Travel back to 2001. You just watched that new low-budget indie street racing film only car-junkies know about – the Fast and the Furious. It’s unthinkable to even consider that 7 films later, these humble small-town engineers are the spec-ops’ vehicular combatants “preventing World War 3”. That is exactly where we find the Torettos and their increasingly arbitrary and inclusive “family”. The franchise is plagued with this trend of increasing absurdity as it slowly brings itself to an inevitable tipping point as it runs out of ideas. The Fate of the Furious (F8) is that tipping point.
F8 opens with a nostalgic throwback to the franchise’s roots, a street race against the backdrop of Cuba, where Dom and Letty are on vacation. What brings them there is “culture, people and beauty”, brilliantly captured with cinematography and locales that the series loves to take time flaunting. The energy is infectious and pure. It’s a reminder of the simpler times that our heroes once enjoyed and how much more genuine – and interesting – it once was. Things get complicated with the introduction of Cipher (an under-utilised Charlize Theron), a cyber-terrorist able to manipulate any form of technology you can think of. With her organisation, tech gets so mad that when the film catches a glimpse of her listening to music over a headphone-jacked iPhone, it looks impossibly dated. In fact, the only logical step forward for the Fast and Furious films is a crossover sequel with the Transformers franchise.
Strangely, futuristic tech isn’t the only thing linking F8 to the Transformers. Both films bizarrely feature our protagonists going rogue, for what better be mighty good reasons. Well for this film, there isn’t one. Dom betrays his darling family for reasons far from morally sound, resulting in deeper repercussions to the family that the film even dares to deal with. Simply put, the franchise shouldn’t have gone there, as this “going rogue” gimmick appallingly tramples over many sentimental subplots that have taken many of its sequels to build. The Torreto clan doesn’t seem that admirable after all.
As the stakes go global, and the action shifts into new heights of silliness, the characters we cared so much about take a back seat. Everyone in its cast, from the Afros to the multitude of Baldies, are fighting for screen time the incompetent script does no service. Our protagonists are constantly bickering and any dialogue serves only to add one-liners or dumb comments that adds a sense of frivolity to the whole situation.
Frivolity isn’t usually a problem. It’s the direction the franchise has been taking, with Bay-esqe explosions and gravity-defying stunts galore. It’s the kind of fun and mindless action audiences love. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for lighthearted action, but personally, I struggle to find excitement in the midst of sadistic collateral. Fast 7 avoided this by emptying a city so that it became a driving playground for our heroes to battle freely. With The Fate of the Furious, there is a disregard for populace as our drivers race down the city streets destroying everything in their path. This is all done while cheering and congratulating each other for slick manoeuvres. The body count is repulsively beyond measure. All this in the name of family? For all its problems, the Transformers films are comparably high on its civilian collateral, however you never get the sense that their loss is a cause for high-fives. It’s irresponsible film-making that can easily be avoided by having the characters at least acknowledge the consequences of their reckless approach, instead of celebrating their heroics.
The Fate of the Furious is also guilty of some serious family melodrama. In this case, it’s outrageous melodrama that is the cause for the potential world-ending catastrophe that our heroes find themselves in. The story arc of the entire franchise has exploded so far that it will definitely alienate audiences for its sheer lack of realism and heart. As events unfold, even the value of its all-important “family” becomes desecrated, so severely that dark plot conveniences are required simply to savage them. Former villains like Deckard Shaw are also welcomed into the family. This comes as a shock because I clearly remember him trying to murder them all the previous film (unsurprisingly a recruitment for lucrative sequels). Furthermore, for the sake of plot convenience, other betrayers are forgiven in a flash, without any need for reconciliation or explanation. As important as family is to the franchise, The Fate of the Furious does away with all that was admirable about the family dynamic. We’re left questioning the likelihood of this family – of killers. It has become so arbitrary and void of moral sensibilities.
I was one of those kids who bought dozens of Hotwheels to create actions scenes with. One of the more ridiculous plots that I played out was when my imaginary protagonist (weirdly based on Tobey Maguire cause I loved Spider-Man) went road raging to claim back his favourite vehicle (an Audi R8) from a bunch of gangsters. Looking back, the collateral damage was unthinkable. Hey, I was a kid. Yet after F8 and everything these characters commit, my hero’s selfish quest seems within reason. The Fate of the Furious has pushed the franchise to exhaustion. It has run so far of ideas that it has resorted to the absolute senselessness. I thought about how far the franchise actually came. I’ll go all the way to say that the departure of Brian O’Connor in Fast 7 was one of the most beautiful moments in cinema history. It should’ve been the perfect conclusion.