The Long and Winding Road: Chapter 8 – Rockstar Attitude

All was right with the world. Universal had cashed in on the Fast Franchise. Vin Diesel confirmed the eighth installment of the movies in a Jimmy Kimmel interview labeling it “Fast Eight.” Producer Neal H. Moritz added in later communications the franchise would pivot from heist films (like Fast Five through Furious 7 – sort of) to Spy Thrillers.

The Fate of the Furious would add new characters and bring back old friends. It also created an interesting pivot point for fans of the series by bringing back Jason Statham as a good guy. Chris Morgan wrote (with Vin Diesel producing) and this time F. Gary Gray (of Straight Outta Compton fame) would direct. Gray’s hand would provide a more even-keel edit that leans into its characters for emotion and deep dives into some fantastic stunts that combine practical effects and CG in more seamless manner. Without having to shoulder the emotions of losing a cast member Fate soars as a new pivot point for the franchise to be about even more action-intense genre fare (bordering on sci-fi at times) while still white-knuckle grasping at the “Family” aspect at the heart of this franchise.

While on their honeymoon Dom encounters Cipher (Charlize Theron), a hacker capable of destroying governments, with malevolent intentions. She’s holding Elena hostage and Dom must do her bidding or risk losing not only his ex-lover but also his son (whom Elena was going to wait to tell him about until after his honeymoon.) When Dom goes rogue Mr. Nobody gathers the team (sans Brian and Mia) to take on Dom and Cipher.

If they’re going to beat her, he says, they’re going to need the only two people capable of tracking Dom down: Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw. Thus it is that the last movie’s Baddie joins the Family in a tentative manner. They sort of gloss over his murder of Han and keep Shaw away from really joining the team so I guess that works out. Cipher and her number two Rhodes (played by Kristofer Hivju) steal an EMP and use it to gain control of a nuclear submarine in order to… do something evil. It’s very unclear. The team will go from Cuba to New York City to Iceland to stop Dom and save the world, even if it means putting Dom down for good.

This movie steers away from overly complicated setup, instead basking in that sweet spot of raw action and impractical plans we’re so used to in action movies. Contrived or not the drama functions well in part because of it’s willingness to go along with it. Nuclear submarines? Sure! A horde of zombie cars? Why Not! Dom going rogue? Yes please. Instead of seven locations there’s three major ones. Instead of several mini-fights all the attention goes to four or five major set pieces. That concentrated attention really pays off.

Obviously the franchise’s ability to one-up itself with each successive outing makes it a huge factor in watching. This movie leans into it’s action-comedy balanced well by director F. Gary Gray. His ratio of one-liners to explosions feels way more balanced than Wan’s. Where as Wan stretched the tone into borderline hokey, Gray makes it fun. He knows the explosions are part of the deal and he takes them just as seriously as the one-liners.

Read along on the rest of our Fast Saga coverage with these articles on the other Fast & Furious installments:

Paul Walker’s Ultimate Legacy Abounds in ‘Furious 7’ (2015)

The Most Ultimate Action of the Franchise

The action in this movie truly rules. Even the very first street race (shot in Cuba) has Dom driving backwards with a flaming engine. In a minuscule car chase Ludacris drops a literal wrecking ball that not only swings backward but then forward to smash a large group of cars. The most noteworthy set piece belongs to the Zombie car scene. Cipher hijacks hundreds of cars in New York and sends the horde to bash the armored limousine of a Russian diplomat. Only the final chase could top such theatrics. Cipher, ghost-piloting a submarine, launches missiles at the crew while they’re being hunted by Russian separatists on ice. Every bit plays like gangbusters and it utilizes that guiltless joy you feel for watching something cool on screen

Of course all the series regulars return. Diesel takes top billing with yet another moody and gravelly performance. Tyrese and Ludacris each get their moments in the spotlight. Dwayne Johnson adds his brand of comedy to the film.

The only main part of the crew missing is Jordana Brewster and that’s largely due to her association with Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner. Brian, firmly written out in the last movie, is confirmed out of the franchise this time. At one point in the movie the gang debates what to do about Dom. Roman suggests “Brian would know what to do” to which Letty fires back “we agreed to leave him out of it.” It seems not even Dom going rogue could convince the studio to somehow sneak in a performance from Paul Walker’s hologram (thank god).

Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, and Jason Statham all get second chances in this film. Emmanuel, the only character not qualified in racing cars, holds her own as tech savvy and new to the group. She’s much less of a sex symbol and much more practical in character. She plies her newfound status in the Family to criticize their blind loyalty to Dom. Russell and Statham both get to laugh more as they send punchline after punch line.

Deckard Shaw, finally, gets the in-depth treatment he sorely lacked in the previous installment. He goes from noiseless assassin to grumpy tracker and even gets a backstory. Turns out he’s a much more complicated guy than originally let on. While the Family still shuns him for his role in Han’s murder the true chemistry lies between Deckard Shaw and Luke Hobbs. That chemistry worked so well, in fact, that it propelled a spin-off featuring just the two men digging deeper into the lore of the Fast universe. While Deckard Shaw was wasted in Furious 7 he’s given more nuance in Fate, which really pissed fans off.

For those tracking the emotional logic of this movie it’s okay to be confused. Deckard Shaw killed Han, a member of Toretto’s family, for crippling his brother (Owen Shaw survived the plane incident.) He’s Toretto’s enemy number one. After succumbing to the rubble of Furious 7 Hobbs buries him in a supermax prison.

In Fate we learn that Cipher is the one who convinced Baby Brother Shaw to obtain the Nightshade device (thus sending the Shaw Brothers on a collision course with Toretto et al.) Naturally Deckard wants a shot at Cipher. The team still distrusts him cause he, ya know, KILLED HAN. Mr. Nobody says they need him to stop Cipher. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. In this case it’s not really true and the glossing over of this point enraged fans enough to create a hashtag: #JusticeForHan. Deckard Shaw may not be a villain anymore but he still has a lot more to answer for a theme to be addressed in later movies.

The series newcomers get an equal amount of footing to shine. Charlize Theron absolutely chews through scenes with deft cunning as the new series baddie Cipher. Her emotional distance glimmers when she’s breaking down Toretto. Kristofer Hivju menaces without saying much (something he does quite well with that bushy orange beard.)

Fast Five: A New Ultimate Heist Franchise Emerges

Scott Eastwood: Introducing a New Friend

Scott Eastwood fills in a little of the void left behind by his best friend Paul Walker, the understudy to Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody. The crew give him the moniker Little Nobody and he gets to beef with Roman much the same way that O’Conner did before. Eastwood’s straight-laced performance mirrors the audience’s questioning why everything has to be so explosive, so big, so convoluted. Over the course of the movie he learns, through many failures, that the best way to win is to simply let chaos reign.

Lastly there’s Dame Helen Mirren, who pretty much wrote herself a spot into the Fast Saga when she said she loved the movies and would enjoy playing a character in them. She plays the mother of both Shaw brothers and clearly enjoys her role. Whether she’s chastising Vin Diesel or tricking Jason Statham she’s having the time of her life and watching her enjoy herself brings me joy.

This is the first movie after the major continuity corner of Han’s death. Finally we’re in uncharted territory. This gives them leeway to come up with a series villain that will continue to engage Toretto over multiple installments. The finalization of structured continuity helps solidify what shaky bits there were before. The Shaw brothers helped tie the films storylines down but now that they surpassed the inevitable Death of Han it freed the franchise up to develop a recurring villain. Too many curtain pulls weakened the dramatic entrance of Cipher but her bone fides are restored as we watch her do some serious damage in New York.

At this point in the Fast Saga Vin Diesel rakes in millions of dollars regardless of if the movie succeeds or not. He takes strong creative control in the franchise in a way that’s difficult to spot. What can be inferred is that the level of control he has supersedes both the writer and director of the movies. This kind of power, it can also be inferred, spurred Diesel’s work method to be less work-oriented and more on-his-own schedule. That methodology of working would grate significantly against Dwayne Johnson and ignite the very ignominious “Candy-Ass Feud.”

It doesn’t directly impact the making of Fate of the Furious but it is worth noting the short feud. On the last week of filming Dwayne Johnson took to Instagram to complain about an anonymous co-star of his in which he described his on-screen rage being real rage. Tyrese Gibson responded online excusing himself from The Rock’s judgement leaving the public to imagine Diesel as the source of frustration. TMZ wrote about the two sitting down for peace talks a week or so later in which both walked away assured, if not happy.

While an article in Vanity Fair would later put the difference in work philosophies as much of the annoyance initially felt, ultimately they’d ended their feud by agreeing to disagree. Both parties have vocally supported each other later and explained that they care for each other like family. When spelled out like that it’s easy to interpret the simple argument as a franchise-altering event but it’s not.

Johnson and Diesel work together on these films often putting in grueling days. The close relationship they bear is not some special co-star capacity but rather as friends. Diesel even calls The Rock “Uncle Dwayne” in the Fast Family. Families fight. They even break up and reunite years later. It’s no different when Johnson and Diesel obliquely describe each other as “candy asses.”

The Long and Winding Road of ‘The Fast and the Furious’ Franchise

Racing Past New Box Office Records

The Fast Saga was one of the highest grossing franchises for Universal. Of course they’d want to milk this for a much as it’s worth. After Fate’s successful run plans for two final entries into the Fast Saga were announced as well as the spinoff Hobbs & Shaw plus an oft-forgotten female-led spinoff as well (which I have my own theories regarding.) In no way did this little beef spark the idea that The Rock should have his own Fast movie. Sure, both men had to film their scenes separate from each other but this is movies! That happens all the time regardless of melodrama.

Fate of the Furious employs electronic music to underscore its action beats while mixing in Brian Tyler’s score to finish the emotional plots. Unlike Furious 7 there was no “See You Again” to latch on to. The trailer’s usage of Bassnectar’s “Speakerbox” proved to be the biggest musical number of the franchise. Reggaeton underscores the Cuba scenes adding even more authenticity to one of the first films to ever shoot in the country. It actually eschews “Bandoleros” providing a musical transition away from past entries. No one song stands above the rest but all music services the great engine of this franchise, signaling departures from old markers.

This movie backs away from the awfully sordid eye-gazing of Furious 7 and relegates the sexy scenes to the opening street race. Following that, women are nothing but badasses. Charlize Theron embodies a new turn in female empowerment by menacing the entire crew. She’s the only one to bring Dom to heel, even briefly. Michelle Rodriguez doesn’t fight an MMA fighter in this one but instead beats down several guards at the Russian naval base while Nathalie Emmanuel counterhacks Cipher. Every woman holds her own, even Dame Helen Mirren!

This turn of agency finally gears the franchise towards rewarding its female players with just as much fighting as the boys, and by not holding them up as trophies. It’s not perfect since Roman Pearce and Tej Parker argue over who Ramsey (Emmanuel) should be with, but it demonstrates their power when she turns the tables on them by pointing out they know nothing about her. That scene typifies the major gripes of women in the Fast universe and demonstrates a new role women will play in the future of the franchise. Something Gal Gadot never got to enjoy, but very well may in a later edition (again, my own theories.)

We’re way past the days of street racing, even past the days of bank heists. This new iteration of the Fast Saga looks much more like James Bond films. It bears all the trappings of a James Bond film. The secret shadow war between Mr. Nobody and Cipher plays like a classic M versus Spectre move. The advanced technology (grappling hooks attached to cars, jetpacks that fly up to airplanes, and tracking devices embedded in necklaces.) Dom’s double cross easily fits in as a false flag operation. Arguably the inventive hacking scenes resemble modern day science fiction.

Fate of the Furious finds that blissful sweet spot where audiences suspend their disbelief without stretching it too thin. Dominic Toretto and crew provide another fun adventure in the franchise. It glosses over one or two key points (something we’re guaranteed to address later) but still delivers on key emotionality with some beautifully choreographed action scenes. This movie follows in the path of it’s greater cousin Fast Five than the movie directly before it. It never takes itself too seriously, and always delivers on a good time.