Remember when these movies took place on planet earth?
Flashback to June of 2001. You just walked out of a theater watching The Fast and The Furious. Then, out of nowhere, a large time portal opens up. A man with iPad comes up to you and says, “This is the future of the Fast and the Furious.” On the iPad is footage from the eighth (*yes, eighth*) Fast and Furious movie, entitled The Fate of the Furious. In this footage, you see cars falling out of buildings in New York City, that WWF guy the Rock, and a submarine attacking cars. You surely would’ve looked at that man holding an iPad and said “Yeah right!” But here we are, 16 years later, and The Fate of the Furious has pulled into theaters promising more of the adrenaline fueled action we have come to identify the series by.
The film opens in Havana, Cuba, where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz/ Toretto (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying their honeymoon. After sticking up for his cousin by partaking in a race, Dom is approached the next morning by a mysterious woman called Cipher (Charlize Theron). She reveals she has something on Dom that is near and dear to him, and blackmails him to join forces with her and her cyber terrorist group. After partaking in a mission with his crew and government partner Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to obtain a nuclear device, Dom turns on his family, setting the stage for the latest installment of the Fast franchise.
Let me be upfront, I am unapologetically a fan of this series (except for Tokyo Drift). I am typically the first person in line to see these over-the-top, male oriented soap opera films. But within the first five minutes of this movie, I felt a feeling I never had before: I wasn’t going to like it. The opening credits reminded more of an episode of the 1980s TV show Miami Vice more than it did a Fast and Furious movie. The set up to the first and only race in the film is so awful, and I especially rolled my eyes at a Cuban gangster’s delivery of what the people of Havana called the race they were about to partake in, “The Cuban Mile.” But during the well filmed, exciting race, a blink and you’ll miss it tribute to the late Paul Walker occurs, and reminds us that you are in fact watching a Fast and Furious movie.
The movie really doesn’t start until Charlize Theron shows up ten/ fifteen minutes in and turns Toretto into one of her own. Sure, all she really does is speechify throughout the entire movie and her motives don’t necessarily add up, but because she’s an academy award winning actress she comes across as the most sinister villain the series has ever seen. And that’s saying a lot considering Jason Statham returns as Deckard Shaw, the villain in Furious 7 who (*SPOILER*) killed Han (Sung Kang). But even in that movie you liked him because they managed to put the Transporter in this franchise, and surprisingly he comes off as the second best big name action star in this film after delivering on two thrilling action sequences. Sure, the rest of the crew hasn’t forgiven him for his past, but that’s all pushed under the rug so we can get back to the action.
Curiously, however, it’s Dwayne Johnson who feels somewhat underused in this film. This is stupefying considering in Furious 7 he gets beat up by Statham in the beginning and then shows up for the climatic battle in LA and that’s it. Sure, he’s in this movie a lot, but Statham upstages him. Matter of fact, other than the two fight sequences where he beats up all the bad guys, his most memorable scene is one where he performs a Samoan dance ritual before a little girls soccer game. On top of that, he doesn’t really share the screen with Vin Diesel at all, a puzzling decision considering it was their palpable on-screen chemistry that made the last 3 movies arguably the best of the series. This is where I come in and say the rumors of Johnson and Diesel not getting along during filming must have been true, because Johnson isn’t given much to do and why take away one of your strengths from the previous three entrees? Like I said, he has more screen time this time around than the seventh movie, but he doesn’t feel as important as he has been. Even his buddy-buddy turn teaming with Statham feels out of place.
Of course the plot centers on the godfather of this franchise, Vin Diesel, even though it doesn’t feel like he’s in the movie that much, either. However, I must applaud his decision to unwillingly be coerced into a turncoat this time around. While I was at first skeptical and said out-loud “Really? That’s why you’re with Charlize Theron?” when that big reveal happened, it’s made up for with the second part of that reveal. Now obviously no one would confuse Diesel with Marlon Brando in terms of acting prowess, but his characterization of a conflicted Toretto actually functions well within the story, even though he’s recycling the same “it’s all about family” monologues we’ve come to know the character by.
The rest of the crew is back too, but they all fall back on their characterizations from the other movies as well. Letty is still the tough girl who hasn’t given up on Dom, Tyrese Gibson reprises his role as Jar Jar Binks/ Roman Pierce, Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are the computer geniuses of the group, and Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody is one eye patch away from turning into Snake Plissken from Escape From New York and Escape From LA.
None of that matters, as it all takes a back seat to the action. Director F. Gary Grey (Straight Outta Compton, The Italian Job) does a marvelous job staging and shooting the action sequences, which of course are nosier and more epic in scale than the last film. You get a wrecking ball wrecking cars. You get a huge prison riot. You get cars creating carmaggedon in New York City. You get a submarine. It feels like with every passing Fast and Furious movie there’s an obligation to out-do the previous one without totally jumping the shark (*I mean, they did that in the last one by flying cars out of planes and between buildings*), and that’s exactly what Fate does. At this rate the Fast and Furious movies aren’t really action movies anymore, they’re theme-park rides. And as a fan of this series, the dumber and more preposterous it gets, the more fun I have with them, and Fate does not disappoint. In the next two films, I predict they finally crossover with the Transformers franchise by calling it TransFurious and then go to outer space.
However, I cannot neglect to mention the absence of Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner. He and his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) are mentioned in the film, and its pretty cool they get to live on in the Fast universe. But it’s The Fate of the Furious that made me finally understand what his role was in the other films: he was the glue of the team. The levelheaded, non-testosterone induced male character that kept everyone together. Sure, this film gets by just fine without him, but one can only wonder now what The Fate of the Furious would’ve been like had the actor not tragically died in a car wreck back in November of 2013.
And now for the all-important question: where does Fate rank in the series? Personally, I think it overtakes the first film and comes in third place. A more compelling Dominic Torreto, a fabulous turn from Statham, and even more epic action makes Fate another winning entry in the Fast franchise. Not to mention the fact that the series is now a full-fledged soap opera with the inclusion of an academy award winning actresses’ new character not named Charlize Theron and inclusion and even resurrection of characters you forgot were even in the series.
Most people would think sixteen years and eight movies later that the Fast and Furious franchise is running on reserve fuel. That there’s no way there could be two more films coming out within the next four years. Judging by the events that take place in The Fate of the Furious, this franchise has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay Full Price.