By Anthony Miglieri
When I first encountered the Fast and Furious films, I was but 11 years old and there were but three installments in the franchise. For a period, the original The Fast and the Furious (2001) and 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) were two of the most frequently watched flicks for that Need for Speed-playing, Hot Wheels car-collecting youngster. About nine years and five films later, this double-digit-page paper-writing, internship-searching whippersnapper left the theater with a gleeful grin after witnessing the epicness that is The Fate of the Furious.
The simplicity of the plot, which can be summarized in the seven words “Vin Diesel is a bad guy now,” is one of the new film’s greatest strengths. For most of the previous films, the plots are forgettable and ultimately expendable: they range from taking down a drug lord to taking down a different drug lord to taking down a guy who has a tank. However, they pretty much only exist because awesome action sequences, awesome as they may be, do not a movie make.
Even with the added emotion that Paul Walker’s death brought, Furious 7 was essentially “just another Fast and Furious movie” in terms of having plenty of cool stunts and camaraderie but a bland plot. While I do like that movie, as well as most every film in the franchise for that matter (I recently ranked all eight films here), I think that the easily understandable idea that Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has “gone rogue” is great way of setting Fate apart from the rest of the franchise. It also dispenses with a lot of the uninteresting plot mechanics that have plagued most of the franchise to varying degrees, and adds a point of genuine (if obviously melodramatic) emotion. I mean, how could Dom, of all people, go against Family? I, for one, was unsarcastically very curious to know the answer, and I was not disappointed.
The Fate of the Furious also addresses another one of the most glaring weaknesses of the franchises: it actually has an interesting villain in nefarious super hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron). Deckard Shaw, mostly by virtue of being portrayed by Jason Statham, was a great antagonist for the crew in Furious 7 (more on him later), but he was undermined by his limited screentime and the baffling inclusion of another, disposable villain. Cipher is intriguing in how she, a very smart but physically unimposing woman, is able to rival the power and machismo of characters like Toretto, Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), and Shaw.
Speaking of Hobbs and Shaw: they are the main reason why this is probably the funniest Fast yet. Now both former antagonists-turned heroes, these two characters form an almost unreasonably entertaining duo, as they spend much of the runtime hurling priceless insults at one another (Hobbs: “I will beat your ass like a Cherokee drum!”). Besides hilariously believing that he could beat the Rock in a fist fight, Statham’s Shaw is also key in three of the film’s funniest and most satisfying non-vehicular plot points: a prison break with Hobbs, a plot twist involving his mother (whose portrayal is so stupidly amazing that I won’t reveal the actress), and a plane-bound skirmish involving a baby. Days after this film was released, it was announced that Johnson and Statham will have their own spinoff film. Sometimes the world is a nice place after all.
When it comes to movies like this, I find that their quality is best measured by how fun it is to say out loud some of the stuff that happens in them. For instance: in 2 Fast 2 Furious, “They drive a Camaro off a ramp and crash into the bad guy’s yacht!” and in Furious 7, “They drive out of a plane, and later they drive off a building onto another building and then onto a third building!” As a testament to this franchise’s unrivalled ability to continually one-up its own ridiculousness with every film, The Fate of the Furious just might have its predecessors licked in this department. For goodness’ sake, in this one, Vin Diesel is racing a guy in the beginning, and then his car starts on fire, and then he spins around so he’s driving backwards, and then he hits the NOS, and then he beats the guy, and then he jumps out of the car just before it hits a wall, flips into the ocean, and explodes! That’s in the first 10 minutes, before the wrecking ball, zombie cars, and submarine show up.
In short, the Fast and Furious franchise is still the best in the business at taking its ridiculousness seriously: where some series might jump the shark, Fate jumps the nuclear submarine. In general, I’m not a big fan of pure action movies, but the Fast and Furious saga just hits the sweet spot for me. Yes, it’s due to my personal nostalgia and the cars, but it’s also because of the recurring characters, the self-awareness (at least since Fast Five), and the unabashed willingness and skillfulness to deliver tactile, thrilling, and absolutely bonkers spectacle. Admittedly, there have been times when the Fast and Furious franchise seemed to be in neutral. This is far from the case here: The Fate of the Furious burns rubber.