In a sentence I never thought I’d have to write, here we are with the eighth installment of the Fast and Furious franchise with The Fate of the Furious, and I couldn’t be more delighted. Since the main characters from the first film all returned in 2009 for Fast and Furious, the series has found its second wind with an emphasis on continuity and a transition from being a throwaway Point Break ripoff into a distinguishable action juggernaut. None of these films are without their own problems, even the series high point in Fast Five, but since the installment in 2009 they have delivered consistent, high-octane, blood pumping, and completely unrealistic action oriented films that are just fun to watch, and that does not change all the way in the eighth film.
How these films continue to be entertaining begins with its cast. Each of the names on the title card, with the exception of maybe Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, are not what you would call marquee names in Hollywood. Each actor has done other work that has had some mild success or died upon arrival. Take a look at the tomato meters for the careers of Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, and Ludacris and you’ll see the majority of their “fresh” films are Fast and Furious titles. The point is, everyone in these films have a specific role to play and it works. When these guys come together on screen, it results in wise cracking hilarity and surprisingly emotional moments. As an example, explain to me why I cried for an hour after I walked out of Furious 7. It’s because we’re attached to these characters and the chemistry they share together. The cliched and way too melodramatic theme of family is the lifeblood of the Fast and Furious franchise, and in Fate, we get asked what it will take to break that bond.
The film opens in Havana, Cuba where Dom and Letty are living for the time being, checking out old cars and finding themselves involved in another street race. Like many repeating elements, the street race is a staple of the franchise and has been since the first installment, and here the filmmakers somehow figure out a way to include a twist. Seeing Dom have to grind out a near rigged race in an old rust-bucket akin to Jim Carrey’s “Loaner” vehicle in The Mask is the statement set-piece that sold me on Vin Diesel being the sole lead of the series going forward. I was truly concerned about the effect Paul Walker’s death would have and whether or not his persona would make any new Fast and Furious film feel hollow and thankfully, it didn’t. Oddly enough, I never once felt that we needed Brian O’Connor to come in and help get things under control and its a testament to the strength of how they wrote his character off in Furious 7. That opening street race also began my list of “Oh, shit” moments that are littered throughout the film.
What the last few entries have taught us to expect is an upping the ante on crazy, impractical, and downright impossible action moments. This movie does not do that. It never reaches the heights of falling out of an airplane and jumping between buildings in 7, and I think that the series is better for it. In the place of trying to outdo themselves in terms of scale, the filmmakers for Fate try to outdo themselves in choreography and narrative impact and I think they succeeded. From the opening street race, to a flying wrecking ball, to a prison breakout, to a car chase in New York, to an airplane fight too good and hilarious to mention in detail, all the way to, yes, a submarine coming out of ice, each of these moments build on each other within the context of this film to make me at the very least keep saying, “Oh, shit!”.
These films are not without their weak points, and Charlize Theron’s character is sadly one of them. My problem is not with her performance, in fact I did believe her motivations, and I bought into Cipher’s chilling nature and the amount of control over events that she exuded. My problem is that she does nothing more than the combination of standing, shouting, or typing, in revolving and flipping formation throughout the film. Cipher is no Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road as has often been pointed out, nor does she look anything like the character she will play in Atomic Blonde. What is perhaps more frustrating that she does not get involved in hand to hand fights is that she had every opportunity to; on multiple occasions. This was a big missed opportunity that would have raised the stakes in a more believable fashion.
And yes, we see Scott Eastwood given yet another chance to prove himself in a high profile film ensemble, and once again he misses the bar, by a mile. Given the right role and direction perhaps he can become an engaging and even charming actor, but shoehorning him into these big-budgeted adventures and expecting him to hold his own is just misguided and in this film his delivery just made me cringe. It did not match well with the other personas in our cast.
And thank God for The Rock and Jason Statham. Johnson is perhaps the biggest reason the series has been able to live on and one of the biggest reasons this film is able to move on from Paul Walker’s involvement. His presence demands attention every time he takes the screen and Hobbs is a character that fits Dwayne’s range perfectly. That presence is utilized well against Statham who recently has proven himself as a great ensemble actor. Statham was the best part of Spy and one of the better aspects to Furious 7. I think he has found his niche as a veteran action star with comedic chops that fits better in a supporting role. Gone are the days of him in a starring role, just look at how well that Mechanic sequel turned out. The interaction between Hobbs and Deckard Shaw give this film more than its fair share of laughs and it broods potential for a spin-off film or more focus in either the ninth or tenth film in this franchise. That remains to be seen though.
Much chatter during this film’s production was given to the on-set feud between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, and with Dom being the central element to these stories, I think Hobbs days are done. I think that could be the worst thing to happen to this new trilogy. I just don’t think these films can succeed without Johnson’s charisma and screen presence, so I hope either amends can be made or money talks and Universal can convince Diesel and Johnson to suck it up just a little while longer.
For Fast and Furious fans, this is a must see for the franchise. It isn’t better than the more recent entries, but it does continue the solid streak the series has been on since the fifth entry. You’ll laugh and even sometimes roll your eyes and the ridiculousness on screen, but that is exactly what we want with Fast and Furious, and in that, The Fate of the Furious delivers.