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The Dose: How ‘The Fate of the Furious’ lost its outlaw soul

The Dose: How ‘The Fate of the Furious’ lost its outlaw soul

The Dose: How ‘The Fate of the Furious’ lost its outlaw soul
April 22
17:35 2017

Taylor Crisler | Staff Writer

“If you dominate the people with violence, they will eventually fight back because they have nothing to lose, and that is the key. I go into the favelas and give them something to lose; electricity, running water, schoolrooms for their kids. And for that taste of a better life, I own them.”

The quote above is not from “The Fate of the Furious,” but is instead the only real character motivation you get for the Brazilian venture capitalist and political operator, Reyes – the main antagonist in “Fast Five.” It’s blunt to be sure, but it’s the last time the series demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of how political power is consolidated through the management of resources.

This is how Reyes, a “manager” to the impoverishment of Rio de Janeiro, suppresses rebellion – assisted not only by a cadre of armed mercenaries but crucially through the state protection of his property. The legal channels, ideally in existence to protect the powerless, were impotent and only served to protect the wealthy’s status quo. Dominic Loretto (Vin Diesel) and his band of outlaws are the only ones capable of combating the investor’s forces, and even gained a comrade in the process, Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) who appears in the next three installments.

In the end, stealing $100 million is framed as just enough to acquire a relatively humble, middle class existence. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) occupy opposite ends of this spectrum, with the former indulging in luxury and the latter going back to work at his neighborhood garage through the benefit of dignified labor.

Of course, this reeks of American exceptionalism. The filmmakers would not go on to take the same narrative they fashioned for Rio and apply it in New York, a much publicized locale in “The Fate of the Furious.” Most crucially, it’s also the last time the team acts as criminals.

Take the “Fate” scene that introduces franchise newcomer Charlize Theron’s villain, Cipher:

“I want you to work for me,” Cipher tells Dom during his honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).

“Work for you? See, I could’ve saved you a lot of time then. I don’t work for anyone!”

Set aside how stupid it was to take Charlize Theron, who reconfigured Falconetti’s Joan of Arc as a lethal, physical threat to fascism in “Fury Road,” and squander her on a hacker who only speaks in Wikipedia-style definitions of logical fallacies and doesn’t get her hands dirty. In 2017.

You’re left with a contradiction just as absurd: What is Vin Diesel talking about? The team is essentially an arm of the state at this point!

The transition to U.S. contractor work began in earnest with “Fast and Furious 6,” culminating in the personification of state coercion, the shadowy deep-state yet carefree Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). Unlike Dwayne Johnson’s presence as a DSS agent, Nobody’s agency is never explained to have ties to any nation. Given that it’s populated only with white soldiers and helmed by the man we decided should play John Wayne until he dies, it doesn’t seem to be a necessary distinction.

Russell’s casting in “7” and “8” provides an instructive contradiction. Unlike Snake Plissken, Dom’s team doesn’t need the added incentive of a micro-explosives passing through their arteries – they’re free actors. They now march in line to fight reasonably defined villains like Reyes, and enemies of the state that fall into a more nebulous abstraction of “terrorism.”

Simply recognizing pro-interventionist, moralistic and hawkish tendencies in an American action film doesn’t make for a very trenchant insight.  Truthfully, it’s not something I need Vin Diesel to reconcile for me. F. Gary Gray’s opinion of Hezbollah is less important than letting even a single anti-war voice on a cable news network would be.

It’s worth understanding though that when critics talk about the incoherence of Theron and other “global terrorists” in the franchise, this is the locus of frustration. If the ideological differences between actors in global conflicts aren’t being explored in our discourse, how do you expect their motivations to hold any water in our popcorn movies?

The dirty secret is when it’s Djimon Hounsou in a tank or Tony Jaa with chains on his knuckles; nobody really cares what the motivations are.

Until now the series has always enjoyed a unique place among Hollywood franchises, not because they’re referential in the way a Tarantino or Fincher movie would be, but in so much as Diesel and company seem excited to engage in an international conversation of contemporary action cinema.

Justin Lin began experimenting by recruiting critical darlings of auteurist violence. Gina Carano, fresh off of “Haywire,” teamed up with Joe Taslim from “The Raid” in the sixth movie. Many of these actors weren’t known quantities in the sort of focus-grouped Hollywood algorithm you read about in The Economist. So it’s disappointing to see that formula break down in “The Fate of the Furious.”

The early prison break scene promises a violent confrontation between Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Given the franchise’s track record, it’s likely a reference to a similar standout scene in last year’s “Killzone 2,” which starred Tony Jaa, the Thai kickboxer and international star who made his Hollywood debut as an antagonist in “Furious 7.” If that’s the comparison they’re going for, it’s a pale one. The “Killzone” scene runs over ten minutes, and expertly handles tension, editing, sound design and martial arts choreography.

The sliver’s excesses alone outshine the entirety of this film’s forays into physical combat, marking maybe the first time a “Furious” film has set up expectations and completely fizzled out in less than a few minutes. Maybe giving the car movie to the director of the “Italian Job” remake was ill-conceived.

With the disappearance of the franchise’s knack for imbuing unbelievable stunt choreography with élan, it’s brewing inconsistencies take the spotlight. They’re contradictions born from abandoning a straightforward class critique and embracing the simplistic moral system of comic book movies.

Featured Image: From left to right, Vin Diesel, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Jason Statham star in “The Fate of the Furious.” Universal Pictures.

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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