BR: Fate of the Furious (2017)

July 16, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: n/a

Label:  Universal

Region: A

Released:  July 11, 2017

Genre:  Action / Comedy

Synopsis: Dom goes rogue, working for a cyber terrorist while his family must hunt him down to save mankind.

Special Features:  Audio commentary with director F. Gary Gray / 5 Featurettes: “The Cuban Spirit” (8:03) + “In the Family” (21:10) + “Car Culture” (3:56) + “All About the Stunts (5:26) + 2 Extended Fight Sequences (2:01) / DVD / Digital copies / Download Code for digital-only Director’s Cut with 13 additional mins.




Besides Tokyo Drift, Fate of the Furious is the first entry in Universal’s ludicrously successful franchise to not feature the character of Brian (the late Paul Walker), who in the prior film quite literally drove off into a sunny paradise where the long and winding road gave fans closure.

It’s also the first time in perhaps 3-4 films where the storyline was simplified in spite of retaining a bloated set of characters, many of whom exist to fill out screen action in spite of their inherent redundancies. When almost everyone was assembled in Part 5, screenwriters of future entries were saddled with an unwieldy set of characters, and assigning little bits of familiar business to justify their need for screen time and space on the widescreen canvas.

Whether it was designed before F. Gary Gray became director or after he took reigns, it seems a concrete decision was made to tone down the James Bondian antics, jettison the reduce the degree of globe-trotting, and find more logical reasons to keep the running time close to 2.5 hours in what’s essentially stories of mostly men driving cars very, very fast.

Gray also seemed to want more practical effects and stunt work, and perhaps more than any prior film, Fate offers the most fluid balance of CGI enhancements and practical auto trauma, and in many cases what begins as another quick Bondian escapade actually settles into an epic, beautifully constructed sequence where insanity reaches gleefully playful highs.

Stuck with the need to keep as many of the cast intact, bring back old faces previously thought dead, incarcerated, or newly birthed, Gray seemed to let the writers figure out a lean scenario that kept everyone busy, but radically dialed down the full comic book nature of the last two entries, each becoming dumber than the last.

The result is a storyline that’s still absurd, but reasonable: for reasons not revealed until the second third, Dom abandons wife Letty on their honeymoon in Havana, Cuba, and disappears with new villainess Cipher (Charlize Theron), agreeing to a series of jobs that put him directly against everyone he loves and respects, including his family, his team, colleagues, and the right side of the law. As the trailers make starkly clear, Dom’s gone rogue and no matter how puzzled and pissed everyone may be, he’s now the enemy.

The first test involves stealing an electromagnetic gizmo that knocks out electricity in one rippling wave, sending Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to jail where he’s placed in close proximity to Deckard (Jason Statham). The second test has Dom claiming a briefcase of nuclear codes from the Russian Minister of Defense, and it’s at this point where Gray reassures us the Bondian nonsense and country-hopping will not be a recurring part of this narrative. Besides Cuba and the insane finale in the arctic (where the third & final test involves actual nukes), pretty much everything else occurs in NYC, and what better way to hammer home the fresher take on the franchise’s patented over-the-top action scenes than a giant car smash-up.

Gray is no stranger to action, chases, and grey zone villains, as was the case in Set It Off (1996) and his superb The Negotiator (1998), but his utterly clever remake of The Italian Job (2003) – which co-starred Theron – is where he choreographed broad vehicular movements tied to a master plan that gradually intensified in quirks, surprises, car destruction, and a giddy sense of humour.

Instead of a gold heist, we have Dom going after a suitcase, and really, it could and should’ve been one of many sequences as is typical of the franchise, but Gray plotted out the money events and made sure they would not be weakened by connective chases. Dom doesn’t appear until the moment is right, so instead of controlled traffic lights we have hacked cars that form a series of waves streaking down main streets, converging towards and taking out chunks of the Russian’s security detail until a masked Dom reaches the trapped sedan with a diamond buzz saw – but getting out of the city with the goods forms Part B of the epic sequence, and that’s where his former team mechanically lassos Dom, wearing down the wild man in an empty intersection until he gives up.

Naturally he escapes, but Gray’s handling of the two-part sequence is very taut, and like the superb prison breakout with Hobbs and Deckard, choreography is shown and edited in non-ADD movements; the sequences are fully kinetic, but Gray and editors Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner never fuck up the geography of any component that makes up an action sequence – a radical change from some of the prior installments where characters and objects swoop, bounce, glide, and are propelled like videogame components.

More surprising is how clichés are kept quick and minimal in dialogue exchanges. Most of what people say is perfunctory, forced jokery and familiar banter, but when given a bit more room, some tired characters managed to shine. Johnson’s prison scenes and a moment at his daughter’s soccer game are genuine highlights, whereas Statham takes a goofy scene involving a baby caught in a gunfight and works it to just the right pitch of action & comedy (aspects also seen in the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona and Michael Davis’ Shoot ‘Em Up).

Theron’s Cipher is clichéd, but it’s an interesting performance where soft, whispering voice and diamond eyes reveal a woman in total control but doomed to fail because of a dream that’s straight out of a Cold War Bond film (or any Bond entry, really). The tools Cipher needs are just MacGuffins, but they’re plausible in the semi-Bondian comic book universe that Gray’s dialed down to keep his batch of clichéd characters as real as possible.

Diesel’s a decent actor when he’s not the centerpiece of a franchise – Gray directed him in A Man Apart (2003), and he was a fine supporting character in Boiler Room (2000) – and the Fast & Furious franchise has been his baby for a while, so if the Main Theme is supposed to be Family, then no matter how maudlin it may play, that word has to eddy in the background and regularly spiral to the surface in Big Capital Letters so we’re reminded that F&F is about Real People + Family.

Diesel thinks Dom is deep but fails to realize he’s become an action figure, which is tragic, because the original Dom had room to be flawed, fumble, win and fail yet remain sympathetic.

This is a vastly superior entry since Part 5 – Paul Walker’s final appearance was bittersweet, but Part 7 was sterile and bloated – and is overall very fun, funny, and sometimes startling, but unless the cast in halved for the next set of entries, the franchise will thicken with dumbness again. Gray’s given F&F a needed tune-up, but it’s up in the air whether the next director will start adding more chrome to sex up a franchise that’s purrs very well when its most important characters and main storyline is kept lean.

Universal’s Blu-ray sports an excellent transfer and a decent sound mix (although the 5.1 isn’t as robust as expected). Extras include two extended fight / action sequences, and the usual genial featurettes. Gray recounts the 3 week shoot in Havana and the genuine luck they enjoyed in filming in streets with crowds, a helicopter, and rigs for the cars, but he’s wrong in citing Fate as the first studio production to film in Cuba; Columbia’s Our Man in Havana (1959) was filmed in Havana just after Fidel Castro took over the country’s reins.

Filming in Havana was inspired, but the Cuban culture that Diesel and Gray claim was captured on film is nonsense. Apparently Havana has the same batch of pastel-clad street racers and hot babes with tight asses as the U.S. and Japan, and the lack of police ensures Dom’s challenge to a local thug happens without any issue, irrespective of speeding cars and a fiery crash into the bay. In early franchise entries, the fear of the police was very real, but in the Bondian Era of Dom, the louder and more explosive a race, the quieter it becomes to police and military ears.

Brian Tyler’s score is fine, going through the familiar motions of the franchise’s action, chase, and fight sonics, but not unlike David Arnold’s final James Bond scores, there’s nothing new to add, hence the need for a new musical voice. On the plus side, there’s less source music to work around, giving more room to sound design and score.

Fans of the late Walker won’t be disappointed by a small gesture that keeps Brian alive – it’s obvious, clichéd, but a sweet homage to the beloved character – and as expected there’s a couple of unresolved issues that’ll bleed into later if not the next installment.

The F&F franchise has endured way longer than anyone expected, and at 16 years it’s still got enough juice to hit 20, but the mass of characters has to be pruned down, along with the Cult of Dom. Gray’s approach managed a minor miracle in keeping everyone busy, but there’s more work to be done.

Really? There wasn’t any room for seamless branching on a Blu-ray? Nincompoops.

Note: prior to the home video release of Fate, Gray was interviewed in several media outlets regarding a longer Director’s Cut, which extends the film by 13 mins. The natural expectation is to select the theatrical or extended edition on the Blu-ray, but in an amazingly dumb move by Universal, the longer edit is apparently only available as a digital download via UV / iTunes, a completely useless alternative since fans want to own the film on disc. The longer cut isn’t even on the 4K release.

It’s a move that echoes Paramount’s bungling of Star Trek (2009)  in which featurettes and commentary tracks were scattered across different digital platforms and retailer exclusives. One can presume Universal will assemble some deluxe boxed set that gathers everything into an ultimate collection, but for now, this is another example of why studios are regarded with cynicism by fans: instead of crafting the kind of special edition that’s been a standard for major franchise releases on home video, buyers are treated like suckers, expected to re-buy the film in another newfangled edition.

The recent Editorial by DigitalBits’ Bill Hunt describes how the home video industry among studios has changed: departments are smaller, the people in charge don’t care, and special features decisions are barely being made by executives experienced in packaging products that meet the picky demands of movie fans. Nowhere is this more evident in a release such as Fate.

Regardless of how one feels towards this particular franchise, its stars, or the the overblown construction of tentpole productions as a whole, this is bad behaviour by studios that shows contempt for consumers, and physical media. You know: bullshit.


© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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