When the trailer for The Fate Of The Furious dropped, the world held their collective breath in awe. How could Dominic Toretto, the world’s leading source of inspirational monologues about family, possibly betray the clan that meant so much to him for seven movies and, OK, that’s all an exaggeration. Still, there was excitement related to how this dumb, dumb, franchise would top its commitment to explosive dumbness. Thankfully, that part worked out just fine.
So, since we last left our shaven head block of family values and an octane addiction (‘Big Vin’ Diesel), he’s found a home in Cuba with the love of his life (Michelle Rodriguez, who thank god is over that amnesia thing). There’s a big chase to kick things off and make a friend, but the plot doesn’t begin until super hacker Charlize Theron blackmails Vin into betraying his family. Why? You’ll have to wait to find out and suffer through the pain of the Fast Family splitting at the core in the process. Dwayne The Rock Johnson is forced to step in and lead the team (Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and noble hacker Nathalie Emmanuel). However, since the gang is missing both Vin and Paul Walker, a new addition is necessary. So Kurt Russell’s mysterious superspy kind of guy insists that they take in Jason Statham (Fair enough, The Stath is an ass kicker like no other, but he was the bad guy last time! How can he be part of the family?). In other words, it’s a topsy-turvy soap opera of a tale that’s really just an excuse to toss as many examples of motor mayhem at the screen as possible. You know, like a Fast and Furious movie!
The Fate Of The Furious (great title) has the misfortune of following up Furious 7, a franchise outing that was given unexpected emotional weight and gravitas by the death of Paul Walker. Despite the attempts of franchise screenwriter Chris Morgan to force something resembling emotion into this picture, it doesn’t really work. We’re back in empty melodrama here folks. No tears, just cheers and some jeers. To compensate that, the delightfully bloated blockbuster doubles down on irony. It’s been in the air since Fast Five. Slowly the world’s biggest and dumbest boom-boom delivery system has mutated into a winking self-parody of itself. Hiring Friday director F. Gary Gray (who also did The Italian Job remake, so he knows cars fool) means that someone with a background of comedy is orchestrating the madness for the first time. So he’s going for more laughs than the previous three flicks and as a result doesn’t quite get as many. These movies shouldn’t really try to be funny. That’ll just happen on its own when they are true to themselves. So that’s mildly disappointing, but thankfully it’s not a shark jump moment just yet. Far from it, this massive $250 million pile of twisted metal is one of the most purely entertaining entries in the franchise despite some bloat and ironic missteps.
A big reason comes down to the cast of the Fate of the Furious, a collection of human action figures with far too much charm. Removing Diesel from the equation really lets the big dogs on the sideline step up to bite off some delicious scene-stealing meat (Yeah, I stuck with that metaphor. What of it?). The Rock and Jason Statham get to do the love/hate buddy bonding routine through a series of one-liners and gently homoerotic fight scenes. It’s glorious. These guys are brilliant and when The Rock gets to start throwing around extras like the real world Incredible Hulk that he is, well tears of joy will be shed by any viewer with a beating heart. The duo are also highly self-aware performers and wink it up to the hilt. The same can be said for Kurt Russell who struts through the film to spit out exposition with a smirk and some shades in a manner that only the most charming of all movie stars possess. Michelle Rodriguez also gets more to do beyond looking dazed and confused yet somehow grounds things slightly while crushing heads. As for the rest of the gang, they are all essentially warm bodies in the room sharing one-liner duty and sitting in the cars that need exploding. Oh well. Helen Mirren and a ridiculous cockney accent to pop up as well and she’s every bit as glorious as you’d hope.
Vin spends most of the movie glowering on the sidelines with Theron’s super hacker. As usual, the delightful Diesel plays things completely sincerely. The man doesn’t have an ounce of irony in his bloated body and the way he commits to this absolute nonsense is as special as always. Somehow he sheds a tear out of his shiny penis of a head and even screams out in pain a few times. It’s great, even if he’s essentially separated from his family for the entire running time. Theron spends most of her scenes staring at computer screens and reducing evil to a series of pouts. As a bleached blond sexy hacker, she’s a relic of the ludicrous 90s action movies this series throws back to and is amusing enough. There haven’t really been great villains in this series (Statham aside of course and that was always a misdirect), so she slots into the villain of the week role as well as anyone could. She also admirably doesn’t wink though, which is good. Too much irony would sink this ship.
Oh yeah, there’s action as well. Lots of it. Hundreds of hacked cars plow through the streets of New York like zombies with horsepower. There’s an artic submarine vs cars chase that make Brosnan era Bond movies feel like gritty Jason Bourne realism. There are flying suits. So much fire. So much scale. Essentially this series that started in street racing, mutated into international heists, and transformed into “men on a mission” nonsense is now a franchise about a team of working class James Bonds who prefer Corona to martinis, tight Ts to tuxedos and have an even more impressive collection of hot rods. It’s insane, but damn it, the explosive pleasures are worth it. Thanks to those inflated Furious 7 box office receipts (one of the ten highest grossing films of all time and don’t you ever forget it), the FF team now has limitless resources to stage action scenes and take full advantage of it. The fist fights are more elaborate. The car chases are obscenely over produced. It’s a collection of massive, stupid, and expensively explosive action sequences the likes of which few have ever seen and even fewer would dare attempt. These flicks compete with superhero blockbusters now and The Fate Of The Furious sets a standard of ludicrous mayhem that will be hard for the rest of the summer blockbuster season to top.
Somehow over the course of sixteen years and eight movies, The Fast And Furious franchise has mutated into a special series of idiotic excellence. Some may poo-poo anyone daring to take them seriously, and others are perhaps a little too overblown in their ironic appreciation. However, there is most certainly a place for these movies dominating the global multiplex. The car chase is one of the most purely cinematic pleasures around. Blockbusters are essentially overproduced Hollywood versions of 70s exploitation movies and this title was borrowed (at a fair price) from exploitation king Roger Corman. The Fast and Furious flicks represent a bit of movie history blown up and dumbed down for the lowest common denominator of a new generation. As they grow and expand, they somehow become even more entertaining in their idiocy.
Some will claim that this new chapter is a step down from the last one because of the impossible-to-repeat emotional pull of Paul Walker’s departure. That’s fair and undeniable. However, with that accidental cultural relevancy removed, The Fate Of The Furious also brings the series back to its core purpose of making viewers smile through pretty pictures that go boom and even-larger-than–life big screen presences. It’s a glorious ode to Hollywood and cinematic excess that tips the growing irony of the franchise to the limit without ever quite going over. Chances are that this series peaks with the cartoon clustercuss of B-movie bliss that was Justin Lin’s Fast Five, but as we inch towards that planned F10 concluding chapter (which god willing will feature Nicolas Cage as the final villain) at least they are sticking to the insane playbook that flick laid down fairly well. There aren’t many camp and craptacular blockbuster franchises worth getting behind these days. That alone make the Fast franchise worth embracing. So, as tough as it is to bid you farewell, for now, Dominic Toretto, that time has come. You will be missed, but at least we can all guarantee that in two years you’ll be back, bigger, dumber, and balder than ever. God bless.