Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Fast & Furious 8 (2017) (Review)


Fast and Furious 8 or The Fate of the Furious or Fast 8 or Furious 8 or F8: Stopping World War 3 (depending on which corner of the globe you are from) is the continuation of the action franchise that has become something of a phenomenon over the course of its sixteen year history. What once started as a small-time series focused almost entirely on street-racing has scaled the box office and exists as one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema. F5 turned the gear up considerably and F6 continued the goodwill but F7 took it to a whole other level, currently registering as the sixth highest-grossing film of all-time due to a super-charged domestic and foreign performance and the unfortunate passing of Paul Walker, becoming something of a must-see event and certifying itself as one of my favourite films of 2015. Two years later, the sequel is pulling into cinemas to unofficially kick-start the summer blockbuster season; how does the $250 million budget flick measure up and should you be racing to the nearest cinema to see it?

Attempting to settle into a more normal life, the Furious' teams lives are changed when Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is approached by a mysterious woman who convinces him to turn on his team and family to work for her. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) discovers that Cipher (Charlize Theron), the criminal mastermind and cyber-terrorist behind Dom's corruption, is using him as the muscle to advance her plan for world control. The betrayed team - Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel)  - are joined by once-enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood) to eliminate the threat and stop Dom while he can still be saved. Kurt Russell returns alongside a few familiar faces, with Helen Millen joining in on the fun in this all-new adventure that continues to push the franchise away from its modest routes into total box office domination. 

It's no small secret that Furious 7 is a favourite mine; whether it was the added emotional resonance of Walker's untimely passing or that it was genuinely one of the strongest blockbusters of the year, it became a guilty pleasure. Following on from that turbo (and emotionally) charged instalment was certainly a difficult feat, but F8 just about manages it - but only by the skin of its teeth. It's a satisfying instalment for the petrol heads at one with the series and more casual viewers (like myself) will enjoy it as the popcorn fest it is, as willingly delivering more of crazy, gravity-defying set pieces the film has become renown for in its later chapters. If you haven't been won round by the franchise yet, this will not be the picture that alters your mindset - but knowing what to expect aids this picture greatly, adjusting expectations to the chaos, mayhem and stuns that consume it. F8 features some terrific set pieces and stunts - including an elongated frozen river finale and a second act New York City street carnage - splashing the budget left, right and centre with smashing cars and explosions freely. Helming all of this is F. Gary Gray, whose direction is snappy and fast-paced, in line with the unfolding feast of special effects and stunts; one standout scene, in which Cipher emerges from the darkness and plays her next card is really effective, with an understanding of when and where to tighten and widen the frame, using his technical ability as a real source of tension. It's not always this solid and occasionally it loses a focus in the most action-packed sequences but he does a relatively fine job all things considered.

Positioning Dom as a rogue is a decent idea to work with and offers a plethora of new dynamics and reactions to explore, calling the franchise's most prevalent theme into question: family has always been at the centre of these films, with that continued in this latest chapter in admittedly more skewed methods. While the explanation and play-out to Dom's betrayal is understandable and relatively gripping, introducing a couple of shocks and twists in the tale, a few unfulfilled plot holes could have averted a whole heap of the pandemonium witnessed, an increasingly frustrating oversight that provokes screams of 'JUST TELL THEM!'. More so than perhaps any other entry into the series, F8 appears to be more a collection of insane set pieces first, story and narrative second; these two half don't marry quite as well this time round but there is enough in the buffer time between set pieces, including sharp servings of humour and some moral probing, to tide you over. It's noticeably darker thematically, with the idea of a cyber-terrorist with Cipher's abilities perhaps more daunting than a more archetypical villain in the vein of the Shaw brothers because of the times we live in, preventing the film or series from becoming a one-note flash in the pan, evident from its long-lasting reign on our screens. Keeping it refreshed is its ever-changing locations, in line with the Bond series in this respect; the opening drag race features some beautiful colour palettes with its beach-themed setting, significantly different to the ice-caped final stretch. It's rotating roundabout of setting changes and landscape qualities invigorate F8, with the film continuing the tried-and-tested structure well.

Returning players provide similar-note performances, with Vin Diesel perhaps developed the most in this instalment to explore this newly found outlaw streak. Gibson and Bridges continue to deliver the hilarity with their witty one-liners and putdowns, something Johnson and Statham are developing nicely too - with the latter receiving some of the best character beats throughout the entire runtime, even if his involvement in the mission doesn't sit quite right (he did, after all, kill a team member and prove a general menace throughout their time head-to-head with him). Rodriguez is solid but sidelined more than expected, with the possibility in exploring the personal impacts of Dom's treachery largely bypassed, while Emmanuel is still yet to gel effectively with the team. Of the new players, Theron stirs a reliably impressive performance into the mix but is afforded very few action beats beyond one scene outside of her headquarters; despite her work in Mad Max: Fury Road proving she has the capability to hold her own during the more physically demanding scene, it is a shame to see this untapped streak go to waste. Her villainy is menacing more so in regard to the modern day implications and threat than because of the writing itself but she isn't completely wasted, crafting a strikingly different but equally brooding enemy for the team to takedown. Eastwood, an obvious placeholder for a more permanent 'replacement' of Walker's Brian is weakly sketched but carries potential while Helen Mirren's brief but punchy cameo is some terrific casting by the team and promising for future appearances. While the 'team' element to the characters and their relationships is not as pronounced this time round (with the team largely fractured during the the second act and most of the first and third), the franchise has, to its complete credit, allowed audiences to feel a part of that family - would we really be as forgiving of Dom if it wasn't for the way the writers (and Diesel himself) have ensured we have connected to him over the film's sixteen year run? No, certainly not. It may be dismissed for being disposable, big, stupid and dumb fun (and most of the time, it would holds it hands up to and admit) but you forget that this film has succeeding where many films have failed and survived way longer than most, growing when most films decline over time, and this is another satisfactory instalment in extending that canon.

Don't come to Furious 8 if you prefer a nuanced character drama with intricacy; don't come to F8 in search of Oscar-worthy performances and ground-breaking direction; don't come to F8 if you've not warmed to the series with prior instalments; simply, come to F8 if you want a couple of hours of fun and enjoyment, whether a casual viewer fond of prior chapters or a petrol-head obsessed with the other seven films, as this carries the torch efficiently. While F8 does not come close to the emotional resonance as the Furious 7 and the set pieces are not quite as inventive as previous films, it does more than enough to satisfy with a 136 minute turbo-charged swirl of explosions, stunts and cars, one that is as relentless as it is sharp. The performances and characters are decent, the narrative is fine and the set pieces are impressive, delivering what you came for if little else. F8 won't change minds or hearts but powers on for those hooked with the franchise, with an increasing ability (as seen in the numbers) in picking up passengers with each passing film. There's still enough fuel in the Furious tank.

✬☆
(7.5/10)

Summary: Fast & Furious 8 supplies more of the same if little else - but with a rotating setting, characters we have become connected to and fast-paced action set pieces, there's enough fuel in the tank to be entertained by and keep the franchise in (at least) second gear throughout

Highlight: Comedy was well utilised throughout and the two big set pieces - New York and Russa - are terrific and entertaining.

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