If you know me, you know I’ve been committed to The Fast and Furious franchise literally since day one, when the late Paul Walker stepped onto the Miami street racing scene to infiltrate Vin Diesel’s band of carjackers and wisecrackers. It’s actually made me, a 24-year-old, feel old for having seen all of these movies upon their release… and now there are eight of them. This being the first Fast and Furious since the untimely and tragic death of Walker, my curiosity was particularly piqued for an eighth installment of the franchise. Walker’s Brian O’Conner was always the good natured moral compass of the group and served as a bridge between the good guys and the outlaws of his and Dominic Toretto (Diesel)’s team. With O’Conner and his wife Mia respectfully “retired” from the game, it’s up to Toretto to lead his team into the next mission/race/whatever it is this team does now in what could have been a great title – F8 but pronounced “Fate” – but instead we have The Fate of the Furious (2017). But because I’m too lazy to type out this title every time, I’m going to stick to calling it F8.
F8 starts out in Cuba where Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying a honeymoon that’s been postponed since the fourth movie (the FOURTH!). Dom is racing Cubans for pink slips but settling for respect when he literally beats a guy in a race with his (Dom’s) engine on fire. It’s honestly my favorite part of the movie because while it is absurd, it shows off the roots of the Fast and Furious franchise; a group of talented street racers. If you watched the opening scene and then jumped to halfway through the movie, you’d think you were watching two completely different things. After this prologue race, we’re introduced to the next villain of the franchise: Cypher (Charlize Theron). I’ll be the first to say I LOVE Charlize Theron. Incredible talent gift-wrapped in jaw-dropping beauty, it’s no wonder I’m counting down the days until Atomic Blonde (2017) hits theaters. Charlize would have been a great addition to the Fast and Furious franchise if only she wasn’t given one of the most cookie-cutter villain roles of the 21st century: rich cyber-terrorist. Like any 60’s Bond villain, Theron’s Cypher wants control of nuclear weapons to start World War III and is the best at anything technology-related. The woman literally assembles an army of automatic cars to cause mayhem in NYC (surprised that it took this long for this franchise to find its way to New York). Theron does well with the generic dialogue she’s given, but it’s evident that she was grasping at straws to make her villain relevant to this series.
Cypher is talked up to be the biggest, baddest high tech terrorist in the world and she somehow blackmails Dom to turn his back on his gang and work for her. The reason for Dom turning on his crew is the most intriguing mystery of the movie, considering the core theme of the franchise is loyalty to family. When it’s finally revealed what Cypher has on Dom, it’s a little ridiculous that he’d still go along with it, but given Dom’s “development” over eight movies it actually ties into the canon of the franchise pretty well and makes the most sense. Okay, it may not make the MOST sense, but we’re talking about the Fast and Furious movies here. Sense isn’t really in their vocabulary anymore.
Director F. Gary Gray, of Straight Outta Compton (2015) fame, gets the performances and perfectly timed beats you’d expect out of these characters you’ve been following for the better part of TWO decades. The movie is downright hilarious because of the self-aware and wholehearted performances given by Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson, in addition to Nathalie Emmanuel, but Gray’s direction falters during the action sequences. The sweeping shots of exteriors and set pieces are beautiful to look at, but when it comes to getting close and personal with chases and the occasional fist fight, Gray’s shaky approach can seem jarring – at times to the point of nausea.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Hobbs returns and if there isn’t a car chase going on, The Rock is literally putting three guys through a wall at once. Johnson joined the franchise back in Fast Five (2011) and I’m honestly shocked he’s not the lead yet. It makes sense that The Rock found his way into this series considering his commercial appeal and ability to work with I think just about anyone in Hollywood. He’s a modern-day-Schwarzenegger and if there’s one thing the Fast and Furious movies like to take advantage of, it’s keeping up with the times. Each accurately parodies the advances in cars, guns, software, hardware, and just about anything else, and appends them with the best technical filmmaking money can buy. Seriously, it’s ridiculous how much these movies cost – but what’s more ridiculous is how they make it back TEN-FOLD so they can finance the next one, and the one after that.
Where F8 stumbles, however, is in how it handles being an eight-movie series and having characters with history and qualities both redeemable and not so much. The return of Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw is a prime example of this. Statham served as one of the series’ best villains in Furious 7 (2015), on the warpath to avenge his brother, the villain of Fast & Furious 6 (2013). Now he’s back and forced to work with the people he tried to kill, and I don’t buy it. The Fast and Furious franchise always emphasizes family at its core, and Shaw literally killed one of their family members, and now they just accept him as a partner. While Statham’s Shaw has easily the best action scene in the whole movie, I can’t sit in my seat and be expected to believe everyone who was friends with Han, who died at Shaw’s hand, is just okay with working with him. Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody tries to ease the tension, but to me it’s a lost cause. Russell returns as the stereotypical off-the-books head of a secret government faction, and Russell has a such a blast in this role that I can’t get enough of him anytime he’s on screen.
When the credits rolled, I didn’t think the franchise was dead in the water (with the amount of money these movies make, it’s physically impossible), but this is definitely a lower moment for Dom and his crew of rough riding outlaws. I kept thinking to myself that this series used to be about talented street racers and personal definitions of family. Somewhere along the line that turned into heists, cyber terrorism, and a lot of trap music. Now everyone knows hand to hand combat and how to hack into every worldwide database while someone else wields an assault rifle like they had Black Ops training. I didn’t hate F8 at all, and I got the turn-my-brain-off nonsense I was hoping for. But for goodness sake, at least take the time to study the characters you’ve developed over, I’ll say it again, the better part of TWO DECADES and realize that not everyone in this movie should get along right off the bat. That should be enough to pave the way to make what’s supposed to be an absurdist movie have some heart.
Despite all of this, I still can’t wait for the eventual ninth installment… and the tenth.