Last night I went to watch the eighth installment of The Fast and the Furious. Normally, with so many parts of the same series, I would lose count – and interest – of how many films the franchise has released (does anyone even know how many Transformer movies are out there?). But I decided to go anyway.
Two reasons: I had free tickets -- and a chance to take a date along (though everyone I asked gave me a resolute ‘NO!’ and I hope it was the film that turned them off and not the idea of going to the movies with me); and I like The Fast and the Furious films (except for the last one, but that’s because it was shot in Abu Dhabi and I'm not a fan of the city).
The Fate of the Furious contains all the usual ingredients of the franchise: big, fancy vehicles, lots of car chases, over-the-top stunts, explosions, guns, close-up booty shots, and some very vanilla love scenes (I heard some disapproving groans in the audience during these scenes, as well as the oft-heard instruction “ankhon par haath rakho”). Whatever happened to the redeeming qualities of steamy sex scenes in mindless action movies? And of course, the film has a story line that you probably won’t even remember when you wake up the next morning.
The plot, as always, revolves around Dominic Toretto (played by Vin Diesel). As usual, family honour is on the line. Will Dom, once again, teach us the importance of not turning one’s back on family?
It doesn’t look too promising at the start: Dominic Toretto has gone rogue (I say this in the same tone as Agent Hobbs, played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, with all the heavy breathing and brooding). He seems to have been turned into a mindless zombie by the bewitching cyber-terrorist named Cipher (played by Charlize Theron) after she finds him during his honeymoon in Havana and shows him something on her cell phone.
During a mission to steal an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device in Germany, Dom turns his back on his crew, almost kills Hobbs, and races away with the EMP straight to Cipher. Hobbs is arrested by the German police and extradited back to the United States, where he is sent to prison. In jail, he is reunited with his nemesis from the previous film, Deckard (played by Jason Statham).
But the two won't stay behind bars for long, especially when an international terrorist has gotten her hands on a menacing device.
Covert operations head Mr Nobody (played by Kurt Russell) gets Hobbs and Deckard out (but not before a fair amount of bad-mouthing between the two, which will remind you of Dwayne’s wrestling career, and certainly not before both of them beat up almost all the prison guards, in what will surely get you excited if you’re 12) and teams them up with the rest of Dom’s crew. Their job is to figure out what in God’s name is Cipher up to.
If I tell you more about the plot, I’d be giving away too much and spoiling it (if a linear storyline can ever be spoiled). Also, I don’t have the writing powers of Tolstoy to describe some of the most ridiculously impossible manoeuvre the movie has later on.
As for the movie’s villain, her plan to destroy the world is unimaginative as ever: she wants to steal a nuclear bomb and set it off. It is 2017, but Hollywood’s Cold War mentality still hasn’t worn off.
What I can say though is that the audience really seemed to love cheesy stunts, action heroes, and strong men beating people up in spectacular fashion; they erupted in cheers on two such occasions.
The movie fails in its attempts at creating a complex plot -- whereby one would understand the deep reasons why Dom behaves the way he does -- but given the nature of the Fast and Furious franchise, it was never going to succeed at that; it's not the Matrix where there is both action and existential philosophy.
There is surely intrigue but let’s not confuse it with complexity. I genuinely wanted to find out what had happened to Dom, but once his predicament becomes clear, the film loses that suspense. The rest of the script then becomes a needlessly-long foreplay to a predictable climax. It was like being on a date where the other person was trying hard but was miserably failing at impressing you intellectually – and after an hour or so, you started to wonder why can’t we just get to the action, get it done and over with, and never think about it again.
I was also unable to sympathise with Dom. Normally, I side with characters who are in difficulty and are facing tough emotional dilemmas but Vin Diesel, as an actor, is macho and lacks emotional depth. If you compare him to actors like Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, who are action heroes in emotionally haunting films like Logan and Batman, Diesel comes across as an extremely uni-dimensional artist (if I could be generous enough to call him that).
It really is about (white) male pride. We could do with less of such movies, especially in the time of Trump. If this is the last installment of the franchise, I’m not going to complain.
As for the movie’s villain, her plan to destroy the world is unimaginative as ever: she wants to steal a nuclear bomb and set it off. It is 2017, but Hollywood’s Cold War mentality still hasn’t worn off. Yes, you guessed it: the nuclear bomb that Cipher wants to steal belongs to the Russians, who just aren’t responsible enough to take care of their toys.
There's also the issue of race. The movie’s two main black characters, Tej (played by rapper Ludacris) and Roman (played by Tyrese Gibson) are the film’s main jokers. Can we get black characters who are not there for white people’s entertainment? Also, can these movies please stop fetishising black men and no longer have references to the size of Roman’s penis? More importantly, for the Pakistani audience, how many of them understand these problematic racial dynamics?
All of this combined with strong emphasis on loyalty to one’s family and prominent display of Dom’s faith, Christianity, the film actually has very disturbing undertones. It really is about (white) male pride. We could do with less of such movies, especially in the time of Trump. If this is the last installment of the franchise, I’m not going to complain.
Did The Fate of the Furious have any redeeming qualities?
There is a tribute to the late Paul Walker at the end, just as in the last film, which you might find touching. I used to like the franchise, but after this one, and thinking about the rest of the films again, I think I’m done with them.