By Esosa Omo-Usoh
Since 2011’s Fast Five, the Fast and the Furious Franchise has become, unarguably, the must-see and most looked-forward to summer blockbuster movie franchise in the action movie genre.
Whilst the first 4 installments in the Franchise earned it a sizable fan base and following especially amongst street racing and super cars enthusiasts, it is 2011’s Fast Five that shot it into overdrive and earned the Franchise its enviable status as a guaranteed summer box office blockbuster.
The 8th iteration of the Franchise, The Fate of the Furious, made a record-breaking opening weekend haul of $539.9million making it the “biggest global opening in cinematic history”. Like a souped-up super car high on octane, it took it barely two weeks to cross the billion dollar marker in the box office race tracks.
The Fate of the Furious (F8) opens in Cuba with a franchise-favourite appetizer; a street car race so high on predictable saccharine, you could practically fuel the race cars with it.
Fresh from his win at the race and still savouring honeymoon bliss on the streets of Havana, Dominic Torettoen counters a damsel-seemingly-in- distress in Charlize Theron’s blond-haired cyber-terrorist villain, Cipher.
Next up, our improbable team of former street racers turned black-ops specialists are in Berlin to steal an EMP(Electronic Magnetic Pulse) device. As is to be expected, they pull it off but whilst making their get-away, Toretto double crosses the Team and goes rogue after stealing the EMP device. He meets up with Cipher who has got some kind of blackmailing hold on him from their earlier encounter in Havana.
The ground works having been laid, F8 revs up its high octane engine to take the audience on a dizzying and thrilling ride that is as high on the spectacular as it is on the improbable and downright implausible.
Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs, captured after the Toretto double cross, finds himself in prison where he encounters Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw. The encounter expectedly results in a contrived exchange of schoolboy playground boasts made even more hilarious by Statham’s cockney accent. An even more contrived prison break sequence results in a spectacular over-the-top fight sequence with slow-mo effects thrown in to up the testosterone ante.
With Toretto gone rogue and teamed up with Cipher to steal nuclear codes from the visiting Russian Ambassador in New York, our improbable Team finds itself entering into an even more improbable alliance with its former nemesis, Statham’s Deckard Shaw.
Even by the Franchise’s patented level of improbable and implausible stunts, the showdown in New York took it several notches above over-the-top and downright ridiculous but nevertheless thoroughly enjoyable.
Over-the-top car chase sequences have been a staple of the Franchise and each installment tries to up the ante.
In F8, they pulled out all the stops to make it rain super cars literally in New York. The scene where the team tried to corner Toretto like a bunch of matadors trying to rein in a rampaging bull pushed the boundaries of plausibility to levels matched only by the degree of suspense of belief required to enjoy action movies.
Almost as if they realized they needed to temper implausibility with nostalgia, they introduced the flashback story-telling device and the humorous and ever-arguing duo; Tego Leo and Rico Santos, last seen in 2011’s Fast Five.
But even that could not excuse the implausibility of how Toretto’s random street race opponent in the opening scene in Cuba managed to make it to New York just in time to assist him in out-smarting Cipher.
Since 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, our team of Street Racers have inexplicably assumed James Bond-esque Black-Ops capabilities that see them cavorting to exotic locations around the world undertaking covert government operations.
In F8, the car chase sequences on ice in Russia where Toretto attempts to hijack a nuclear submarine seized by separatists almost mirrored the car chase sequences on ice in Die Another Day.
The final scenes in Russia provided some of the most over-the-top sequences in F8 that just beggared belief and overcompensated for the lack of a plausible and coherent storyline.
As enjoyable as the action and stunt sequences were, one couldn’t ignore the gaping holes of implausibility in the movie.
How and when exactly did an untrained band of street racers suddenly become such Black-Ops specialists that they always seem to outwit and outfight seasoned professionals? How exactly do the timelines between the events of 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, 2015’s Furious 7 and 2017’s Fate of the Furious fit to make plausible the subject of Cipher’s blackmail against Toretto? Knowing how their interference had foiled her earlier plans in Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7, why didn’t Cipher just kill the Team when she stormed their base to steal God’s Eyes and had demobilized them with a concussion bomb? How come the EMP device when deployed by Toretto in the nuclear Submarine base in Russia fries up every electronic system except the one in Toretto’s car? How come the Team so easily accepted Statham knowing he killed Han in Fast & Furious 6?
Performance-wise; the standout was Jason Statham. He played his inimitable lean and mean fighting machine shtick flawlessly. He elevated to genuine laugh-inducing levels contrived and almost puerile brag lines by delivering them in that intense stiff upper-lipped cockney accent that compliments his bad-ass persona.
As Luke Hobbs, Dwayne Johnson, thankfully, had more screen time in this installment than in the last one. Since 2011’s Fast Five, he has proven himself as the co-star of the Franchise (along with Vin Diesel). However, in his verbal sparring with Statham, his delivery seemed lacking in the intensity that made him such a stand out in Fast Five, and came across as more gimmicky.
Vin Diesel’s rogue turn as Dominic Toretto required that he deploy as much range as he could muster to capture the emotional and moral dilemma posed by the situation. To achieve this, he fell back on his trademark gravelly baritone and one-dimensional menacing look.
Franchise regulars, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris Bridges and Tyrese Gibson, stayed comfortably within their supporting roles with Gibson drawing predictable but nonetheless humorous laughs with his deftly-delivered lines.
As main villain Cipher, Charlize Theron showed promises of delivering a memorable villain in the mould of her Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. Her dready blond tress coupled with the soft but villainous cadence of her voice held promises that sadly failed to achieve lift off largely on account of her lack of physical engagement in the movie’s several action and stunt sequences. This coupled with the incoherent logic behind her motive just detracted from her character.
In an unbilled cameo appearance as Magdalene Shaw, Helen Mirren was a pleasant surprise that thankfully did not go quite as overboard as the movie’s action and stunt sequences.
F8’s success at the box office has guaranteed a lifeline for 2 more sequels in the Franchise. However, seeing as the Franchise has seemingly conquered all terrains on terra firma, the only terrain left for it to explore in advancing the Franchise is space.
With all the improbable and implausible storyline and stunt sequence stretches we have had to endure (albeit enjoyably) from the Franchise, there is literally space enough (pun intended) to rev up that souped-up engine, engage the gears and aim fast and furiously for the stars.