There are certain things in pop culture that can just pass you by. It’s impossible to be familiar with and experience every bit of pop culture that’s made, so you’re bound to get some weird blindspots. For instance, one of my biggest is that I’ve barely ever seen anything related to Star Trek, which can sometimes surprise people. And another thing that I’ve never quite caught on to, while observing from the sidelines, is the Fast and the Furious franchise. It’s been going on for more than a decade, and yet, I’ve never seen a single one. But people love them! I’ve seen articles written about their blissful stupidity, and listened to podcasts extolling their ridiculous virtues. And yet, it’s never seemed to be my cup of tea. At first it was just due to the fact that I’ve never really been a car guy, and had no interest in a weird Point Break ripoff with extreme car-racing. But then the franchise slowly seemed to morph into something else, seemingly getting crazier and crazier. It’s a fascinating experience barely knowing anything about these movies, and just kind of being an outside observer. Like, I just recently learned that Tokyo Drift is set after basically all of the movies. Which seems baffling, because does that mean that movie takes place in 2020? No idea. I’ve seen people try to explain the timeline, or how a group of thieves have somehow become a band of car-driving superheroes, but it seems basically as dense and impenetrable as the lore of Star Trek. And, like clockwork, they seem to come out every two years or so, giving their fans another healthy dose of Family. So, I decided to do something stupid. I went and saw Fate of the Furious, the newest and eighth installment of the franchise, having never seen another one of them. I fully understand that this is a stupid thing to do, but I figured it would be a little fun trying to piece together the franchise by just diving in. This was incorrect. Let’s talk about it!
The film starts off in Havana, Cuba where Vin Diesel and his wife Letty (who recently came back from the dead I believe) are on their honeymoon. They’re having a great time, having romantic walks and insane street-races that end with Vin launching a flaming car into the air so it can explode. You know, honeymoon stuff. But that’s all blown to hell when Vin is approached by a mysterious woman called Cipher. She’s apparently an international hacker/terrorist, and she’s going to blackmail Dom into helping her do something illegal. And what will that be? Why we immediately learn when the Rock is approached by a government agent and asked to go on a mission with his band of car thieves to steal some sort of EMP device from Germans. They drive into Berlin, steal the device, and are heading back to their hideout when Dom attacks the Rock, and steals the EMP. Everyone’s pretty shocked by this, but they keep insisting that something must be going on to make Dom do this. And because their mission was top secret, the Rock is arrested and brought to some car-thief prison where he runs into Jason Statham, who is bad and from another movie. However, both the Rock and Statham are freed from the prison by Kurt Russel, who is playing a mysterious government agent called Mr. Nobody. He wants the Rock, Statham, and the rest of the Furious Crew to team up and find Vin Diesel, because he knows about Cipher, and knows she’s dangerous. Which is hammered in when Vin Diesel and Cipher show up at their base, beat everyone up, and steal their magic computer program that could track them.
We then learn what’s going on with Riddick to make him betray his friends. Apparently he used to date some other lady, who appears to be the punching bag of the franchise, and she secretly had Riddick’s baby. Cipher figured that out, and has her and the baby imprisoned on her secret base/plane. So Riddick and Cipher’s other henchman Tormund Giantsbane head to New York to steal a nuclear football from a Russian diplomat, and make a stop to meet with a British woman who turns out to be Jason Statham’s mom. This of course is aided when Cipher hacks every car in New York, causing a stampede of self-driving cars to fly through the streets of New York, destroying the diplomat’s car. But the Furious Crew shows up and tries to stop Riddick, to limited success. Vin Diesel and Tormund then get the football, shoot Jason Statham to death, and vanish off to the evil plane to move onto the next stage of their plan. Which is to go to Russia, use the EMP to destroy a base’s defenses, and steal a nuclear submarine so that Cipher can threaten the nations of the world into being nice. But the two hackers in the Furious Crew work and manage to find where they’re going, and get in their sportscars so they can drive through the ice of Siberia. The team fights their way into the base, and destroys the computer system to launch the missiles, but still need to stop the submarine from escaping and returning to Cipher. And they get an unexpected helper from Groot. Because it turns out that Jason Statham isn’t dead, he instead is working with his brother, another villain from a previous movie, and they’re invading Cipher’s plan. They fight their way through the plane, save Groot’s baby, but not the mother, and cause Cipher to flee. And once that’s done the group all return to New York, having explained everything, and they continue to be a Family of super spy car thieves, awaiting the return of Cipher. And I guess the two evil British brothers are now their bros.
So, I was not a fan of this movie. And I’ll fully admit that a large portion of that could be because I’m diving into a series’ eighth installment without knowing anything about the previous movies. But, in spite of that, I don’t really think that this was a very good movie anyway. This movie seems to utterly rely on you having seen the other movies, sometimes to the point that they don’t even say the names of characters, just having you know it from the other movies. No one’s relationships are explored, and it’s basically all designed to be in-jokes and references. Which is a weird way to make a movie. You would think that you would want it to be a good movie to stand on its own, not just because you’re seen seven other movies. There are a couple glimpses of hilarity in the movie, like the Rock teaching a group of little girls playing soccer a Maori war chant, or the fact that Vin Diesel is able to tear a car apart with his bare hands, but I just generally didn’t get the appeal of the franchise. This film is jam-packed with characters, but almost none of them get anything to do. More than half of the Furious Crew are basically there to spout dumb jokes during the ugly CGI car chase scenes, and easily could have been excised from the film. There’s literally two people on the team who seem to specialize as hackers, and they were always together. Why weren’t they just one character? The whole movie just seemed like a first draft.
I had always heard that the appeal of these movies was that they were just big, stupid action movies full of dumb jokes and actors having a good time. And I guess it delivered on that, but it also seemed to just be going through the motions. It’s like the series has gotten to unwieldly. There were too many characters, and it was clear that the movie was just trying to one-up every other movie in the franchise. It was trying to be bigger, louder, and dumber than everything that came before it, and while I have no idea if it succeeded on that front, it certainly didn’t succeed in being a fun movie. Very few of these characters actually have characters, they’re mostly just joke/badass line delivery systems, the action set-pieces are busy, frenetic, and frankly kind of ugly. Obviously they can’t do practical car effects with all of the stupid things that they try to do in these movies, but the effects really look cartoonish. I’m kind of intrigued with how this franchise went from a cop investigating a group of thieves to eventually having them try to stop World War Three, but as it stands this doesn’t really feel like a complete movie. It’s like downloadable content in a video game. Not a full experience, just a bit of fluff that adds onto the last story.
Fate of the Furious was written by Chris Morgan, directed by F Gary Gray, and released by Universal Pictures, 2017.