The Fate of the Furious, 2017.
Directed by F. Gary Gray.
Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Helen Mirren, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Scott Eastwood, Kurt Russell, Luke Evans, and Charlize Theron.
When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.
To call The Fate of the Furious a mid-tier entry into the series is to tempt confusion, given the clear line drawn between the more niche, petrolhead-baiting original four movies and the vastly superior heist movie reinvention that took hold with 2011’s Fast Five. Be sure that while number eight isn’t a top-shelf effort, it is a riotously entertaining ride all the same, one that remains largely consistent with the thrills of the previous three films in particular.
While celebrating his honeymoon with new wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom (Vin Diesel) is harangued by Cipher (Charlize Theron), a vengeful hacker who holds a powerful trump card, one which she uses to compel Dom to turn on his family and aid her mission of high-tech terrorism. Reluctantly teaming with former foe Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), Dom’s gang must shut down Cipher’s plan and bring their leader back into the fold.
As many felt, quite understandably, that Furious 7 should’ve been this series’ closing chapter, part eight faces the challenge of starting a new saga – a new trilogy even, with 2019 and 2021 dates already penciled in for Fast 9 and Furious 10 – while trying to fill the void of the late Paul Walker’s legacy and at the same time not dishonouring it.
The film’s answer to at least some of these issues hinges on a “daring” attempt to reinvent the series by way of turning this unconventional family’s patriarch, Dom, into a reluctant heel, strong-armed into it by Theron’s omniscient antagonist for reasons that become clear later on.
It’s all ultimately an excuse for the movie to serve up another two-plus hours of globe-trotting, rip-roaring vehicular mayhem, WWE-esque one-liners, cheesy but earnest themes of family and togetherness and, of course, sexy ladies popping out of thongs worn scarcely beneath impossibly short skirts. To that end, The Fate of the Furious – or to continue the series’ run of bland alternate titles in the UK, Fast and Furious 8 – absolutely delivers what audiences both want and expect.
That said, what was innovative and daringly off-the-wall in Fast Five and Furious 6 – and even Furious 7 with its skyscraper-destroying antics – feels a little more pedestrian this time around. It’s not so much a case of the returns diminishing, but that the series feels so sure of itself at this point that the nutty luster of the last few instalments just doesn’t feel quite so fresh. One need only look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe to see how difficult it is to keep a novelty attraction feeling robust and original.
However, the prevailing feeling of ordinariness does little to truly weaken the moment-to-moment thrill, as Dom races a supped-up jalopy through the streets of Havana in an opening chase or later faces off against his former foes in New York, ahead of a ludicrous showdown in the Russian tundra that makes a damn fine attempt at one-upping everything in the franchise that’s come before (results will vary wildly on whether or not it succeeds). As the joke routinely goes, are there many places left for the series to go but outer space?
Though it’s easy to complain about Charlize Theron’s imposing but underwhelming villain or the sheer befuddling logic of Dom’s team granting Statham’s murderous baddie a far kinder reception than is believable, director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) keeps the focus keenly on the superheroes-with-cars shtick, and to that end makes an easy apology for Chris Morgan’s oft-frayed script.
Gray’s action work isn’t quite as inspired as the mind-boggling technical wizardry of James Wan or series stalwart Justin Lin in particular, but regardless of how many entries he sticks around for, Gray has largely done a bang-up job.
Screenwriter Morgan does at least deserve a little credit for taking a less-predictable route with the Evil Dom twist than expected, for as blatantly obvious as the answer seems to Dom’s allegiance shift, it’s supplanted with something a little different, and one that actually pays off with unexpectedly palpable emotion in the end while nodding at the darker tone of earlier instalments.
Still, the film is at its best when largely stripping emotion out altogether and just gearing up for fun; The Rock and Statham are an especially entertaining duo, incessantly attempting to one-up one another as they’re forced to work together. Kurt Russell, God bless him, is back as shady government spook Mr. Nobody and has roped in Scott Eastwood (yes, son of Clint) to operate as his apprentice. Eastwood hasn’t exactly had a particularly compelling career to date (probably best known for a non-part in last summer’s Suicide Squad), but he’s a lot of charming fun here, and to be base, has clearly inherited his father’s grizzled good looks.
Leaving plenty up in the air for a surely even bigger sequel while commendably not exploiting Paul Walker’s legacy in ways fans likely expected it would, The Fate of the Furious sees the franchise in fighting form at an inconceivable number eight, even if its haul isn’t quite as bountiful as in recent years.
Given how nimbly the series has reinvented itself to outpace franchise fatigue thus far, hopefully Fast 9 (Furious 9?) might follow through on that potential, and even if not, there’s a solid chance it’ll still be breezy, dumb fun regardless.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.