I recently saw The Fate of the Furious with my grandmother, who claims she's thirty-something years old, but may be slightly older. While we silently endured the nearly three hour 250 million dollar carvenge clusterfuck, I was overwhelmed by memories created seventeen years earlier-- memories of the week or so I spent playing the forgotten Playstation title 007 Racing. According to my grandmother, who has never lied to me, she would have been in her late teens or early twenties when I played this game. Although the math of how that could be possible is difficult to suss out it's not really at all relevant to what comes next.
007 Racing is not only a horrible James Bond game, it's one of the worst games I've ever played, and I'm pretty sure I played it all the way to the end. For those of you unfamiliar with this one, and most of you should be, the ins and outs of it are very easy to explain. Imagine if a software company, in possession of the James Bond license--a franchise perfectly suited for video games--had developed a 007-flavored version of Twisted Metal, the super popular car combat franchise of the 90s. Actually, don't imagine it. That's pretty much what happened.
The game's stages all involve the usual Bond fare: sneak in here, steal this, blow this up, etc., but since this game is about Bond's cars and not Bond himself, you're never actually able to get out of the different vehicles you're tasked with driving to do your bit for Queen and Country. What I'm trying to say is that you can't do anything, you know, with your hands, because cars don't have hands. There also wasn't that much actual racing. This is a ridiculous idea for a video game about James Bond.
Case in point: there's a mission in the game that requires Bond to infiltrate a secure facility in order to destroy a series of computer mainframes. To accomplish this the player must literally drive Bond's Aston Martin into the building, idle down its hallways, and eventually place the car inside the server room so that it (not Bond) may plant remote controlled land mines. Just picture this scenario from the perspective of one of the enemy combatants in this part of the game. You're a henchmen for some Bond super villain--probably underpaid, no dental, no 401k--doing your rounds in a mountain fortress somewhere in Estonia, and a fucking Aston Martin comes rolling down the hallway all slow-like, carelessly burping machine gun fire in your general direction. And then KABOOM, a hellfire rocket blows the wall you were just standing in front of to smithereens. Moments later, James Bond, international man of killing people, drives by in his gun-toting luxury vehicle, quips at you, and proceeds to disperse land mines all about the place. Without ever leaving the driver's seat. The car is obviously bulletproof. WYD, fam?
In 007 Racing you are James Bond, super agent extraordinaire, and you are not permitted to leave your vehicle. [Q voice] "Please do keep your hands on the steering wheel, 007, it's going to be a bumpy ride."
(The true failing of this game is that the developers couldn't figure out how to get Bond's car to have sex with Bond's love interest's car. But perhaps that would have been too advanced for the video gaming audience in 2000. Me? I was ready for it.)
If you're at all familiar with the recent The Fast and the Furious movies then you should understand why I found myself remembering this game. You'd know that any and all conflicts in the F&F world, no matter the scale, must be solved through vehicular combat. The rule is that if a problem can be solved simply with a conversation then the problem must be solved stupefyingly with a car. This is the exact principle underpinning the premiere James Bond video game of the year 2000. And I imagine it's why people love the F&F movies but have completely forgotten 007 Racing.
But fast cars furiously smashing into things is only one half of the reason why people love Vin Diesel's Carvengers. The other half revolves around human beings smashing into that thing called family.
Family is the primary theme of The Fate of the Furious, as it has been the primary theme of the seven movies that precede it. But it is also a word uttered frequently during dialogue, often times ridiculously, by the Carvengers and their new antagonist Cypher, played by Charlize Theron. (Sidenote: You know how people say "This movie is beneath so-and-so!"? Well there are several so-and-sos in this movie. Theron is one of them, Kurt Russell is another. Helen Mirren is in this movie for Christ's sake.) But the plot of F8, in which Vin Diesel's Dominic Torreto must betray the Carvengers because Cypher is blackmailing him, is sketched so unconvincingly that it directly contradicts the whole idea of the Carvengers being an unbreakable group of brothers and sisters and cousins or whatever the hell they consider themselves to be in the first place.
So if it's family you're in the market for, and you're not at all interested in becoming a juggalo, or if you're grandmother and you don't get along, you should instead concern yourself with another movie that does the whole family thing so much better. That movie is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
See, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does not share F8's problem of contrived and illusory familial drama. As a matter of fact, it works the problem in reverse, and eats the Carvengers' lunch in the process.
GotG2 is arguably the most character intensive ensemble movie in the entire Marvel filmography. Frankly, I'm sort of shocked at how adept James Gunn is at juggling these characters in the space he's been allotted, especially when you look at how much time we've spent with the Avengers over the years. Every one of the Guardians, from newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to team leader Starlord to big bad Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), has time to shine over the movie's two hour and fifteen minute runtime. Gunn even goes so far as to ever so slightly upend Marvel's villain problem, making Ego an actual character and giving Kurt Russell something to do in the process. Contrast this with Russell in F8, where he is literally called Mr. Nobody.
The trick is in the structure, or lack thereof. After the team encounters Ego at the end of Act 1, they split up. Starlord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista) go off with Ego and Mantis. Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, somehow), and Nebula (Karen Gillen) wind up with each other, eventually encountering Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his team of misfits later. What follows is essentially a series of character therapy sessions (with fighting and spaceships and whatnot). Gunn takes his time to crack the Guardians open and shows how and why they tick, and why they're so perfect for one another. This format, as per the usual Marvel Method, also produces an unending, sometimes obnoxious, supply of jokes, especially where Drax and Groot are concerned. For a huge chunk of the film, not a lot happens, but it's okay, because these characters feel much more alive and real than say Doctor Strange or Black Widow. So when Nebula observes that all the Guardians do is yell at each other and that they can't possibly be friends, Drax the Destroyer responds by saying "No...we're family," and it actually means something here. Contrast this with the 37 times the word "family" is mumbled by Vin Diesel in F8.
Good character work like this takes pressure off a narrative, especially when the narrative may be confusing or just plain stupid, as is the case with The Fate of the Furious (and 007 Racing). I'll admit that my grasp of the "lore" in the F&F world is limited, but I've never really had difficulty jumping into movies without having seen previous entries. But the experience I had watching F8 was unusual in that I have missed the precise sequence of movies in the franchise (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Furious 7) as to be completely in the dark about certain elements and sub-plots coming to bear in this film. For example, where was Gal Gadot's character? Where was Sung Kang's character? Wasn't Jason Statham the nemesis of the Carvengers in F7? Why is he helping them in this movie? And why are they letting him? Why is the Rock still in these movies? Where is Lil' Bow Wow?!
But most importantly, who, besides my grandmother--a saint, that woman--actually gives a shit?