The Fast and Furious franchise is a damn interesting one to look at. Who’d’ve thought way back in 2001 that a little film about underground street racing would end up as one of the most profitable action franchises of all time? It was something that could not have been foreseen, and it’s been rewarding to see a series like this pivot from one thing to another when it realized certain aspects of its formula were working. Now, each film seems to have about as many explosions as your average Transformers flick. And it’s awesome.
Before I get started, I think it’s worth mentioning that, like many folks, I grew up watching these movies, from its lowly beginnings to its current iteration. I hated Tokyo Drift, and I was surprised to see its resurgence in Fast and Furious, the fourth film in the franchise. Fast Five was high point for the series, but despite great intentions, I never cared for the previous two a whole lot. They were fun, lighthearted popcorn flicks, but there was a real weight missing to them. I appreciated that the films embraced the ridiculous, but I embraced it more on a theoretical level than on a gut level, all the while feeling like something was missing.
Whatever it was missing, I think it may have found it in The Fate of the Furious.
This latest entry has Dom’s family pitted against their biggest enemy yet: Dom himself. For unexplained reasons, on the heels of his honeymoon, Dom decides to go rogue and betray the very family he helped to form. What’s more is that he has teamed up with Charlize Theron’s Cipher, who has gotten a hold of an EMP and is gunning for another dangerous weapon of mass destruction. In order to track down Dom and put an end to this potentially world-ending plan, Hobbs and the rest of the gang have to turn to an enemy they thought they'd locked away for good: Deckard Shaw.
I’ll come out and say it. I loved this movie. And that’s coming from someone who’s felt that the previous two have come up short. While I wouldn't call it a classic, by any means, there is a certain weight that this movie has that the previous ones didn't. Let's talk about some of the film's strengths.
Per usual, the chemistry between them is great. Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson still have their fun banter, and Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham spend a good portion of the movie threatening each other in ridiculous and over-the-top ways that are very fitting of their characters. Kurt Russell is back as Mr. Nobody (he seems like he's having a lot more fun this time around too), and this time he’s brought along a protogé (Little Nobody) in the form of Scott Eastwood, who ends up as a solid addition to the cast. If there is one character who gets too little to do here it’s Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey. Apart from being the only one who can keep up with Tej when it comes to tech, she is almost around exclusively for eye candy, which is a shame. Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty is par for the course on this one. She's serious and overly-dramatic, per usual, but in a role that calls for her to be broken by Dom's portrayal, it works.
Vin Diesel as Dom is a revelation. He gives an incredibly nuanced performance that one wouldn’t expect from a Fast and Furious movie.
I’m kidding. Vin Diesel is pretty much Vin Diesel in this flick, which, in the context of the film, works pretty well. That being said, he does have a couple of scenes of extreme anger that I’m not sure we’ve ever seen in this series. It’s an extra vulnerable side to his character that we haven’t seen enough of in the past, though it’s not overplayed to the point that it’s annoying or laughable, which is nice.
The direction in Fast 8 particularly strong. F. Gary Gray is the man at the helm for this flick, and despite being the director of an Academy Award-nominated film, he manages to keep the tone and style of the previous entries. So if you were hoping for the franchise to turn a darker and more serious tone (let’s be honest, who was?), then I recommend adjusting your expectations. That being said, I think the action scenes this time around were a step above what we saw in Furious 7. Understandably that flick had its problems to deal with, but one of my bigger points of contention were its somewhat hard to follow action set pieces. I had no such problems with this film.
The screenplay for The Fate of the Furious was as simple as it needed to be, but in my opinion, also a step above previous films. It's by no means Amadeus or A Few Good Men, but there was an added heft to the stakes and upping of character interaction that helped give this movie that little bit of extra something that was missing. Whereas a decent amount of previous entries focused on big world-ending stakes, this one brought things to a more primal, personal level that helped give the action more meaning and weight (not a lot, but just the right amount).
If there was one weakness, I’d say it was in Charlize Theron’s Cipher. She was a bit…well, she was boring. While her overall plan was pretty cool, they didn’t do much to dig into her character, so when all said and done, she was kind of a bland wall that served as a little more than an obstacle. If you were hoping to a natural successor to Theron’s Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road, this isn’t her. If you'e seen the trailers for this flick, you've just about seen the emotional range of Cipher in this movie.
On the whole, however, The Fate of the Furious serves as proof that a franchise can stay strong after a ridiculous amount of films. If you’re one of those fans who was hoping things would head back to street racing, you likely won’t like what it has to offer. However, if you’ve been loving what Universal has been putting out for the past several years, I find little reason to think you’ll find anything objectionable here. This is quite possibly the Fast and Furious franchise at its best.
Simply put, if you love this franchise, you'll love this movie.
P.S. F. Gary Gray fans. Keep an eye out for a fun little reference near the end to Gray’s first film, Friday (which is a freakin’ classic).