And just like that, it’s been sixteen years since this cinematic series kicked off. Who would have thought 2001’s The Fast and the Furious would be the catalyst for the franchise juggernaut Universal Pictures has now? Eight films (and counting) and jaw-dropping box office results point to a very large and loyal following, a fan base keen to catch up with an increasingly crowded “family” and a tongue-in-cheek tone that has proudly ramped up the craziness in every chapter.
The Fate of the Furious follows on after James Wan’s hugely successful Furious Seven, which had the difficult task of delivering a blockbuster after one of its lead actors, the late Paul Walker, tragically passed away in the middle of production. Director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton) takes the reins confidently, hitting the ground running with all the style, energy and over-the-top gusto we’ve come to expect since the franchise kicked into silly, absurdly fun, high-octane gear with Fast Five.
The plot is a mix of the obvious, the ambitious and the ill conceived. Recycling a Fast & Furious 6 plot point by this time turning Dom (Vin Diesel) against his family, F8 (Fate, get it? Get it!?!?!) finds our team members – including Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) – going up against one of their own thanks to a big new villain in the form of Cipher (Charlize Theron). The series continues towards the route of a wink-nudge heavy James Bond picture, taking our heroes on a globetrotting mission that involves killing faceless goons and saving the world.
Let me put this out there: F8 is a lot of fun. It ain’t perfect, nor is it a step up in the series, but you’re in for a good time. Now, let’s get the unfortunate elements out of the way first. On the surface, F8 is a worthy and natural continuation for the franchise, but despite that polished sheen and muscular body kit, there are a number of faulty parts under the hood that needed some work before this one was rolled out.
It appears that screenwriter Chris Morgan, who’s written every F&F film since Tokyo Drift, may have rushed this. Apart from some truly cringe-worthy dialogue, even for the oh-that’s-lame-but-kinda-fun level of one-liners this series is known for, F8 suffers from not knowing how to juggle its many moving parts. A number of characters walk around without much to do; Tej and Ramsey essentially cancel each other out as the team’s two hackers, Kurt Russell is unfortunately wasted as the exposition-ready Mr. Nobody, and it’s becoming a little too obvious that Tyrese Gibson’s Roman is mostly being included for amusing reaction shots and cheeky zingers.
Then there’s an overreliance on tying it all back to the series. Morgan clearly holds fan service as a high priority, providing plenty of nods and including a number of plot turns to keep it all connected, but it’s overly done. It’s a hard one to explain without resorting to spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are a few too many connecting strands placed here poorly, without the necessary justification needed to provide those satisfying payoffs/reveals.
Perhaps the biggest issue lies with the overall plot, which keeps Dom away from his team for most of the film. Walker’s Brian and Diesel’s Dom were essentially the heart and soul of the series, and with Brian understandably gone from this chapter it should fall to Diesel’s presence to provide us with our dramatic anchor. Unfortunately, since Dom’s in mysterious, brooding bad-guy mode here, we’re left to follow those who have essentially been side characters. Thank goodness Johnson is here to chew up the scenery when he can, but Hobbs simply isn’t where the plot backbone lies. With Brian gone and Dom toned down, there’s a gaping gap left where our main protagonists should be.
As for our big new antagonist, Theron does what she can with poor dialogue and frustratingly simplistic motivation. The Oscar winner has a strong, ice-cold screen presence, and manages to hold up a number of scenes that would have easily fallen apart in less capable hands.
So, yes, there are some unfortunate faults, but wouldn’t you know it, they aren’t detrimental enough that the fun is taken away.
F8 scatters a number of effective, character-driven movements throughout. Scenes particularly involving Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard stand out, and it’s a ton of fun when they’re together, testosterone-fueled staredowns while throwing verbal disses at each other. The prison break scene with Hobbs and Deckard is a doozy, even if it wraps up at a moment that cheats us out of a teased showdown, and Deckard’s one-man battle while protecting a baby is one grin-inducing sequence. There’s also quite a dark turn for Dom that will surprise many with its brutality, although the less said about that the better.
Of course, it’s the vehicular chaos that will attract many cinemagoers, and F8 certainly delivers in the crazy action department. A key action sequence in New York is fantastic, piling up cars with a ferocity that likens vehicles to the mindless, energised zombies we saw climbing all over each other in World War Z. It’s an ambitious, almost applause-worthy section of the film, although it’s almost topped by the seriously impressive finale. The huge climax – involving ice, cars, a plane, a submarine, torpedoes, and a number of dead goons – is glorious, and with the aforementioned New York sequence goes a long way in ramping up F8’s overall entertainment value.
The F&F series made the right decision to target unbridled escapism, and F8 is careful to keep that objective in its sights. Gray and his team keep the momentum going, jumping from action scene to quip to exposition at a breakneck speed that often helps one fly past the issues. Alas, the issues are nevertheless there, with a half-cooked script that fails to juggle its many characters and doesn’t present us with a strong narrative anchor. The series is still driving fast; it’s perhaps just a less furious episode than what fans may be expecting.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10