Monday, July 3, 2017

When Life Imitates A Video Game (and vice versa), or Thoughts on The Fate of the Furious

alternate title: More Like Fate of the Green Screen, or Thoughts on The Fate of the Furious

I haven’t really paid attention to the Fast and the Furious franchise (though I do love a good alliteration).  I did see Furious 7 (2015, the one with Ronda Rousey) and now I need to see Fast 5 (2011) because that was Gal Gadot’s big screen debut.  The plot twist, such as it is, in The Fate of the Furious (2017) involves Vin Diesel’s character Dom being evil for half the movie, as he’s forced to work for Charlize Theron, who plays the cyber terrorist Cypher.  Dom has to steal an EMP device and some Russian nuclear codes, while being chased by Michelle Rodriquez, Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson.  There are drag races in Cuba and car chases in New York and Berlin, but you know these movies all blend into one big polymorphous mass of expensive cars, expensive guns and meticulously crafted fight scenes that somehow never collapse under the weight of the all inherent implausible ridiculousness.
And speaking off implausible ridiculousness, watch out for the Helen Mirren cameo as Jason Statham's dear old mum, East End crime queen Magdalene Shaw.  And if you've ever wanted to see Dame Helen Mirren hamming it up with a Cockney accent, this is the movie for you.
I am far more interested in how this merry band of street racers who funded their lifestyle by stealing DVD players in the first movie evolved into an elite team of international super spies who happen to also be expert street racers by this movie.  I think the tipping point was around #4, Fast & Furious (2009), when the focus shifted from highly modified street racers to elaborate, Ocean’s 11-style capers and also when Vin Diesel began producing these movies.
The car chase genre was refined and perfected by the legendary Hal Needham with films like Smokey and the Bandit (1977) before being reinvented for the 21st Century in this franchise with exotic locales and diverse casting choices.  The Fast and the Furious is at its heart, at least for film students, a lesson in universal appeal, and this is the real genius of the franchise; these movies are arguably more popular internationally than they are in the States.  They tell simple stories of revenge, love and family, wrapped around high-energy video game challenges.
And like video games, there’s no real sense of jeopardy in a universe where The Rock can literally pick up a baddie and throw him at another group of baddies, or the gang can be involved in a high-speed chase over the icy Bering straits with a submarine.  The fact that these dazzling stunts have no real life consequence creates a sense of comfort in the audience, a ritual familiarity.  You can trust that things will turn out OK by the end of the movie and the gang will have a big dinner and toast their family, and by extension, the audience themselves.  Paul Weller isn’t even dead in this franchise; his character is mentioned in conversations and shown in photographs, which even I have to admit is a sentimental and affectionate touch.  I may be overly critical of these populist, derivative green screen spectacles, but I’m not made of stone.

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