Director: F. Gary Gray
Screenplay: Chris Morgan
Producers: Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel, Michael Fottrell, Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren
Distributor: Universal Pictures
If you’ve heard me and my Decibel Boost cohorts mention the Fast & Furious films, you may have heard that we reached a consensus that the movies got so much better when they started getting completely over-the-top insane. Which would’ve been around the time of Fast Five, when The Rock was introduced to into the franchise. So could one say that The Rock kickstarted these films into the stratosphere? Well, maybe or maybe not, but perhaps it was a string of, dare I say… FATE. Or just great box office returns, since the last three films of the franchise made nearly $3 BILLION worldwide. Regardless, when these films started getting stupidly crazy, they became so much more fun to watch, which brings us to the eighth installment of the franchise, The Fate of the Furious – get it? Fate? F-8? Eight? Yeah, you got it. And what crazy bout of insanity will this film carry? Number 6 had the world’s longest runway, number 7 had helicopters and Abu Dhabi highlife, but number 8? SUBMARINES IN RUSSIA. I don’t even need to say anything more, I’ve already sold you on it. But does the film live up to expectations? That’s what I went to find out.
After their last adventure with their crew, it’s been the right time for Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) to go honeymooning in the lovely beachside of Havana, while also getting involved in a race or two along the way. But a chance encounter with a mysterious woman, Cypher (Charlize Theron), a nefarious cyberterrorist hacker with many means of villainy, leads to a change of fate being thrown in Dom’s direction. And during a case in Berlin with DSS and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), in search of an EMP device things go awry for Dom’s crew, as, in Hobbs’ words, “Dominic Toretto just went rogue.” Things get even messier when Dom finds out just who Cypher chose him to do her dirty work; in short, she’s got Dom by the balls, by way of the son he never knew he had. As for Hobbs, he’s been dealt with a twist of fate of his own, being locked in maximum security prison with his cell being right across from Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), only for them to both make their way out via a prison riot and end up joining forces, per the order of one “Mr. Nobody,” Frank Petty (Kurt Russell), still in command from their last mission in Abu Dhabi. A bit of strange bedfellows makes for an interesting addition to the family, but now it’s all up to them to find Dom, find the truth, and prevent nuclear war from happening. Or, for these folks, just another Tuesday in their lives.
If you’re expecting high-brow Thespian theatre from this film, you’ll be left very disappointed. However, if you’re expecting stupid, physics-defying madness that you just can’t turn away from, you’ll enjoy this movie like crazy. In terms of how it’s placed within the larger franchise, it serves its purpose fairly well as a stand-alone adventure with no real continuation from the previous film, although there certainly are returning elements from past films present. There’s the plot device known as the God’s Eye, which, for those unfamiliar, is what DSS uses to track down anybody anywhere, and in this case, it’s to track down Dom, toward the end of the first act. I’ll just say it doesn’t go well. Breaking the track of the past few films, Michelle Rodriguez is presented amnesia-free and serves a much bigger role in this film, going beyond being a plot device and forming her own level of badassery in the process. In a way, she becomes the serious stalwart of the core cast, in the wake of Paul Walker’s absence, and she performs the role incredibly well. Took eight movies for Letty to get the spotlight, but hey, it’s well-earned here. And then there’s the weird face-turn that Jason Statham gets as Deckard, it’s honestly a little jarring, given events in the last movie, but credit where it’s due, they do a solid job of building Deckard into a reliable ally, if by way of pairing him up with Hobbs for some aggressive, then playfully aggressive, banter. And speaking of Deckard, it turns a bit comedic in the climax of the film; let’s just say, seeing Jason Statham shoot villains while trying to keep a baby calm, it’s some fine unintentional comedy. But still a bit jarring.
As I mentioned, Kurt Russell and Jason Statham reprise their roles from the previous film, as does Luke Evans as Owen Shaw, from the sixth film. For the returning cast, both Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson deliver as the main source of comedic levity, with Ludacris’ laid-back demeanor and Gibson’s frantic straightman routine, almost playing the role of the audience surrogate. A few newcomers to the franchise make their way in, with Scott Eastwood coming in as “Little Nobody,” but you can tell that he was brought in just to fill the void that Paul Walker left, after his untimely passing. And then there’s Helen Mirren; I won’t reveal the role she plays, but just know that it’s quick, it works surprisingly well, and most importantly, it’s HELEN MIRREN in a FAST & FURIOUS film. The absurdity of the situation makes it that much greater. Of course, as per usual, Vin Diesel gives his trademark Vin Diesel performance and delivery, so there’s nothing really to add here, as does Dwayne Johnson, giving his own trademark performance. And yet, of the two of them, one oozes way more charisma and personality than the other. Take a guess at who I’m referring to. And yes, the lack of Paul Walker will be noticed immediately, his presence being missing in this film takes away a good part of the grander picture.
But where the movie really shines is with Charlize Theron as Cypher, she is as close to a James Bond villain to this movie as they will ever get, and she knocks it out of the park. She is able to balance subdued seriousness with over the top evildoing, all while being one hell of a cyber hacker. Let me put it to you all like this: in the second act of the film, within the bustling streets of Manhattan, Cypher hacks into a thousand – ONE THOUSAND – cars and remotely commands them as a blockade, while commanding more cars to drive off of a parking garage to the street below. Now out of, mind you, but OFF of. Not to mention, she and Ramsey have a hack-off in the final act of the film, with both trying to take command of an underwater submarine in the Russian tundra, one wanting to keep it shut down, the other wanting to seize control of it and launch its nuke. How is it that this movie is a better Ghost in the Shell movie than the live-action Ghost in the Shell? These are things that would fit right in with a GitS story, easily. Bottom line, Charlize Theron plays a real damn good villain, doing villainous things for her own personal gain and to be the baddest HBIC around – that’s all you could ever ask for from a villain in this movies. And by the way, I’m still a little upset that Charlize Theron didn’t get a Best Actress nomination at the 2016 Oscars. Why does the Academy not like Furiousa that much?
After Justin Lin lead the franchise in the perfect direction with Tokyo Drift and the three subsequent mid-quels – yes, 4 through 6 are mid-quels between 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, it’s confusing, I know – James Wan took charge with Furious 7, to the tune of $1.5 billion in global box office. But for this latest installment, F. Gary Gray took over, coming off a stellar success with Straight Outta Compton, and sporting a solid filmography that includes The Italian Job, A Man Apart, and even the original Friday. And how is the direction in this film? Honestly, these movies have started to blend together, so I can’t honestly say if there’s any difference to me. But the use of close-up slo-mo in certain shots, with fire and explosions filling the screen? It’s a nice touch. The car stunts are as crazy and impossibly unrealistic as one would come to expect, trotting the globe from Havana to New York, to Berlin, and to the tundra of Russia, with the latter serving a powerful life lesson: don’t bring a million-dollar Lamborghini out on a drive on a sheet of ice, especially when Russian tanks are firing missiles at you.
All in all, this is a film crafted for fans of the franchise, at its core. Since the fifth film, the franchise has shifted into an over-the-top action series of street racers-turned-secret agents, and that may have been the best thing for the series at large. The movies got crazier, the stunts got bigger, and the returns became record-setting. These aren’t inherently “good” movies, though, but they serve as a fine piece of action fluff for audiences to dive into and revel in. The real negatives I have to point out are, as mentioned, the absence of Paul Walker, some of the more jarring tonal shifts in comparison to past films, and even a noticeable lack of interaction between Diesel and Johnson – reportedly, real-life differences between the two were the cause of it, and that’s a shame, because I could’ve used more scenes with Dom and Hobbs interacting together. It’s not all heavy-handed serious, though, as there are solid moments of levity to be found, amidst all of the soap opera-esque “family” drama in the film; there’s a scene in the start of the film where Hobbs is doing a Samoan war dance with his daughter’s soccer team, and it is a show-stealer. It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s a great kind of cheesy. But like I said, this film serves as a solid stand-alone entry, almost episodic in nature, in a way. It knows its audience, it knows what they want from these films, and they know how to deliver everything. And on that alone, The Fate and the Furious is a plus to me.
Verdict: The best popcorn movie franchise continues on with another stupid, excellent installment. Perfect for a matinee screening.