April 19, 2017

The F8 of a Franchise

Print More

I went to the bathroom during this movie (and I never do that). I usually get pissed off when I see other people leave the theater before the lights come up, but watching Fate of the Furious, I had no problem stepping out for a minute. The kicker is that I wasn’t in a hurry — I walked calmly to and from the restroom and even stopped to fix my hair on the way out. For reference, when I drank a little too much ICEE during my second viewing of The Force Awakens, I flat out sprinted to the bathroom and didn’t stop to wash my hands.

When I returned from my lengthy restroom excursion, my friend informed me that I hadn’t missed much — ”just some gushy stuff.” By “gushy stuff” I mean anything other than fast cars being driven aggressively, which I maintain should be the only thing on screen at all times. And this “gushy stuff” is my main problem with this new installment in the Fast and Furious series.

Despite their flaws, I think the earlier movies saw themselves for what they were: stupid fun. However, as the series has progressed it has pushed both ends of the spectrum — action and plot — to their limits.

What started as a fairly straight forward series about a small, gasoline-thirsty cast of characters and their interactions with lawmen and outlaws has evolved into an action-heavy box office behemoth with a star-studded cast and steadily progressing storyline complexity. And though I’m fine with ramping up the thrills, the increasing gravity of the overarching storyline doesn’t always come across well.

These movies have asked me to swallow a lot. We’ve seen our ever-expanding cast of characters conquer corners, tunnels, borders, trains, cargo planes, tanks, military helicopters and some fundamental laws of physics with nothing but horsepower and ingenuity.  The Fate of the Furious does nothing to quell the madness. As you can see in the trailer, our crew battles with a Russian submarine on a frozen arctic sea. And — somewhat surprisingly — I’m okay with all that.

Sure, the main characters are practically gods, but broadly speaking the driving and action scenes in these movies are well executed and, though they’re absurd, they’re consistent in their absurdity. They play by their own rules. So when I’m asked to accept Dom (Vin Diesel) and friends’ seeming invincibility, I do!

That said, my acceptance of the absurdity gets worn down by the franchise’s repeated attempts to dive deep into complex plots and character development. It’s hard to watch a scene intended to pull on the heartstrings when it immediately follows our protagonists jumping a Lykan Hypersport off the top floor of a Dubai skyscraper.

Despite the inherent silliness of these movies, their tendency to take themselves too seriously can get in the way of one important truth that they should cling to: fast cars are freaking awesome. Like holy crap. They’re so flipping cool. Hot diggity dog (my parents read these I’m trying to be civil).

And these movies have always done fast cars right! Sure we haven’t gotten something as iconic as the General Lee (Dukes of Hazzard) from this series, but the franchise has given us some of the best driving scenes in recent memory. And I’ll admit that every action scene in the new film got me into that special mind-numbing dumbstruck trance we’ve come to crave from these movies.

I’d like to see this franchise present our heroes with a new baddie to take down in a speedy and irate (get it?) manner every two years or so and drop all its pretenses of sophistication. For a while, I thought Fate of the Furious had gone this route. The opening sequences of this film screamed childish fun, but plotlines quickly bogged it down. When I go to see a Fast and Furious movie, it’s not to explore the depths of human character; it’s to turn my brain off and ogle fast cars and cunning stunts.

More often than not, the action and plot get in the way of each other. The plot gets stretched to shoehorn in an action scene that looked cool on the storyboard and the action gets cut off abruptly to make room for a crucial plot point. With the elevating levels of action we’ve come to expect from the Fast and Furious franchise, the mutual exclusivity of its absurd stunts and complex plots is becoming all the more painfully evident

It seems like these complaints will fall on deaf ears. Don’t get me wrong — I get it! It can’t be easy to tell a bunch of actors and crew members that they aren’t working on a movie with rich story. It can’t be easy to subjugate your own film to the kind of “no-plot” criticisms it would garner, but everything considered, that’s the route I’d like to see these movies take.

Until Universal decides they’re alright with dropping their aspirations of having a “real” plots in these movies, future additions to this series will keep feeling shallow. It’s mind-boggling that in films where we see people perform feats of unbelievable difficulty the things that take me out of the movie are plot points.

My qualms with the mere existence of this movie’s plot aside, Fate of the Furious continues another concerning trend. Early in this franchise, our heroes defeated their adversaries with wit and burning rubber and now … well, there’s no other way to say this — they’re murderers. Our “heroes” graduated from winning races to absolutely brutal killings. For example, at beginning of this film, Dom takes down a guy in an epic race and wins his respect. That’s how things used to be! Later in the movie, Letty straight up throws a guy into a propellor. And sure it might make sense that our protagonists’ actions escalated alongside the heightening stakes, but that’s just the problem I was addressing earlier. The point at which this series turned family-loving racecar drivers into ultra-elite operatives of death was the point at which it lost itself.

The sad thing is, I know this franchise could be remembered fondly if it turned things around. There’s a place in cinema history for a unique, pedal-to-the-metal action franchise. However, there might not be a spot for one that kept tripping itself up to be remembered in 50 years (assuming they aren’t still churning these things out when I’m in my 70s).

Now reader, you might be thinking I hated this movie and I’m about to tell you that’s not totally true (please stay with me). Though I just wrote over 1000 words complaining about this movie, I did so because I’m kinda a fan of the franchise. I grew up reading Motor Trend, Automobile, and Car and Driver religiously. I watched Top Gear like it was my job. So when a franchise came around that was about cars; one not just throwing in a car chase here and there or some sexy B-roll footage but one really about cars, I latched onto it.

Sure, the acting isn’t always perfect and sure, like I lamented earlier, there are some serious problems with its storylines, but at their cores these movies have always been fun to watch. Fate of the Furious is no different. Though much of this movie annoyed me, I also found myself  turning to my friend in giddy amusement a couple times. This movie’s action is just the stupid kind of fun I’m an absolute sucker for.

Fate of the Furious, like all its sequels, is alright, even fun, if you’re willing to turn your brain off just a little. The production value is there — the stunts are huge, the actors are famous and, in generally, the thing is well put together. If you’ve liked any of the other films, you’ll have a good time at this one.


Nick Smith is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].