When money can’t buy class

Tinashe Kusema The Big & Small Screen
AFTER that tearful and heartfelt goodbye Paul Walker received during the closing moments of “Furious 7”, I do not think anyone would have begrudged Universal Pictures for putting a lid on the franchise back in 2015.

Fortunately, that was not to be the case; after all, the show must go on. Now, I for one have no problem with the studio neither waiting too long nor for refusing to put the lid on the franchise; after all this is arguably one of the most successful movie entities in history.

In Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kurt Russell and most recently Jason Statham, Universal Pictures have managed to find both the star power and capable actors able to fill in the void left by Walker’s death back in 2013. Walker, who ironically died from a car accident while filming the previous instalment, was given a tasteful and respectful send off.

Yes, retiring his character (Brian) rather than killing him off, was certainly the right choice. What I do have a problem with is the lack of growth within the franchise itself and obvious plot holes that people seem to be ignoring. We will get to that later. “Fate of the Furious” picks up from where the last film left off. Dom (Vin Disel) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) are now married again, and enjoying their honeymoon.

The rest of the gang — namely Luke Hobbs (Johnson), Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) — are all enjoying the perks of freedom after having been exonerated from all crimes. Unfortunately, their lives are all turned upside down when a mysterious lady by the name Cypher (Charlize Theron) approaches Dom and blackmails him into working for him.

What ensues is a hatchet robbery of an EMP device, Dom’s betrayal of the team, the return of Mr Nobody (Russell), Deckard Shaw (Statham) and the threat of nuclear war. “The Fate of the Furious”, was released worldwide a fortnight ago and it has blown almost every record in its wake since.

By Wednesday last week, the film had already over US$690 million on the box office, making loads of money in the China market. Locally, it saw a boom in attendance at Sam Levy, Westgate and Eastgate movie houses during the première.

And here lies the problem. The franchise has gotten to that level that it will still be successful in spite of itself. What I mean here is that, director Gary Gray clearly has a formula for his “Fast and the Furious” movies, but the 47-year-old seems to have stopped trying to do more. Yes, the visuals are totally out of this world; whether it is Dom and Brian dragging a huge vault across Rio, the team chasing down a huge plane across a runway or most recently Cipher hijacking the computer chips of every car in New York City and causing mayhem.

The stunt work is also always on point, case in point Dom and Hobbs fist fight in “Fast 5” or The Rock manhandling a torpedo in the most recent film. Yes, you read right, he literally manhandles a torpedo while holding onto a fast moving car The banter, the girls, the fast cars; “Fate of the Furious” ticks all the boxes and then some.

The only problem is that in trying to live to the narrow expectations of an audience easily pleased, the franchise has neglected one of the basic fundamentals of moviemaking, storytelling. On one hand, we have an all-powerful villain Cipher (Theron); the person allegedly behind the team’s clash with Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in “Fast and Furious 6” and the same person behind the whole God’s Eye debacle in “Furious 7”.

But somehow, she is one of the weakest villains of the entire franchise, and this says something given the disaster that was Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) in “2 Fast, 2 Furious”. Man, that guy was terrible. Charlize Theron is totally wasted here. Her character lacks a proper backstory, hardly any character development and most importantly proper motivation.

I know there is an argument to be made for the whole “Some men just want to watch the world burn” quote from “The Dark Knight” movie, but Cipher lacks both the insanity and creepiness of Heath Ledger’s Joker. If the ending is to be followed, then the assumption is that Mr Nobody, Deckard Shaw, and by extension maybe his little brother Owen, have joined Dom and his crew.

Fair and fine, Statham will be a valuable asset to the franchise. He has the whole acting and fighting chops going for him, loads of star power and it did not make sense for there to be a franchise about action and cars without Statham in the first place. Think “Transporter” here.

Deckard working with the team, even on a one-off basis, does not fly with me. For those “Fast and Furious” fans, you will remember that this is the guy who killed Han (Sung Kang). Now, for a franchise solely based on family, working with the guy who killed one of your own and not addressing the issue makes no sense to me.

At the very least there should have been some tension between Deckard and the crew, a fist fight or something. Anything would have been better than to simply brush it under the carpet. The timeline is one of the things that have for some years irked me about the series.

Given that I am still to make heads or tail out of the whole timeline issue, I will reserve my arguments for another instalment of the “Big and Small Screen.” Now, in closing, I wish to state that while I do have a problem, or two, with “Fate of the Furious”; this is not to say I did not enjoy it. Seeing Helen Mirren finally make her appearance in the franchise was to me, a highlight.

Also the banter and obvious chemistry between The Rock and Statham’s character was pure gold. Also, in future instalments, I hope they give Tyrese’s Roman Pierce character fewer lines. I enjoy the guy, and the character, but hey the whole “I’m Roman Pierce” thing is getting kind of old.

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