After 16 years and eight movies, pretty much everyone is in on the joke when it comes to the Fast and Furious series. We all know the first four fluctuated between kinetic messes and charming absurdity, and that the fifth through seventh are insanely entertaining. But eight is a lot of movies, let’s take a moment to appreciate the rarefied air the franchise is now breathing. This is how many Harry Potter movies there are (not counting Fantastic Beasts). This is double Hunger Games. We’re talking James Bond, infinite franchise territory. With that in mind, I’ve been looking for the right James Bond movie to compare F8 to, and despite the icy connection to Die Another Day, I think it’s Spectre.
Spectre was a franchise trying way too hard to repeat previous success. Furious 7 was massively successful at the box office, somewhat inexplicably, so there was a clear effort to double down on the most bankable aspects of that movie. This is mostly fine but does result in some real groaners, like when Dwayne Johnson has to say “daddy’s gotta go to work” again, a line that was already funnier in the trailer for Furious 7 than that actual movie. It’s more than that, though, because this series has always loosely defined itself, constantly hopping genres and styles between movies, and it feels off how uninventive this one is, conceptually speaking.
The idea of the last movie’s villain becoming an ally is a great one, I’m not even gonna pretend I don’t believe that. Villains are often the most fun characters in action movies, and having them join the team is generally a great way to add a new, fun dynamic. But in F8, the villains have taken over the team. Much of the heroics are centered around Hobbes (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), to the detriment of the actual team. Tej (Luadacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are hit extremely hard, reduced to basically a bickering couple. But Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is also disappointingly underserved, mostly moping as a scorned lover – she doesn’t even get a cool new MMA fighter-turned-actor to grapple with this time. It’s especially weird because Shaw put a bunch of the team in the hospital and killed series MVP Han (Sung Kang) in the last movie, but doesn’t really interact with them. There’s some real tension that goes almost entirely unaddressed in favor of just having more action on screen.
Spectre was a few great action sequences bogged down by a troubling core. Especially the Day of the Dead scene at the beginning, that was choice. The Fate of the Furious has some cool chases in it, I think the one in New York was the highlight for me, but there are a lot of factors pulling me back from fully enjoying it. I think this is the entry in the series with the most plot, and when there are still exposition heavy scenes 90+ minutes into the movie, it gets kind of exhausting. What’s worse, I’m still not 100% sure what the actual threat to the world was really all about – I know there was a nuke at one point, but I don’t even know where it was going to be shot. The ties that bind the racing and fighting together are the characters, and their motivations are weak this time.
That is especially because the core conceit of this movie was already done in Fast and Furious 6. Remember that? The whole Letty’s back from the dead and evil now thing? Remember Dom (Vin Diesel) saying, “you don’t turn your back on family, even when they do”? Well, you get to see that again, only this time it’s her husband, the big man himself, who mysteriously becomes a bad guy. Which is doubly stupid, because the movie immediately shows us he’s being manipulated and clearly will be redeemed by the end of the story. Not that that’s surprising, did anyone even for a second think 50-year-old Vin Diesel was going to walk away from this franchise now? The whole thing is a bummer, especially since the tension between Dom and the rest of his “family” is often underplayed in favor of the hijinks of new series stars Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.
Spectre introduced a villain who was secretly pulling the strings for the last few movies, played by a great actor who totally fits the franchise, and then dropped the ball. If you had asked me to cast Blofeld for the Craig era of Bond films, Christoph Waltz would’ve been pretty high up on my list. Which is why it’s such a shame his character was so poorly written. Similarly, Charlize Theron is an amazing choice for this movie’s villain. She already proved herself to fit in F. Gary Gray car movies with her performance in The Italian Job, and she earned a permanent spot in the car movie hall of fame a couple years ago in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Unfortunately, Cipher is a character that plays up none of Charlize Theron’s strengths. She’s a genius hacker (the franchise’s third or fourth) who spends her time flying around on her cyber plane and being evil. She never gets to get in a car or fight anyone, despite this movie running with a trailer for Atomic Blonde, a movie that appears to only exist to show how much ass she can kick. Instead it’s just a lot of threats and fast typing, which I doubt any actor could make compelling compared to cars flying out of planes or fighting submarines.
Spectre was fine, but a sour note to go out on. What hurts Spectre so much in the long run is how weak of a note it is for Daniel Craig to go out on – after everything his four movies did for the brand, why should he have to leave it basically where it started. F8 has kind of an opposite problem, where seemingly there was every reason in the universe to not make this movie, but they did it anyway. Now we’re stuck with it, and left to wonder if a sequel could make things better again.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also bring up that this is the first Fast movie since Tokyo Drift to not feature Paul Walker. There’s a scene when Roman talks about needing Brian’s help, and it’s sad, on a meta level. The film treats him like he’s happily retired (which his character is), but it also feels like he’s dead too. It’s weird and unfortunate and they probably shouldn’t have made any more of these movies, but here we are. I said before how this movie needed to be more of a reinvention, and a big part of that is because Brian’s not here.
At one point in F8, a henchman is thrown into a giant propeller. Hobbes walks up and goes, “gross.” That’s it, no one-liner, no overacted reaction, just a simple “gross.” Kind of the bare minimum response. Which is what F8 is, unfortunately, the bare minimum for what a movie in this series can be now. That still means plenty of stunts, a few laughs, and the return of most of the characters we all love. But man do I wish they had tried harder.