Torpedoing at all cylinders with devil-may-care elation and a toothy smile, The Fate of the Furious proves, above all else, that the Fast & Furious movies are in their own weird motor-powered zen. They don’t give a damn about the logistics. They never cared about their plausibility. They’re all about the death-defying stunts, the exquisite locales, the beautifully slick automobiles and, of course, family. You’re with them or against them at this point. Either you’re amused by their looney antics or you’re permanently left gawking at the dopey madness of their existence. It’s ride or die territory. Either you’ve got your seatbelt strapped to your waist, ready to let the smooth camerawork and improbable set pieces do their tricks, or you’re left in the dust, trying hopelessly to make sense of this foolishness.
Thankfully, my seatbelt is strapped on pretty tight. Even when this ride is a little bumpy.
The eight(!) installment in this furiously fast franchise, The Fate of the Furious finds Dom (Vin Diesel), the dutiful leader of the ragtag group of fast-driving, world-saving super criminals, forced into a compromising position when the mysterious cyber criminal Cipher (Charlize Theron + Angelina Jolie’s dreads from 2000’s Gone in Sixty Seconds) presents Dom with an ultimatum that tests his family as he knows it. Now, the most loyal member of the team is the one that turning his back on everyone, sabotaging their latest heist and putting the group’s safety and security in the balance, all for Cipher’s twisted amusement.
Dom’s girl Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) knows this isn’t Dom, and the team, which presently includes Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and the newest recruit, former baddie Deckard (Jason Statham), are joined together by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new wingman/trainee Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) in order to stop Cipher from her nefarious world-destructing plan, which might possibly involve a giant missile, and hopefully bring Dom back to his senses in route. But with Dom no longer on their side, their paternal father figure abandoning them in their time of need, the makeshift family will be speeding into their most difficult assignment yet.
To accept the Fast and Furious movies is to accept that the plot is just a means to an end. They get the engines to rumble and our beefy protagonists to their next exotic destination. In fact, if anything, these movies are still perhaps a wee bit too character focused for their own good. That’s not something I expected to say, but the Fast & Furious movies play by their own rules. Producer Diesel and screenwriter/producer Chris Morgan invest so much interest in these characters and their explicitly-stated “family” bond, which is played in earnest but still reads pretty thin, that they continue to take time away from the action in order to establish these arcs that, all things considered, mostly just weight this film down. They’re so sappy and corny that you almost endear to them, but it’s hard to tell if they’re strictly played winkingly, or if they still want to be taken seriously, at least on some level.
Thankfully, these F&F movies also know how to make themselves as rambunctiously goofy as can possibly be, and when they get it right, it’s a bewilderingly beautiful sight to behold. Packed with so much insanity at any given delirious moment, it’s a joy to watch The Fate of the Furious ramp up to their overheated heart’s desire and go full throttle into Crazy Town. For instance, there’s a scene early on in the film where one of the main characters drives a literally flaming car down a pedestrian-filled Cuban street, and that’s maybe the fifteenth craziest thing that happens in this cockamamie sequel. To say the sky is the limit is to look at this series too near-sighted. Morgan did suggest space might be a possibility for the future. At this point, I wouldn’t be shocked if Dom and his crew drove around our galaxy, making a brief pit stop to Earth to refill their coolers with Corona before the credits rolled.
There’s a stampede of driver-less cars whizzing down NYC (as performed by Columbus). There’s a wrecking ball with a smiley face on its back that turns police cars into putty. There’s The Rock, who is practically superhuman in these movies, charging through police officers as if he’s Mr. Bulletproof himself, Luke Cage. These are all the tip of the iceberg, and that’s without referencing the giant ass submarine that meets our heroes at the end. There’s so much chaotic Dom-foolery in The Fate of the Furious, and it relishes in it all. Director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) brings back some of the magic of his underrated The Italian Job remake, which also starred Theron and Statham back in 2003, in order to honor the franchise’s insistence of automobile-centric wacky fun at all costs. It’s a little too long and the pacing is perhaps a little too disjointed to rise up to the standards of Fast Five, which remains the franchise’s breezy highpoint, but it’s undoubtedly one of the finest F&F films thus far. Even when the mileage starts to run low, The Fate of the Furious knows how to get the most out of its fuel stock. Bless their rambunctious spirit.
But I don’t want to underestimate the movie’s emotional sincerity. Admittedly, the relationship between Dom and Theron’s Chipher is filled with some legitimate suspense, and without delving into spoilers, you understand and feel for Dom’s internal dilemma. I know it’s not a high bar or anything, but I feel comfortable claiming The Fate of the Furious contains one of Diesel’s strongest performances as Dominic Toretto. Granted, it’s not Find Me Guilty, but he holds his own better than you’d think the lumbering knucklehead could.
In fact, the whole cast does pretty well with the goofy material (minus Eastwood). It’s clear that they all feel pretty comfortable with both their characters and the film’s winking tone, and the confident camerawork and the choreographed-down-to-the-wire stunts all work in its own oddball harmonium. These movies aren’t going away just yet, and if they continue to pack the silly fun as much as they have in these last few installments, they’re welcome to stay. The Fate of the Furious is pedal-to-the-medal, heart-on-its-sleeve, reckless-as-it-can-be entertainment that kicks the summer movie season into high gear. It earns the right to be called “high-octane” entertainment. Hopefully, you’ll come along for the ride.