thought the "Self Driving Car Stampede" in the middle of New York City was pretty darned cool. Patently impossible, of course, but cool. 

Apparently the film takes place in a parallel world in which Manhattan is populated by thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of self-driving cars. I'm sure they have some there, but nowhere near THAT many.

• The streets of NYC are curiously devoid of traffic during the many chase scenes there. Yeah, there were a few cars dotting the streets, but nowhere near the number you'd no doubt see on a typical day. I have a feeling it's not possible to drive ninety five miles an hour through downtown Manhattan. 

• Great confusion surrounds the Russian motorcade scene in NYC. A Russian Ambassador is being driven to his embassy in a stretch limo. There are four black sedans in front of his limo, and four behind. Like this: = = — = =

At one point Cipher tells Dom that the Ambassador is in "the third car," and to target it. I assumed that meant he was really in one of the sedans, and the limo was a decoy meant to fool any would-be terrorists.
But then a few minutes later Dom stands on top of the incapacitated limo and demands the Ambassador hand over the nuclear codes. So I have no idea what all the "third car" talk was about. I guess Cipher meant he was in the third row back? Confusing!.

I could also swear there's a shot during the self-driving car attack in which the Ambassador's limo flips end over end, yet a few scenes later it's driving down the street, no worse for wear. 

Apparently the film was also edited fast and furiously!

• I don't think the filmmakers understand just how an EMP pulse works. From what I've read, it fries any kind of electrical system in the vicinity. I think maybe devices that aren't actively switched on will be OK, but I'm not 100% sure about that.

Anyway, at the Russian Separatists' base, Dom uses a stolen EMP device to fry a pursuing attack chopper. A couple things here. First of all, Dom's driving in his car when he sets off the EMP. His car's ignition should have been fried and it should have immediately coasted to a stop, but of course it's completely unaffected.

Secondly, when the chopper's hit, its rotors instantly stop spinning, and it starts careening wildly toward the ground. The pilot then radios a Mayday call. Whoops! Radios are electronic devices too, writers!

I guess maybe you could argue that the EMP device is directional, and can be aimed at a particular vehicle so it affects it and nothing else. The only problem with that theory is that when Dom activates the EMP, we actually see a visible pulse emanate from his car!

• More wonky editing: During the big third act action setpice, we see the Russian sub that Cipher's trying to steal is dry dock. It's actually sitting on several large supports, several feet off the ground. 

A few minutes later the sub is in the water, sailing merrily away. 

Apparently there's a big chunk of film missing here to explain how the sub instantly got from dry land to under the water.

The Fate Of The Furious is big, dumb and loud, filled with over-the-top action scenes that defy the laws of physics. It doesn't make a lick of sense, but it's a heck of a lot of fun, and a worthy entry in the series. The absence of Paul Walker doesn't hurt the film a bit, as Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham more than make up for his absence, going so far as to shove star Vin Diesel out of the spotlight. I give it a B.

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