The Fate of the Furious is directed by F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Italian Job) and stars, well, you know who it stars. This is the eighth film in a franchise that has lasted for 16 years (which was also my age when I saw the first one). Just think about that for a second. Think about all the franchises that have come and gone in that time: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Saw, two versions of Spider-Man, Batman and Superman, Twilight, Daniel Craig’s 007, Jason Bourne, The Hangover, and Paranormal Activity. The only franchise that has lasted longer is X-Men and only through reboots and spinoffs. Yet The Fate of the Furious is still as popular as ever. In just three days of release it’s already grossed half a billion dollars. In other words, if you aren’t a fan of the Fast & Furious movies, the franchise doesn’t really need you. It just has to cater to its fans who know what to expect at this point. And for the most part, The Fate of the Furious delivers on its promise.
I say the most part because the story is a lot darker and more drama focused than we’ve come to expect. That isn’t to say there isn’t an abundance of humour and outlandish action. It’s just that there is an underlying theme of how choices have consequences. Some of these consequences stray into some pretty heady subject matter. For me, I kept thinking back to Tokyo Drift, when Han tells Shane that life is simple; you make choices and you don’t look back. In The Fate of the Furious, the darkness arises from that fact that maybe some of these characters should have looked back to see how their choices have affected lives.
The movie opens in Cuba where Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying their honeymoon. That is until a computer hacker named Cipher (Charlize Theron) intercepts Dom and blackmails him with some crucial information to betray his team and retrieve an EMP device, the very same device that Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) has just hired Dom’s team to help collect. Since Dom and Cipher have just created a national security measure, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) along with his trainee (Scott Eastwood) decide to recruit Dom’s team and pair them up with none other than Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who also has a vendetta to settle with Cipher. There. Now you know the plot and the character motivations. Let’s watch some vehicular mayhem.
By mayhem, I mean the same outlandish insanity you would expect from Fast & Furious. Take a sequence in New York where Cipher hijacks every car in New York City to bring down a Russian diplomat. Or a prison break showing Hobbs and Shaw take out every guard and inmate just to fight each other. Let’s also not forget the film’s final sequence in Russia that sees the crew take on a nuclear submarine as well as Hobbs changing the trajectory of a fired torpedo by pushing it. Surprisingly enough, the action is a bit more grounded this time than Furious 7, which was essentially flying cars meeting seemingly indestructible bodies. Plausibility is still thrown out the window, but every once in a while, physics actually matters. F. Gary Gray is a pro at staging and filming action. There is no shaky cam in sight. Just well-placed camera angles that allow us to follow what’s going on while building up the adrenaline rush like a competently made action movie should.
It’s easy for critics to dismiss the Fast & Furious movies as garbage. It’s even easier for fans to defend the films as mindless fun. But where The Fate of the Furious stands out from other “mindless fun” like the Transformers movies is in the characters. Every character in The Fate of the Furious has a personality, a motivation, and is played by a charismatic actor. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) continue to add comic relief while showing off necessary skills. Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) continues to emphasize that females in this universe can be smart, empowered, and sexy all at the same time. Hobbs and Shaw say enough one-liners to fill three Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. It’s easier for audiences to care about the action and the story, regardless of realism or absurdity, when they involve likable characters.
Simply put, The Fate of the Furious is about as good or as bad as you felt about the past two installments. The film knows what it wants to be and commits to its B-movie roots. The themes of consequential choices and redemption are established in the film’s opening scene and reflected right through to the final frame. The drama works as it should. The action is as exciting as we’ve come to expect. The dialogue is gleefully, self-deprecatingly silly. And the ethnically diverse characters collectively make the experience worthwhile. The only disappointing thing about The Fate of the Furious is that we have to wait probably two or more years for part 9. I loved every second of it.