THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS
The big question surrounding The Fate of the Furious, the eighth (!) film in this most unexpected and unintended franchise, is whether you can keep it going without the late Paul Walker, who died during the production of the last film, Furious Seven.
By this time, the Fast and Furious franchise is really bigger than one man, and minus a mention in Fate of the Furious, his absence wasn't noted.
The Fate of the Furious gives us everything a fan can want: lots of action, some humor, beautiful locales, even more beautiful women, and more action. In some ways predictable, in some ways almost cartoonish, it may not be the best in this series, but it knows what its audience wants and gives it to them.
I'll try to keep any spoilers to a minimum, but I will start out by saying there are no bonus scenes, so feel free to leave as soon as the credits roll.
Now in happy retirement in Cuba, Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) contemplate forming a family when a mysterious woman approaches Dom. She pressures him into working for her, holding something over his head.
It isn't long before Dom must make a choice when Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) asks him to reform his crew for a job in Berlin. It's here where Dom appears to go rogue, apparently betraying his 'family' to go with this woman. With a little help from the always mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), now joined by his eager novice protégé, dismissively nicknamed by the others "Little Nobody" (Scott Eastwood), we learn that the woman is Cipher (Charlize Theron), a master hacker with nefarious schemes.
She's the type of villain that would be considered too broad for the dour Daniel Craig-James Bond series (though welcome in the Roger Moore-era), but I digress. She has a master plan that will be revealed later.
In any case, it's all hands on deck as Hobbs, Letty, and the Nobodies bring back Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) back, but with a surprising new face to join them against Cipher: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who has his own reasons for revenge against Cipher.
They track Dom and Cipher to New York City, where Dom attacks the Russian Defense Minister (aided with Cipher's hacker skills) and the Family attempts to stop him. When that fails, they all go to Russia, where Cipher's ultimate scheme is discovered, involving nuclear weapons and a Soviet sub.
I can say that all's well that ends well, with everyone back and with the possibility of yet another sequel open.
I've tried to be as spoiler-free as possible, but while watching Fate of the Furious you pretty much know where things are going. We're told pretty early that there is a very logical reason why Dom 'betrayed' his Family (a reason that should be obvious long before we see what it is). I kept thinking that the film would have been better to hold back on the reason until later in the film, to make it more surprising (even though it would be pretty obvious). Even when the reason is literally revealed to everyone at the cookout scene (which I think pretty much ends every Fast and Furious film), you know what we're going to get.
However, that's one of the great pluses, dare I say, charms of the franchise: it doesn't pretend to be original or innovative, but it knows it is a lot of fun.
The film is almost a mass reunion where just about everyone who has been involved in a Fast and Furious film makes an appearance: some in cameo roles, some in more substantial ones. It's not a spoiler to say there's a Shaw Brothers reunion since Luke Evans (the nemesis in Fast and Furious 6) is listed in the credits. About the only significant member of a Fast and Furious film not in Fate of the Furious is poor Lucas Black, forever condemned from the much-maligned Tokyo Drift (a film I still am unapologetic about enjoying). We have another cameo from Dame Helen Mirren's and in her two brief scenes she brings a humor to her role as Mama Shaw.
One positive thing about Fate of the Furious is that there is a strong amount of humor, starting from Johnson's first scene (even if we know where it's going, predictability being one of the franchise's signatures). The interplay between Tyrese and Ludacris still brings laughs (where one wouldn't mind seeing them in their own spin-off movie).
Bless Diesel for doing his best to turn in a performance, the script giving him a chance to try for something other than growling (though one sometimes thinks he would do well to have subtitles when he speaks). Pretty much everyone from the main crew breaks no new ground, their characters pretty much established.
As a side note, while I don't care about on-set beefs between stars, I can believe the rumors of strife between Diesel and Johnson given that they share no screen time together, let alone appear in the same shot together. Even when everyone reunites at the end, Torreto and Hobbs don't actually appear together, but are edited in such a way as to show them in the same place, but not side by side.
As the new figure, Theron obviously loves being the slinky, conniving villainess. She remains calm and cold throughout Fate of the Furious, a woman confident she holds all the cards. It isn't until the end when her perfectly laid-out plan starts completely unraveling that she even raises her voice.
Eastwood, perhaps filling in for the late Walker, has an unexpected ability with comedy as the more straight-laced, by-the-book "Little Nobody", someone who finds the rules don't apply to the family.
As I watched Fate of the Furious, there is something in it that veers into both cartoon and/or comic-book adaptations. The escape from the prison where Deckard is holed up, the attack on the Russian Defense Minister, and the Battle of the Ice (which I figure draws from Alexander Nevsky, and yes, I threw in an Eisenstein reference to a Fast and Furious film review), they are all big and even ludicrous. When Dom appears at the end of the New York attack, he comes like some sort of comic-book villain, with the attempt to capture him coming like an auto club version of the Justice League. When we get the massive Battle on the Ice, the Rock shows himself to be almost Thor-like in his physical powers.
However, that's all part of the fun in a Fast and Furious film: things are meant to be big, overblown, and sometimes so wildly over-the-top they would be laughable anywhere else.
If I find fault with Fate of the Furious, it might be the predictable nature of some of the twists. I also think the film is long (over two hours) and I wonder if some things could have been trimmed (Johnson's first appearance, the 'Riot in Cell Block F').
The Fate of the Furious shows that there hasn't been a bad Fast and Furious film (even Tokyo Drift, which I stubbornly stand by). We see beautiful images of Havana, New York, and Iceland (filling in for Russia), we have loads of action, some car porn, beautiful people, almost balletic action, and that PG-13 friendly level of violence that draws teens and those that think like them into the theaters.
It might not be logical, it might not be realistic, it might all be loud and overblown and bombastic, but at its heart, any Fast and Furious film is about loyalty, love, and yes, family. It asks that you suspend disbelief, indulge in a lot of action, some humor, fast cars and cool people.
The Fate of the Furious holds up its end of the bargain, and I cannot fault it for giving me what it promised: a good time.