(Originally posted 10th May 2017)
The pre-production meeting of a Fast and Furious film must be pretty short; “Shall we just do the same shite again, lads?” But that being said the filmmakers did make one very sensible direction with how to approach this latest instalment. They took Vin Diesel out of it.
Not completely out of it, of course, but they came up with a plot that separated him from his gang of cronies and made him the one they are chasing. What's the advantage of this? An interesting exploration of the fine line between good and evil? The civil war analogy of brother fighting against brother, families separated by conflict? No, the advantage is that it removes the fun-sucking hole of despair that is Dominic Toretto.
Vin Diesel has been the bane of this series, turning what could be a fun comedy action film into a desperate attempt to display emotional pathos without wanting to put in the ground work of creating realistic characters or situations. They got away with the heavy-handed schmaltz last time because Paul Walker had died and we all accepted that there was some real emotions going down but now there is no excuse. Every attempt at smoothly creating a story structure here is like peeling a banana with a sledgehammer. As with the characters, there is no sense of subtlety or reason, just a series of boxes that have to be ticked between action sequences.
So basically the plot is that Dom gets blackmailed into being the bad guy and acting as a hired goon for the big bad guy played by Charlize Theron. She also has a magic machine that controls all cars in the world. Which sounds ridiculous but is actually a step up from the completely unfeasible fantasy technological concept from the last film. And like it or not, the sequence of hundreds of cars being simultaneously dragged into a huge car chase is a suitable escalation in the action formula for this series. Makes you wonder what they'll have to do for the next one. Fast and Furious in Space?
Now this plot line could open us up to some interesting moral dilemmas. Dom is being blackmailed; he must do whatever Charlize Theron says or she will kill his son (yeah, he's got a son out of nowhere; don't ask). So, how far would you go to protect your family? Would you endanger your brother to save your son? What about a stranger? Would you let them die to save one of your own? How about ten strangers, or a hundred? Would you steal a nuclear bomb for a terrorist knowing that they intend to use it to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people just to protect the one person that you love? It's a difficult moral question and one that could easily take up an entire film of its own.
Unfortunately, none of that gets much of a look in here, as the answer for Dom is very simple. Yes, he would happily destroy the world to save the son he never knew about. So without the bigger picture of a moral question to deal with, maybe we can focus on the individual emotional story of the turmoil that Dom goes through in his desire to save his son. So let's have a look here; yes, he's done the frowny face. Right, now there's the scowly face. That constipated look is internal conflict, I'm pretty sure of that. Oh shit, he just did the angry shouty bit! Wow, what a journey. Vin Diesel; the new Marlon Brando. The perfect character for Vin Diesel would be one that just says the same thing with no emotional intonation but then all the other characters magically understand what he's saying and handily repeat it as a translation for the audience. If only there were a film ridiculous enough to try it.
But the good news is that whenever Vin Diesel isn't trying to emote, we get to follow the other side of the story, where the usual gallery of rogues have to try and track him down. This is where the film finds its saving grace because it basically revolves around everyone's favourite comedy hero, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The other masterstroke that the film makes is to team him up with Jason Statham. Ostensibly this is the same character that Statham played in the previous film only with a different personality and backstory. Sounds stupid but actually very necessary to make him a more engaging character that can carry the bigger role. Whenever Johnson and Statham are bickering together, the film is at its strongest, and a buddy comedy action spin-off for these guys is definitely where the franchise needs to go next.
The other new addition is a greenhorn secret agent guy who is tasked with keeping the gang in check. He's a bland character played blandly by a bland actor. In that sense, he is clearly a direct replacement for Paul Walker and his only purpose is to act as a foil for Tyrese Gibson to crack wise on. The others are all as we left them. Ludacris is now a magic hacker guy even though they brought in the new magic hacker girl last time. Michelle Rodriguez is the boring one etc etc.
So the comedy bits work and it goes back to all the things I like about the second film, also known as the one without Vin Diesel. Every time he is on screen it just sucks the life out of everything that everyone else is doing. Charlize Theron does pretty well as a psychotic bad guy bordering on Bond villain campery but her motivations are never quite clear and she's obviously being set up for development in later films. Knowing this franchise, she'll probably join the team in the next one and it turns out she's Dom's sister or something.
And now for the action stuff, which is really the selling point here, I suppose. They do very well in capturing what we expect from this series. It's mostly beyond the laws of physics but it actually feels more realistic than the last time out, and you at least get the sense that they really put in the hours with the stunt team. Everything else is amped up to keep getting bigger with the climax being a fight between a tank and a nuclear submarine. None of it ever quite makes sense but that's not really the point, is it?
Potential for fun anchored down by Diesel.
To hear more slagging of the entire Furious series, go here: