So much to talk about this week. It would have been a great day to talk about trailers again, but I think 3 posts in a row would be a little excessive. I don’t want to become the trailer blog. (Real quick though, the Thor trailer was awesome). Let’s talk about something else that is timely: The Fate of the Furious.
I sent a tweet out a few weeks ago following the release of the final trailer for the Fate of the Furious. I observed that in addition to the typical action schlock with The Rock, Tyrese and the gang, there appeared to be a lot of Michelle Rodriguez and her character, Letty Ortiz. She will be the emotional crux of the movie, one in which, according to the trailers, will see Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto turn to the dark side and work for car stealing super villain Charlize Theron. In the wake of Paul Walker’s death, the character of Letty Ortiz becomes a focal point for Dom emotionally. She is the woman he loves. She has been there from the beginning. He performed the most logic and physics defying feat to save her life even when SHE was fighting for the other team. To betray his “family”, would be to betray her. There’s just one problem: Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty Ortiz is booooorrrinng.
I do not understand why the Letty love is pouring out in advance of the Fate of the Furious’ release. In the time between when I first started drafting this post and the release, the Ringer’s Shea Serrano has posted a piece identifying Letty as the MVP of the Fast films. He could not be more incorrect. The Fast and Furious movies at their heart are action comedies. They rely on 3-4 major action set pieces involving cars, and great team chemistry between our heroes to fill the rest of the time. They have varying levels of success as a total series, but most would agree that the Rock era is where they turned the corner. We are now in the 4th Rock Fast film(no pun intended; Rock did a film called Faster a few years ago, somehow not part of this franchise), the eighth overall, and we can really look into some patterns. I will not go into full statistical data analysis with this, but rather I will keep it at what the eye can observe. Take a look at the chart below:
Rodriguez appears as a primary characters in Fasts 1,4,6, and 7, with a minor character mention cameo at the end of Fast Five. I am going to isolate 2Fast2Furious and Tokyo Drift from this equation because her character has zero association with those movies. As you can tell by the chart, there is a direct correlation between Letty’s role significance in a movie and its quality. If we take just the films after the cast was reunited, it really does not bode well for her. 4 and 6 represent the movies where she dies and comes back to life respectively. More emphasis is put on her by other characters, which in turn makes them less fun. We want to see Dom and Brian talking about their families while drinking Coronas. Or better yet, Dom and Rock exchanging one liners while facing the opposite direction, but standing next to each other(I couldn’t pull the clip, but enjoy this one, it’s just as good). Characters talking about Letty, or worse yet, Letty making speeches or big emotional claims, is not what we are here to see.
Here is the root cause of what is going on with this observation. I really do not deep down think one of these movies will sink or swim because of Letty’s role. There are too many other factors at play. 7, for instance has mild-heavy Letty, but big variables in the form of limited Rock and the whole Paul Walker sequence at the end. I do think she can be the difference between good to very good, mediocre to solid, etc. The problem with her character is that she is a one dimensional stereotype of the tough badass chick. Her character(and pretty much Rodriguez’s whole career) is Vazquez from Aliens. There is nothing wrong with this. The Fast movies are all stereotypes. They even point this out in Furious 7. They work because they own that fact, and additionally they subvert racial and gender stereotypes within those common action movie archetypes. In fact I’m probably over-identifying the role of Letty by saying badass chick. The point is her character is one that would be a cog in the well-rounded machine. Tyrese should drop one-liners that bounce off her because she is humorless. When you do what the chart shows above and really step up her importance to the story, the formula loses control.
In fairness to Rodriguez and the writing of the Letty character, let me throw in some of the other side of the argument. Something that is entirely not Rodriguez’s fault is the fact that she has had to square off with and beat former MMA fighters Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey in Fasts 6 and 7 respectively. These are cool scenes, but I think everytime I have watched them with a group, someone will comment and eye roll at the fact that an actress is beating up a highly skilled fighter.* It does stand and and distract, though its really no one’s fault. Paul Walker beat Tony Jaa in Furious 7, but that was probably more palletable because of Jaa’s lack of noteriety in American by comparison(I do wonder how Thaiwaneese viewers reacted to seeing their version of Bruce Lee get taken down by a 40 year old with a dad bod). You can also make the argument that Letty’s presence in a role more than support cog leads to a lot of good Vin Diesel. The aforementioned car leap in 6. Him pulling a sledge hammer out of nowhere in my favorite scene of 7. But i would respond by saying that these types of scenes would happen no matter who you put around Vin.
I am still very excited to see Fate of the Furious. Looking forward to Rock and Statham teaming up, Kurt Russell roasting the team as a stand-in for audience members like me, big action set pieces, and of course, over-the-top brawny dialogue. I am just entering with caution at the inevitable Michelle Rodriguez speech scene.
*Adam Carolla had a great comment about this casting strategy a few years ago as it pertained to Randy Couture in The Expendables, a performance that rivals Rousy for embarrassing(Gina Carano is only slightly better). Actors and stunt people have rigorous training programs to be able to convincingly fight on stage and screen. You don’t hire MMA fighters to throw fake punches and kicks. They arent necessary for that. You need Randy Couture when a craft services guy loses it and comes at a producer with a knife on set.
**Note on The Rock’s character of Luke Hobbs. I recently watched Fast 6, with Furious 7 being the freshest in my mind prior to that viewing. Hobbs is gamefully employed at the beginning of Furious 7, working for the government’s Diplomatic Security Service. However, upon viewing Fast 6, this scenario is as implausible as him crashing an ambulance into a drone. Hobbs has Owen Shaw in custody. Shaw reveals that he has Mia Toretto held hostage. He demands to be let go with the top secret computer chip. The NATO General in charge says he is obviously not going to comply with such a ridiculous request, and Rock straight pulls a gun on him. This is a NATO general. He defies that order at gunpoint and lets Shaw go, filling all his demands. Seconds later, it is revealed that Rock’s partner was working for Shaw the whole time. So Rock is reckless, willing to defy orders when the costs totally outweigh the benefits, and he severely lacks attention to detail, not knowing that his partner is a double agent. I guess that did not come up at his yearly performance review when they decided to keep him in charge for the next movie.