“That’s a lot of ice cream and Tay Tay concerts”
A new era in The Fast and the Furious lore has begun almost four years after original co-star Paul Walker passed away doing exactly what his character Brian O’Conner did in the films: drive fast. With his role shelved by retirement rather than death, the goodness Brian provided Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his band of miscreants remains in the background as an unseen sense of morality and justice. It lingers to bolster the group’s sense of “family” and togetherness that moves beyond blood into respect, loyalty, and kinship. It’s therefore only fitting this newest chapter would double-down on that concept to parallel love and betrayal as yet another puppet master higher than everyone else in this mythology’s gallery of villains arrives to tear Dom’s world apart.
The title is The Fate of the Furious and it’s an apt if not wholly on-the-nose moniker for what Chris Morgan has written. Let’s just say that everyone who isn’t dead in real life or canon makes an appearance to either crack jokes, satiate audience expectations, or provide yet another casualty to serve as the latest trope-based motivation to get angry, lose control, and wreak havoc. Fate has therefore brought them to this place, one where Dom is forced into servitude under the most dangerous hacker the planet has ever not seen. Cipher (Charlize Theron) has the ability to operate in shadows darker than even the US government’s Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and she wields Dom as a weapon to accomplish what her other accomplices by coercion couldn’t.
Cipher has set the ball rolling—or continued a ball she set a few films back without our knowledge in the most convoluted bit of retrofitting this side of Jason Statham‘s Deckard inexplicably being brother to Luke Evans‘ Owen Shaw from Part 6, Sung Kang‘s Han’s killer in Part 3, and Part 7‘s main villain. She seeks a nuclear weapon to “watch the watchmen” so to speak and probably has the means to do so without Dom. The reason he’s been “recruited” is mainly to take him off the board as an unwitting adversary. Her belief is that his betrayal will keep his crew devoid of leadership and too emotionally compromised to stop her. So she kidnaps Dom’s ex (Elsa Pataky‘s Elena) and tests his devotion to “family.”
It’s therefore Cipher, her lieutenant Rhodes (Kristofer Hivju), a crew of nameless hackers, and Dom battling the best bunch of criminals Mr. Nobody and his green protégée Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood)—coined by the always hilarious Roman (Tyrese Gibson)—could assemble on short notice. As the trailer reveals, the latter consists of Dwayne Johnson‘s Hobbs (once he escapes prison, the orange jumpsuit provided by Dom’s betrayal), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman, Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and, in a not-so-stunning reversal considering the success of his brilliant tête-à-tête opposite Hobbs, Deckard. Will they take out Dom if necessary? Will Dom take them out? It’s both an intriguing conceit to push Toretto back into pure badass criminal activity and spice up the otherwise usual Robin Hood-esque mentality.
After Justin Lin‘s departure and James Wan‘s journey helming Furious 7, the director’s chair falls to F. Gary Gray. Despite earning raves and accolades for his last drama Straight Outta Compton, no one should forget that Gray got his start on the Ice Cube-penned comedy Friday. Whether that fact is coincidence or not when it comes to my next declaration is up to you, but The Fate of the Furious is by far the funniest and most basely entertaining entry of the franchise. It’s probably also the most implausible with enough plot holes to make your brain hurt from counting (Dom seems able to freely communicate with friends and contacts despite being trapped under the watchful eye of a sociopathic tech genius control freak). They’re not mutually exclusive.
For every bad adherence to the past—as if Elena’s badass cop wasn’t given the shortest straw ever when bowing out upon Letty’s rebirth, she’s rendered into an even more inexcusably trite pawn here—comes a few good ones like Johnson and Statham’s verbal warfare or Gibson’s uproarious ego contrasting his cowardice, for lack of a better term. Gray finally cajoles a memorable performance from the otherwise bland Eastwood by casting him in a role that utilizes said blandness for effect; Russell chews as much scenery as possible whenever he pops in to provide answers to questions Morgan doesn’t have time to write the rest as discovering themselves; and a nuclear submarine puddle jumps Russia’s icy water while heat-seeking torpedoes are let loose. What’s not to like?
The inherent comedy in Roman choosing a neon orange Lamborghini to drive on literal ice or making Johnson his daughter’s soccer coach complete with Samoan war dance to intimidate twelve year old opponents is all-time. The filmmakers are embracing the natural charisma of their characters and building a story with edge around them without losing it. They aren’t completely excising the car chase aspect (the film opens with an impossibly cartoonish drag race between Diesel and Celestino Cornielle‘s Cuban Mafioso Raldo), but it’s definitely taken a back seat to the physicality Johnson and Statham provide. Just like their fight in the former’s office building was a highlight in Part 7, their jailbreak here shines brightest. Between Johnson’s embellished strength and Statham’s embellished speed, its parkour chaos on steroids.
And those action scenes are also very funny once you numb yourself to the fact that everyone has become a full-fledged killer. These aren’t mechanics thrust into crazy situations anymore. They now come wielding automatic rifles and a complete lack of remorse as stooges are mowed down individually rather than as mere collateral damage from explosions. But if you buy that these men and women from the street can equal Hobbs’ Special Forces training, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. Revel in Dom doing his best Deathstroke to make a Russian diplomat pee his pants. Bask in the glory of Statham single-handedly destroying an army while holding a baby’s car seat. It’s so over-the-top that you cannot help but escape into its nonsense with open arms.
The villain is still one-note (Theron has fun with dead-eye malice, but her Cipher is written so exacting in action that she must be made stupid in order to lose), the technology still borders on science fiction, and the body count almost approaches the number of vehicles destroyed. We get sports cars, tanks, and subs as well as fisticuffs, bullets, and missiles. Dom does nothing to earn the freedom he receives and therefore the time to maneuver himself into a position to beat Cipher, but she supplies it anyway because the plot needs it. Convenience becomes the spine on which The Fate of the Furious adheres, its inevitable contrivances countered by our enjoyment in their spoils. It might not be great, but it’s great at what it is.
Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 136 minutes | Release Date: April 14th, 2017 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): F. Gary Gray
Writer(s): Chris Morgan / Gary Scott Thompson (characters)