For fans of the seven previous films of the “Fast And The Furious” franchise, its latest incarnation will be a blast on level with the movie’s biggest explosions (which are ridiculously huge, for the record). “The Fate Of The Furious” seems like it was engineered in a lab to be a crowd-pleasing, money-making hit, with each element ensuring that the audience will cheer and fist-pump at the screen as though director F. Gary Gray and star/producer Vin Diesel can actually hear them. This eighth movie defies logic and physics at every sharp turn, but it’s having too much fun — and ensuring you do, too — to feel truly cynical.
The series started off relatively small with just a $38 million price tag for the 2001 original, which feels almost quaint at this point. With almost every progressive film, the box office and budgets scaled up, adding more global locations and bigger and bigger set pieces — and stars like Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham — along the way. Not to be outdone, “The Fate Of The Furious” brings Oscar winner Charlize Theron on board as villainess, as well as a nuclear sub in the Arctic, a horde of cars speeding through New York City streets, a prison break battle royale, and a giant fucking wrecking ball. It would be too much if it weren’t so awesome.
The movie begins with Dominic Toretto (Diesel) on his honeymoon with longtime love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in Havana, which, of course, finds Dom in a street race because that is why we’re here. Also, the steamy temperatures mean the requisite bare skin is exposed (#underbutt). The mysterious Cipher (Theron) tracks Toretto down in the midst of his domestic bliss and blackmails him into working for her. Forced to betray his team — his family, as we’ll hear emphasized over and over — Dom helps Cipher wreak worldwide havoc and procure the technology she needs…because she needs it and she’s evil. Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) returns to help the team save the world, bringing them government technology and a warehouse full of dream cars that would make even Jerry Seinfeld jealous.
The motivation for exactly why Dom agrees to Cipher’s coercion seems manufactured rather than organic. It does work within the larger family-is-everything theme, but it feels more like a manipulation of the character — and the audience — than a real reason for Dom to turn his back on his beloved crew. And despite all the destruction that our heroes and villains bring to streets around the world and the deaths of nameless, faceless people, the stakes are relatively low.
For those who can’t tell the difference between “The Fast And The Furious” and “Fast & Furious” (two totally different movies in the series), “The Fate Of The Furious” does a good job establishing its characters and their relationships to each other. Often in a cast this large and a movie this big, personalities can be lost, particularly in service of getting the story to the next action scene. However, Chris Morgan‘s script and the work of each actor defines the differences between each member of the team and how they interact with one another. Even secondary players like Tyrese Gibson‘s Roman, Ludacris‘ Tej Parker and Nathalie Emmanuel‘s Ramsey all have clear roles to play within the team and its larger chemistry. Character matters just as much as cars and explosions here. But beyond making things accessible for someone who has somehow avoided the films to date, the payoff for fans who’ve watched and rewatched the seven prior movies is huge: callbacks reference previous plot lines and familiar faces appear to the audience’s obvious glee. Thanks to some well-orchestrated set-up in “Furious 7,” this outing functions with the absence of Brian (Paul Walker) after the actor’s death, and viewers will appreciate the nod given to his character and the star.
After directing “Straight Outta Compton,” Gray returns to action for “The Fate Of The Furious,” and it’s a great match between filmmaker and franchise. He and the series’ frequent director of photography Stephen F. Windon make sure that this isn’t just another flatly shot action movie; instead, there’s great care paid to the film’s look and style. With editing from Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner, the fight scenes feel dangerous, as we see punches land and bodies slam. Each time the movie faces the choice to “go big or go home,” it definitely goes for the former. There’s plenty of money on the screen and it’s worth every penny.
Unsurprisingly, “The Fate Of The Furious” is not a subtle film. Muscles are huge (see above), cars are fast, and explanatory dialogue is eye-rollingly obvious. “Dominic Toretto has gone rogue,” Johnson’s Hobbs informs us when Dominic Toretto has gone rogue, in case there were any questions. But like Johnson (who gets most of the film’s best lines along with Gibson and delivers each one with charm), “The Fate Of The Furious” is almost impossible not to like. It achieves exactly what it sets out to do, successfully lighting up the brain’s pleasure centers at each opportunity with a variety of tools in its arsenal. [B+]