Friday, July 14, 2017

"THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" (2017) Review




"THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" (2017) Review

When I first learned that Universal Pictures planned to release an eighth film for its FAST AND FURIOUS franchise, a collective groan swelled within me. I was not in the mood for this franchise to continue. Hell, I was not in the mood for a seventh film, two years ago. And to be perfectly frank, I was not that impressed by that seventh film, "FURIOUS 7". In fact, I was willing to delay my viewing of this latest film, until it was released on DVD. However, a family member was determined to see "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" in the theaters. And . . . you can assume the rest. 

Directed by F. Gary Gray ("STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON"), "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" began with veteran street car racer Dominic ("Dom") Torretto and his wife, Letty Ortiz, enjoying their long-delayed honeymoon in Havana, Cuba. After winning a local street race, Dom is approached by an American woman named Cypher. It turns out that she is a cyberterrorist who has mysteriously coerced Dom into working for her. When Dom, Letty and their friends are recruited by Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent Luke Hobbs to help him retrieve an EMP device from a military outpost in Berlin, Dom betrays the others by stealing the device for Cypher. Hobbs is arrested and locked up in the same high-security prison he had helped imprison Deckard Shaw in "FURIOUS 7". Another character from the seventh film, After escaping, both are recruited by intelligence operative Frank Petty/Mr. Nobody and his protégé, Eric Reisner/Little Nobody, to help the team find Dom and capture Cipher.

"THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" was not perfect. Like many other films in the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise, it was filled with silly dialogue and over-the-top machismo, thanks to the characters portrayed by Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Stratham. Now, I realize that the franchise originated with the theme of street car racing. But what is reallynecessary to start the movie off with a street race in Havana, Cuba? Perhaps I am being a killjoy, but I cannot help but feel that Dom Toretto is getting a touched too old to be competing in street races. I am also curious about another matter. Is Dom of Italian descent, Spanish descent or both? Because I was surprised to learn that he and Letty were visiting his cousin in Cuba. Cuba?

There were other aspects of the film that I either did not like or rubbed me the wrong way. One, the Elena Neves character portrayed by Elsa Pataky proved to be the plot device used by Cipher to blackmail Dom into assisting her. As it turned out, she and Dom had conceived a son before the events of "FAST AND FURIOUS 6". He never found out about the kid until this movie. Yet, the movie never revealed if Luke Hobbs had ever learned about the baby, considering he and Elena were partners at the DDS between the events of FAST AND FURIOUS 6" and "FURIOUS 7". Frankly, I am confused. Speaking of the DDS, have Dom, Letty and the others become private contractors for the DDS? I was surprised that Hobbs had automatically recruited the group to help him steal that EMP device in Berlin without offering them something in return. 

Otherwise, "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" turned out to be a pretty decent movie. I was more impressed by it than the previous film. Chris Morgan really stepped up his game by creating a surprisingly original tale in which Dom found himself opposing his friends . . . against his will. This twist in the narrative not only provided something new in the franchise, but also dialed down the machismo aspect of the Dom Toretto character and made him a more ambiguous character . . . well, at least until the film's last act.

One cannot talk about a FAST AND FURIOUS movie without bringing up the topic of action sequences. And "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" featured some pretty first-rate action sequences. Mind you, I was not that impressed with the Havana street race and the Berlin sequence. But I did enjoy the movie's final action sequence in Russia in which Letty, Roman and the others attempt to stop Cipher and Dom from disabling and hijacking a nuclear submarine to trigger a nuclear war. I also enjoyed how Morgan interacted this sequence with Deckard and Owen Shaw's attempt to save Dom's son from Cipher. But for me, the best action sequence occurred in New York City where Letty, Roman and the others try to stop Dom and Cipher from stealing a Nuclear football from the visiting Russian Minister of Defence. If I must be honest, I found that particular sequence rather mind blowing and tense . . . especially since it was filmed on the streets of Manhattan and at the same time, Dom had to make an important contact with Magdalene Shaw behind Cipher's back. Director F. Gary Gray really outdid himself in this particular sequence.

Earlier, I had expressed my contempt toward the air of machismo featured in "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS". That contempt still stands and it was really rampant in a few scenes featuring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Stratham. This was especially apparent in the Havana street car sequence and the scene that featured Shaw's attempt to escape from prison and Hobbs' attempt to stop him. Thankfully, the machismo level in "THE FATE AND THE FURIOUS" was few and far between. All three actors - especially Diesel - managed to prove that yes . . . they can be first-rate actors when given the chance. For Johnson, this was especially apparent in a scene in which Luke Hobbs was torn between being with his daughter during her soccer match and embarking upon a mission for the DDS. Stratham proved that his Deckard Shaw is more than just a macho man in his scenes with Luke Evans, as he played big brother to Evans' younger brother. And in the same sequence, he proved to be both funny and tender as his character rescued Dom's son from Cipher's clutches. As for Diesel, his character's situation - being blackmailed by the main villain - allowed the actor to prove that he can give a subtle and skillful performance. And aside from a few scenes, his Dom seemed like a . . . well, like a complex human being. I have to give kudos to Michelle Rodriguez for her emotional performance as Letty Ortiz-Toretto, who is torn between her confusion over her husband's behavior and her determination to get him back. 

There were other performances that impressed me. Charlize Theron really impressed me by her portrayal of the villainous Cipher. I thought she skillfully conveyed Cipher's manipulative and cold-blooded personality with great ease. I regard Theron's Cipher as among the best villains in a franchise filled with first-rate villains. I was upset to see that screenwriter Chris Morgan had continued his portrayal of the Roman Pearce character as the franchise's clown. I just recently watched 2003's "2 FAST AND 2 FURIOUS" and found myself longing for that younger Roman, who was verbose, impulsive and belligerent at times, but certainly not a clown. And yet, Tyrese Gibson went on to prove that despite Morgan's depiction of his character, he was still the best actor among the franchise's long-standing cast. Once again, Kurt Russell provided a much-needed sense of sharp wit and class when he reprised his role as government honcho Frank Petty aka Mr. Nobody. 

Despite the fact that her character had been used as nothing more than a plot devise, I have to give kudos to Elsa Pataky for giving an emotionally satisfying performance as Dom's former lover, Rio cop-turned-DDS agent, Elena Neves. Helen Mirren provided a good deal of sharp humor as the Shaw brothers' domineering mother, Magdalene Shaw. The movie also featured satisfying performances from Chris Bridges and Nathalie Emmanuel as Tej Parker and Ramsey (from "FURIOUS 7"), Luke Evans as Owen Shaw, and also Scott Eastwood, who portrayed Eric Reisner aka Little Nobody, Agent Petty's assistant. Speaking of Mr. Eastwood, I was surprised that he and Gibson managed to create this . . . interesting and rather funny screen team during the film. I mean . . . it took me completely by surprise. And if you look real sharp, you just might spot both Tego Calderón and Don Omar as Tego Leo and Rico Santo, last seen in 2011's "FAST FIVE".

"THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" is not perfect. There were scenes and some dialogue that I found somewhat off-putting. And if I must be honest, I found myself missing the late Paul Walker. I found it odd that the Luke Hobbs character was able to recruit Dom and his friends for a mission that really had nothing to do with them. But I must admit that I really enjoyed the story created by Chris Morgan. Like "FAST FIVE", it went beyond the franchise's usual shtick of the later films. And thanks to F. Gary Gray, it also featured at least two or three first-rate action sequences and surprisingly excellent performances from a cast led by Vin Diesel. Personally, I thought it was one of the franchise's better films.

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