It’s probably safe to say that back in 2001, literally no one expected a fun little B-movie about street racing to spawn seven (!) increasingly over-the-top and outlandish sequels over the next decade-and-a-half.
Yet here we are. “The Fate of the Furious” is the eighth installment in this lunatic franchise, a franchise so inexplicably popular that it just set the record for largest global box office opening weekend. No caveats there – this movie just had the biggest worldwide opening EVER, landing somewhere north of $530 million (with just over $100 million of that coming domestically).
(Note: I’m still confused and oddly irritated by the fact that the title of this movie isn’t “The F8 of the Furious.” It felt important that I tell you. Moving on…)
I’m not here to tell you that these movies are great art. Frankly, they’re kind of stupid – and getting stupider. However, I will freely admit to finding them wildly entertaining; they are big and dumb and utterly unapologetic about their bigness and dumbness. And their commitment to the complete nonsense of the world they’ve created is admirable.
So yes – big, dumb … and undeniably fun.
We pick up in the aftermath of the events of “Furious 7.” Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel, “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”) is enjoying a Cuban honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, “Smurfs: The Lost Village”), doing Dom Toretto things like engaging in unlikely street races through Havana streets.
But when a mysterious woman crosses his path, everything changes. This woman – who eventually proves to be a notorious cyberterrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron, “Kubo and the Two Strings”) – has information that, upon showing it to Dom, turns him almost instantly into her pawn.
This becomes clear when an EMP device is stolen in Germany. Federal agent/outlaw/superhero Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, “Moana”) has to get the team back together at the behest of shadowy government guy Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, “Deepwater Horizon”) and his new assistant (Scott Eastwood, “Walk of Fame”). The gang’s all here – tech guy Tej (Ludacris, “Furious 7”) and smartass Roman (Tyrese Gibson, “Ride Along 2”) and recent addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, TV’s “Game of Thrones”) – and they do their usual intense and incredibly implausible thing.
But then Dom betrays them.
This leads to Hobbs going to superjail where he just happens to wind up in a cell across the hall from Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, “Mechanic: Resurrection”), the bad guy from the last movie. Of course, it’s all part of a big plot where Mr. Nobody is bringing Shaw into the fold to help track down Cipher and Dom and keep them from enacting whatever crazy and unnecessarily convoluted plan they have in the works.
Scattered throughout are a lot of physically impossible car stunts and thoroughly improbable fistfights, along with plenty of gunfire and explosions and extended camera shots that linger equally on expensive cars and attractive people. Oh, and a bunch of overwrought musings about the importance of family, because that continues to be a big thing in this story.
Again – nothing about these movies makes any sense in terms of the reality in which you and I exist. However, there is an in-universe consistency that is undeniable. And that commitment to consistency makes it surprisingly easy to simply suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride.
F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) is the latest to sit in the franchise’s director’s chair, taking the reins from James Wan. Gray’s got some experience in the action/heist arena, so it’s no surprise that he handles things well. At this point, we’re talking about a perpetual motion machine made up of car parts and testosterone; the keys to success are essentially a good visual eye, a knack for action and the good sense to know when to stay out of the way. Gray manages all three.
And of course, the cast. Vin Diesel has accepted that Dom Toretto is his legacy and is treating the role as such, embracing the ridiculousness and injecting the proceedings with a sincerity that counterbalances the over-the-top stuff nicely. Johnson is … ah, hell, we’re going to just keep calling him The Rock … The Rock has built Hobbs into a superhuman, an anthropomorphized fist with a propensity for selling cheeseball one-liners. Theron is good, but after her exceptional action work in “Fury Road,” I sort of expected a bit more from her on the ass-kicking side of things.
I’m personally thrilled that they found a way to get Statham back into the picture; his combination of action hero skill and winking self-awareness belongs in these movies (there’s a scene of him in a gunfight while carrying a baby that is one of the most entertaining cinematic moments of 2017). Rodriguez is strong, though perhaps a bit underutilized. Ludacris and Tyrese are fine; they’ve grown into their roles and are both clearly thrilled to be part of such a massively successful project. Kurt Russell is delightful as always and Eastwood is less wooden than usual.
(There’s also a delightful uncredited appearance from an acting legend who had expressed interest in this franchise in the past and finally made it in. No spoilers, but it’s awesome.)
“The Fate of the Furious” may not quite reach the heights of its immediate predecessors in the franchise, but it offers more than enough of what you want. It’s got incredible cars, impossible stunts, ridiculous fistfights and ham-fisted sentimentality. It is huge and stupid … and a great time at the movies.
And it is, as always, fast and furious.
[4 out of 5]