The Fun and the Familiar: 8 Films Deep the ‘Fast’ series Gets Cozy

The Fast and The Furious films are near to my heart. Like most of America, I originally saw the first three movies at home on DVD. I never cared much about cars, but I loved action movies, and Vin Diesel was the epitome of cool to 10 year old me. If you know anything about this franchise you probably are familiar with it’s strange evolution. It’s touched on in most discussions about the Fast films, and for good reason -it’s unlike how most film series’ unfold.

It’s what has kept a series of car-centric soap opera B-movies interesting even 7 movies deep. It’s the fact that each movie is so radically different from the last. The first three films are entirely episodic. Paul Walker’s character holds over from the first to the second, but nothing else. And the third is entirely stand alone (save for what was then a throw away cameo in the films final seconds). The fourth film Fast & Furious brings back much of the cast of the original film, and began to retroactively make these films an intricately weaved tapestry of interconnected storytelling. From 4 on, each knew film would bring together characters from all the films, and begin a run of hilarious serialized storytelling. It would also begin unstoppable escalation, to street level crime like robbery and drug running, to grand bank heists, to continent-hopping world-saving espionage. The strength of this series is the elasticity of it’s genre and scope. While The Fate of the Furious is delectably ridiculous, it is predictable where these films previously were not.  Not only has the set-piece escalation hit a ceiling, but the franchise has settled into a comfortable genre.

The film is outrageous in the same way that Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7 were. Before this installment each new film shifted genres. So it goes: crime thriller, buddy cop film, high school melodrama, revenge thriller, caper, super-power globetrotting secret agent film, super-power globetrotting secret agent film, and with number 8, super-power globetrotting secret agent film. While it’s still enjoyable and absurd, it’s absurd in the same ways the previous two films were. The Fast and Furious films are developing a status quo, which is sad. All franchises have a status quo and a cohesive style (it’s why Marvel films have become so boring 15 films in). Fast and Furious was brilliant because it didn’t. It was a moving target of genre, aesthetics, and tone. So as a piece of the ever-growing Fast & Furious franchise, this film was slightly dissapointing. However judged as it’s own, this is still a wildly enjoyable movie.

The Fate of the Furious catches up with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) on their honeymoon in Havana, Cuba. Cipher (Charlize Theron) presents Dom with blackmail that persuades turn against his family of car-driving super-agents. He sabotages a mission to retrieve a super-weapon for Cipher.

The cast is fantastic as always. Vin Diesel’s strength has always been uncertainty around how in he is on the joke. His self-serious public persona (which is sometimes delightful, and sometimes upsetting) implies not very. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson comes off as more self aware, but nonetheless his performance 100% committed. My personal favorite, Jason Statham, is incredibly good at being Jason Statham. Etc, etc.

The film uses a trope that I’ve been seeing an increase of in action movies lately. The action happens in many different cities around the world, and there’s very thin narrative justification putting the characters in these settings, it’s just to change up the scenery. But a lot of the film takes place on a massive luxury/military airplane. (This is also done in the some of the Marvel movie in the form of the Helicarriers, Independence Day: Resurgence in the form of interchangeable army bases, and in XXX: Return of Xander Cage  which was essentially a Fast & Furious flick in everything but name.). Cipher’s character exists almost entirely on this plane, which we never see land. This was probably done to have the characters be anywhere in the world but limit the amount of sets/locations needed for shooting. While the practicality of a moving lair makes sense, it makes for visually boring filmmaking.

The set-pieces are sufficiently outrageous. Most memorably, Charlize Theron remotely controls hundreds of civilian cars to form a massive swarm. And of course as anyone who saw the marketing of this film would know, there’s a submarine-on-car showdown. Both are spectacular. This is the type of film experience which is enhanced by behind-the-scenes trivia. Set pieces become more interesting when you know how many real vehicles were used in practical stunts. Those are real cars out being tossed out of that parking garage, that is really Time Square being raced through, and apparently that final showdown was filmed on a real frozen lake. (Nearly everything but the submarine itself was done for real.) Sometimes this extraneous information seems like a marketing gimmick, but if a film’s purpose is cool car stunts I think that context is welcome.

The ninth and tenth Fast films have already been announced, as well as rumours of a spinoff with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s characters. With a record breaking opening weekend at the box office, it seems unlikely they will shake things up the way they used to. The interesting variety of the first few films was probably in part due to their middling to bad box office performances. One can only hope they muster the courage further push the franchises wonderful flexibility. Put Dom and the family on a mission to space, let the surviving villains team up League of Evil style, or turn things down a bit with a fast and furious family road trip movie. These movies have proven time and again that anything can happen. I’m a firm believer that anything should happen. Go nuts Vin.

I give this film 7 out of 10 ice cold Coronas.

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