Mad Max on ice
It’s an odd sensation to watch a Fast & Furious film and find yourself wishing the special effects lived up to the writing
- Published 14.04.17
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (U/A)
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Vin Diesel, Charlize Theron, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham,
Michelle Rodriguez, Chris Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell,
Scott Eastwood, Helen Mirren
Running time: 136 minutes
We may never know if anyone on the set of Fast & Furious 8 ever actually said the words ‘Mad Max on ice’ aloud, but at least half of them must have been thinking it. It’s the only way to describe the big finish of this latest outing in Universal’s unstoppable street-racing series, which sends Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team tearing across a Russian ice floe in a pick ’n’ mix fleet of performance vehicles while bad-guy trucks erupt in flames behind them. It’s the most entertaining action sequence in the film by quite some distance — but it also indicates how this hitherto forward-thinking franchise has found itself unexpectedly on the back foot.
Since its slate-wiping fourth instalment in 2009, the Fast & Furious films have been the place to go for quick-cut, shakily-shot, CGI-smothered cartoon excess that just happens to involve cars of some sort — and they’re invariably propelled across the finish line, if and when they are, by their outsize sense of fun and likeable ensemble cast. The fact the franchise hadn’t produced a single comprehensibly shot and edited car chase in the last eight years was by-the-by — or at least it was, until Mad Max: Fury Road (and others, not least of all the John Wick films) reminded us just how exhilarating this stuff can be when done right.
Hence, perhaps, the sheepish-feeling tribute to George Miller’s film with which Fast & Furious 8 rounds things up. It’s like watching the child with the biggest mouth in school suddenly realise he has to walk the walk — and managing, just about, though in a way that makes it slightly harder to look him in the eye afterwards. Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, the 2003 remake of The Italian Job) commits the sequence to a Fury Road level of spectacle, and has some uproarious ideas up his sleeve, probably better discovered in the heat of the cinematic moment than in the third paragraph of a middling review.
But its craftsmanship doesn’t step up to the challenge: speed and distance are often poorly expressed, while rhythmically it lollops where Miller’s film surges. See also the could-have-been-ingenious scene halfway through the film in which the vehicles of New York City turn sentient, Herbie-style (it’s to do with the microchips) then chase the Russian ambassador and his nuclear launch codes around Manhattan. The idea itself is crunchy-fresh, and its implicit suspicion of driverless cars feels deeply on-brand. But there’s something musty in the execution — too much visual clutter, no real sense of peril, and computer graphics that don’t quite square with the surroundings. It’s an odd sensation to watch a Fast & Furious film and find yourself wishing the special effects lived up to the writing, but — well, here we are.
And here, for the most part, they all are too: Diesel’s Toretto, his new wife and long-serving crew-mate Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dwayne Johnson’s diplomatic security agent Luke Hobbs, Tyrese Gibson’s quip-happy Roman Pierce, Chris ‘Ludacris Bridges’ level-headed mechanic. The notable absentee is of course the late Paul Walker, and though his character Brian O’Conner is sweetly eulogised, his space on the team is unsentimentally plugged by Scott Eastwood’s preppy, blue-eyed law-enforcement type.
Jason Statham makes a welcome return as British special forces veteran and “tea and crumpets-eating sumbitch” Deckard Shaw, and when he and Hobbs aren’t bickering, he’s often left to do his own Statham-y thing: no other member of the Fast & Furious cast, for instance, could have pulled off the heavily John Woo-inspired scene in which the actor rids a jumbo jet of henchmen with one hand while the other — well, again, this one’s probably better experienced than explained.
Helen Mirren has a larky cameo as Deckard’s mother — think Eastenders’ Peggy Mitchell with extra vinegar — and is somehow better served than poor Charlize Theron, whose flaxen-haired super-hacker Cipher spends her scenes waxing gnomic on the subject of fate, peering at Toretto, and generally doing anything but drive or hack. The team’s tech pixie Ramsey (an underused Nathalie Emmanuel) contrasts Cipher unfavourably to the cyber-activist group Anonymous, but anonymous is exactly what she is: her scheme could potentially end all life on Earth, but it’s treated with no more urgency than any of the series’ other heists with personal stakes attached.
Theron’s Imperator Furiosa was the blackened, aching soul of Fury Road. In Fast & Furious 8, she’s hissing orders at underlings and growling lines like “It’s zombie time.” It isn’t — not quite — but one sympathises.
(The Daily Telegraph)