2017 | rated PG-13 | starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Nathalie Emmanuel | directed by F. Gary Gray | 2hrs 16mins |
Studio Pitch: The Fa$t and the Furiou$ Eight
I wonder how many people were, like me, done with this franchise after Furious 7. Watching CGI Paul Walker drive off into the sunset in the touching final minutes of the film felt like a perfectly satisfying finale for the series. But this money train cannot be hijacked so now we get F8 of the Furious, the 7th sequel of the series but the 3rd sequel since it’s big overhaul in Fast Five from street racing movie to heist/spy films. As it turns out Fate was the action movie I didn’t know I needed. With it’s elaborate James Bond-style pre-credit action sequence in which Dom speeds a car through the streets of Havana, Cuba backwards, and on fire, I was back in.
The Furious franchise has become a lesson in keeping a series fresh and getting bigger with each series. Unlike, say, the Saw franchise which pockets it’s millions in profits and make another movie set in a basement like some ponze scheme, Furious re-doubles it’s efforts with each movie getting bigger starts, bigger action scenes and globe-trotting around the world with each new entry. Fate senses franchise fatigue and comes in to undercut it immediately. We don’t even see the setup for Dom and Hobb’s latest escapade, just join them at the end of some insane, hair-brained plot that involves them busting through a concrete wall, releasing a wrecking ball on German police and making off with an EMP. How? Who cares. Fate is in full self-parody move now. In on the joke, indulging in it’s own camp and willing to shake it’s formula up a bit.
It doesn’t shake it up too much. Director F Gary Gray (coming off the great Straight Outta Compton) delivers some of the best action sequences of the series, but at this point the franchise seems more studio and producer protected than every. All of these movies look the same and whether it’s Gray or James Wan they are following the mold set by Justin Lin. That’s all fine and leads to consistency, but you aren’t going to find any unique visions with different entries like you might, say, the Alien or Mission: Impossible films. What Fate challenges are the little things. It brings in a villain (Charlize Theron) who challenges Dom and the series’ core conceit of “family” and “revenge”. It’s willing to go darker with the violence and threat level. It puts Hobbs (Dwayne The Rock Johnson) in prison for a few minutes only to get him out. I’ve completely lost track of how many times all of these characters have gone from bad guys to good guys to Interpol’s most wanted to getting suspended to saving the world to going to prison to getting their badges back.
As these movies go from heist films to spy films, Fate is actually dialing it back from the superhero status it started getting with Furious 7. After Dom stomped on the roof of a parking garage and caves it in, outrunning a fleet of cars in New York seems like another day at the office. The American muscle car James Bond parallels don’t stop there: Theron is a vicious Bond Villain, Kurt Russell reprises his role as Mr. Nobody the M of the series, we get Dom and Leddy canoodling in a massive Cuban love suite and a plot that involves a stolen Russian nuclear submarine. The film has also kept up with the tech times, replacing drug dealers with cyber terrorists and bringing the car porn series into a world of driverless cars. What does Dom and the gang think of that? In one of the craziest action scenes of the franchise, Theron’s Cipher hacks into several cars through New York and turns them into an army of driverless zombie cars, driving them out of dealerships and off of parking garage roofs into the streets. It’s wonderfully insane.
In it’s finest moments Fate of the Furious is a 5-star action movie. This franchise has filled an action movie hole left by the lack of Amblin-style family friendly action movies – they are more violent, with better villains, than most Marvel films, they aren’t as mean-spirited, groan-inducing or edited to ribbons as a Michael Bay film. Other than the John Wick series, the Furious franchise seems to be a rarity out there that understands the value of letting the audience actually see the action.
Character has always been a problem with these films, which is why they were given a jolt when Dwayne Johnson joined the franchise. Johnson’s natural charisma breathes life into a character that probably reads like an invincible meathead on the page (rubber bullets bounce off him during a prison riot). Here his quips with Jason Statham make for some of the best exchanges of the series. Meanwhile Tyrese continues to be the incompetent comic relief, which was tiresome 4 movies ago and Tyrese and Bridges continue to woo master hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). As characters go that’s really it. Everyone in this series is distinguishable by – not a personality but – by their relationship to each other. That’s why… it’s all about family.
With that huge hole in the series, one that we’ll just have to live with, The Fate of the Furious is a top shelf action movie and a blast of pure entertainment. More than that, it does the unthinkable and justifies it’s existence after a satisfying 7th chapter. The best entry in the series since Fast Five.