When last I wrote too many words on the Fast and Furious franchise, I was in the middle of a binge of films 1-7 in release order. I stopped to comment on why Tokyo Drift was not my favorite at the time of its release and deconstruct my high level view of the Fast & Furious formula. I meant to cycle back after I finished films four through seven, but never got around to it. Suffice it to say, they mostly got back to the “formula”, while smashing it through a revolving door of film genres, did a whole lot of character growth, and very nearly redeemed Tokyo Drift, which was an incredible feat. I also think it was an incredible feat that the seventh manages such a touching coda to Paul Walker, and I will admit to having cried a bit at that. Who knew there was room for a musclehead car spy-fi series with a touch of emotion and heart?
That brings us to The Fate of the Furious. I was a bit trepidatious going in, based on the trailers and some of the mixed reviews I had read. I would not have been surprised for the franchise to drift a bit too hard, again, and miss its turn. There was concern with the “Dom is going against his family” thing that the film was throwing away five movies of character growth. A face-heel-turn can be great if the kayfabe is right, and some of the reviews implied that it wasn’t right. There is both a face-turn-heel and heel-turn-face and getting them both right was a complicated ballet, and I disagree with some of the reviewers in thinking that they managed to pull it off.
It’s weird for me to suggest, but maybe a franchise that is titularly Furious, something the opposite of subtle, has delivered something too subtle? I didn’t even think it was that subtle, but perhaps too I was looking for it. I really enjoyed it and had some thoughts to maybe deconstruct it a bit. (Spoilers, of course.)
(Aside: in addition to being a lot of fun, Fate of the Furious had me hoping for another Forza: Horizon Fast & Furious game.)
Reviewing my own previous post, Fate of the Furious fits that franchise pattern I saw. Admittedly, it’s not a complicated formula, but here the formula works to point out a first big “subtle” thing about the film’s construction:
The RACE! sequence that cold opens the film, is not disconnected from the rest of the plot.
It feels disconnected, at first. The climax of the film reveals how it is directly connected, in a blink and you’ll miss it spotting in the Heist recap (which got a few “Ohs” in the theater I was at).
What’s even more subtle is how it is thematically connected: in how this RACE! intentionally deviates from the formula of the first two films especially, its sending thematic messages.
The least subtle of those messages is Dom not taking the pink slip, not even to gift it to his cousin. The more subtle of those messages is that the person Dom is racing for is his cousin. That’s significant for a few reasons: the film establishes off the bat that the character development of the past few movies hasn’t been ignored. Dom isn’t just living a quarter mile at a time any more; he’s not racing for himself and his own legacy any more.
(Aside: another complaint I saw was complaint about the backwards driving section, but a “subtle” thing there was the final boost of speed was the NOS tank exploding. Crazy cheesy, but valid Fast & Furious silly cinema physics.)
Both of those themes are pounded again only a short bit later in the first big conversation between Cipher and Dom, when Cipher mentions Dom not taking the pink. Dom mentions that people change, and Cipher throws Old Dom back at him, as if she’d somehow studied the original The Fast and The Furious as some sort of documentary to rote memorize. (Is it a documentary in the franchise’s universe at this point? It seems like it could be given the Family’s reputations at this point.)
Dom tells Cipher point blank that he thinks people grow and change. Cipher stupidly thinks she can understands him because of how he once was much more conceited, but simultaneously is using his modern focus against him.
There is another incredibly deep theme in the DNA of the franchise: that of a peculiar American morality. The bad guys that aren’t redshirts may serve their time, get parole, and be welcomed back to the family. Everyone may be redeemed, rehabilitation is possible, incarceration is preferable to murder. There’s isn’t a single member of the Family without one black spot or another and all of them have been on the wrong side of the law at least once.
One quirk being that sometimes it is more fun to decide your time for yourself and bust out. Lucky for the audience, Mr. Nobody agrees that the best way to enjoy a parole is a good old fashioned “Ultra-Max” prison break. (It’s cheesy, but it kind of works.)
Mr. Nobody granting parole for time served on good behavior to Deckard Shaw is a very large gesture. Hobbs eventually figures it out, and goes digging into Shaw’s background. Dom has a lot less time to figure it out, but key significant glances show that he figures it out very quickly indeed. Deckard, despite his terrible eye-for-eye vengeance plans, was a man of family, was a man who could be Family, was a man on parole (and not just any parole, Mr. Nobody’s parole, something Dom himself once had to earn, and something that the Family trusts at this point).
Letty knows more than she lets on. That’s the impression I walked out with. This is perhaps the most subtle, and definitely may just be my own reading into it, but I think a lot of the significant glances thrown between Letty and Dom are Significant.
I think Letty keeps her cards very close to her chest, for many reasons. However, she does explicitly mention it twice, and in the vocabulary of action film shorthand these seemed to me very explicit. Once in a quick “That’s not Dom” seemingly throwaway trailer line, but it says to me she knows Cipher is pulling the strings. The more important one being her telling Hobbs which says to me she still trusts Dom and that Hobbs would have to go through her to take Dom out.
Both of those could have been more clear, but those action movie shorthands seemed clear enough to me.
I think Dom wrapped a bow on it by thanking his family for trusting him. He might have been speaking directly to the audience, too. I think the movie earned that; more at least than some of the critics I saw thought it did.