By Dan Cava
April 13, 2017
Confession: The Fate of the Furious is my first experience with the Fast and Furious franchise. I know, I know. It’s movie number eight, and how could I miss all those movies, and don’t I need to know everything that leads up to this one?
But I had an instinct that these movies aren’t telling one huge novelistic story, but they are simply adding to the story in order to provide us with another instance of Fastness and Furiosity. The saga doesn’t build, it escalates. The movies connect, not because they need to, but because it’s more fun that way. (If anything, the series shares this strength with the Mission:Impossible franchise, which, from what I can tell, it seems to be increasingly patterned after.) I’m sure it helps to know the previous films so you can enjoy the surprise cameos and feel a few more of the feels; but when these movies are done right, nothing can stop the gut-level joys that the Fast and Furious movies traffic in.
Turns out my instinct was right. F8 is a blast.
Eight movies in and the franchise-makers seem to have the formula sewn up. Killer cars, banging beats, stunning stunts, roaring engines, some half-bare booties, a few warm-and-fuzzies regarding “family,” pause for jokes and plots, and repeat more loudly. I got the feeling that F8 was a kind of greatest-hits victory lap. The movie’s prologue in Cuba, a nice nod to the series’ street racing roots, serves up all the above ingredients in pretty short order, with Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray’s camera zooming around corners to catch spinning silver rims and bouncing bikini bottoms with equal interest.
The people in this movie are not overly complex in the way of, say, Shakespeare or, say, a Sprite commercial. Nor should they be, really. Again, think Mission:Impossible. From what I can tell, since each person is an outrageously talented driver, all of the characters can be described through simple adjustments of the franchise name. Heck, we don’t even need to know their character names: Vin Diesel is fast and fuming, with his patented whisper-serious line delivery. Tyrese Gibson is fast and funny. Dwayne Johnson is fast and federal agent. Michelle Rodriquez, who suffers a betrayal of sorts early on the movie, is fast and actually furious. And so on.
Series newcomers Charlize Theron and Kurt Russell certainly know what kind of movie they are in, and they play along gamely. Theron’s villain, Cipher, seems inspired by a Matrix Reloaded subplot, white-girl braids and goofy philosophical monologues intact. And Russell’s government agent conveniently dispenses mission information with smiley Middle-American charm. His codename is Mr. Nobody, his job is to be the “government guy,” and he has a great time doing it.
I’m going to guess that these basic characterizations ultimately work in favor of the series, as they certainly do in F8. Everything I needed to know, I was able to learn in the first ten minutes. She’s great with computers. He has an on-and-off relationship with working for the government. These other two are married, newly I think. These two guys have a beef. And when they need to, they all drive gorgeous cars and blow shit up. We just don’t need depth in movies where Lamborghinis jump over submarines.
We need crazy car-based action, which we absolutely get. The movie has five killer set pieces, each more nuts than the last. We need a story that justifies the action, which…[shrugs] sure. We don’t need, but we get a lot of super explain-y dialogue and eye-rolling macho threats, which with this cast, what do you expect. And we need a touch of heart.
On that note: In the midst of the mayhem, I found F8’s values to be fascinatingly traditional at times. “Family” is a BIG deal to these people, and there’s no hiding an abundant number of crosses on necklaces. At one point, the crew says grace over a meal together, an unironic moment meant to demonstrate their closeness. Can I just say that, in a genre often driven by hedonistic impulses, I found this stuff to be refreshing and uniquely American? When was the last time you had a movie where progressively diverse casting, warmly conservative virtues, and vehicles falling out of skyscrapers exist together so naturally?
In terms of my ability of enjoy The Fate of the Furious, I don’t think I missed much by neglecting the rest of the series. The trailer says the “rules have changed,” but we know that’s not true. But if F8 is any indication of the ridiculous/awesome pleasures of the previous films, then I’ve missed a lot. F8 is silly as all get out, but it is also a ton of fuel-injected fun. Watching this franchise’s latest piece of high-powered hard car porn, the secret fifteen year-old inside me had a really great time. Thanks to The Fate of the Furious, I can’t wait to show him the rest of the series.
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5