Family. One word with a lot of meaning. Almost – if not all – of the greatest traditions in the world center around the coming together of loved ones: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Ramadan, Lunar New Year…..the list goes on and on. Though usually rooted in religious or national origins, I think we can safely say that at their core, they are about the coming together of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and close friends no matter what the red date on the calendar signifies.
At the cinemas, other family traditions have appeared over the decades. The weekend matinees are often overrun with harried parents corralling their sugar-charged rugrats for the latest Disney or Dreamworks animated extravaganza. The fandoms of “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” come together with each new release, embracing their adopted siblings with robed arms while trying not to poke their eyes out with their plastic lightsabers, and (wink,wink) I’m sure a fair number of families actually got their start in the backseats of foggy-windowed cars at many a local drive-in.
And probably the newest tradition to come about is the pilgrimage of friends and families every couple of years to their favorite theater to catch up on the latest shenanigans of one of the great cinematic groupings of the new millennium. That’s right, the Toretto Clan is back and the laws of physics are once again trembling in their wake.
“The Fate of the Furious” – number eight in what has become one of the most surprising franchises ever to grace the screen – opens with the head of the family, Dom (Vin Diesel), enjoying the beauty, culture, and – of course – cars of Cuba with the love of his life, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). After a good old fashioned drag race to get our appetites whetted, Dom and Letty are called into action by one-time adversary – and now full-blown family member – Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), to help steal a high tech weapon. After calling in the rest of the gang – Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) – they happily head off for the first of what will surely be many over-the-top set-pieces. However, after they successfully pull off the mission, things go monstrously sideways when Dom turns on his loved ones, damn near kills Hobbs, and takes off with the weapon on his own to deliver it into the waiting hands of master cyber-terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron).
Dom? Really? Yep, really. And I’ll leave the story there, because – even though it works within the scope of the film – attempting to describe the reasoning will probably just lead to one heck of a headache. What follows is a mad chase around the world as the family tries to stop Dom and Cipher from triggering a nuclear war.
Also along for the ride are government agents Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russel) and Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), whose main job is to keep the family in line, even though they’re the ones usually pushing them over that same line. And last, but definitely not least, we have newest family member Deckard (Jason Statham) tagging along to help everyone bring Dom and Cipher down.
Wait, wait, wait. So, the hero of almost the entire series up till now is the villain, and the guy who tried to kill them all in Part 7 (and actually did kill one of them in Part 6) is now the good guy? Yep.
Welcome to the world of “The Fast and the Furious”. Try not to think about it too much. It’s not healthy.
The one thing that makes this franchise successful, the action set-pieces, is the thing that I fear will eventually bring them down. People don’t go to these movies in mass numbers for deep meaning or masterful storytelling. They go to see if the filmmakers are actually going to be able to outdo themselves and give us even crazier action than what came before. Sure, we also care for a lot of these characters, and are curious to see where they’ll go and how they’ll fare, but truth be told, the box-office on these will drop like a stone once the action becomes repetitive or a shadow of what has so lovingly assaulted our eyeballs in the past.
And, sadly, I was beginning to see a bit of that here.
For much of the first third of the movie, I was just taking it in. I wasn’t hating it, but I wasn’t loving it either. I was just….liking it. The action scenes were good, but nothing special. The first car chase gets a little whacky towards the end, but nothing rise-worthy. The mission to steal the weapon is actually mostly missing, with only the escape being shown, and as far as chases go it’s pretty standard, even with the inclusion of a certain huge ball of something. Seeing everybody back together brought a smile, but I found a lot of their banter a bit tired and lacking real spark. I giggled a few times at the antics of Roman and Tej, but not like I did before. And to be completely honest, I did groan a few times when the word “family” popped up. It is getting a bit old, and unintentionally funny at times.
Things do get better during the second act once we have Rogue-Dom instead of Family-Dom. It adds a cool twist to the story that shakes things up a bit. Charlize Theron, after proving her action mettle in “Mad Max: Fury Road”, makes a worthy opponent for the crew and has some good moments as her role expands. I wouldn’t say she rewrites The Movie Villain’s Handbook, but she’s pretty damn tough and sinister in this. And then Deckard enters the mix. Thank God for Jason Statham as Deckard. He is definitely my favorite character in “Fate” and with his entrance he brings that jolt of electricity that was sorely missing from the first part of the film. Whenever he’s on the screen, he grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go. And you won’t want him to. He’s got the best moves, the best quips, and almost all the best moments in the whole movie. More on him later.
The action gets cranked up a few notches as well in the second act with an insane race through New York involving a horde of computer controlled cars. Okay, I thought, now we’re getting back into the stuff I like. This is where the movie will really start to earn the “Furious” back from its title. And it delivers. Truth be told, maybe a bit too much. There is some glorious carnage on display here, but I think it goes a wee bit too far sometimes, if that’s possible. Cluttered is a good word for it. Listen, I love the ridiculousness of these movies as much as the next guy, but the loonyness could stand to be tempered to a degree. Still, a fun scene.
And now I want to pause for a moment and just say that if the rest of the movie were to continue like the first two acts, I would probably give it a 6.5. Good action, but nothing really new. Characters lack spark, as does the writing. And no feels. Overall, almost no wow-factor, except for Statham. Ultimately, however, I’m going to give it a score of 8/10. Why, you ask?
Because the last act of this movie is 40-45 minutes of wondrous, magnificent, over-the-top, glorious insanity. After the first 90 or so minutes, no-one was more surprised than I was at this abrupt turn of events. Suddenly, this movie could do no wrong. The action went through the roof, the laughs were all out loud, the surprises caught me off guard, the feels and tears were welling up left, right, and center, and I was witness to one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in a good while. How good? You know that submarine and torpedo scene everyone keeps going on about? As great as that stuff is, it doesn’t come close to matching the joy I had watching this character throw down in a good old-fashioned punch and kick fest. Yep, we are back to my man Jason Statham. Someone needs to call 911, because he absolutely steals this movie from everyone, including Vin Diesel and The Rock. That fight scene is amazing and his interactions with another character in that fight is what people will be going on and on about for days and weeks to come. It’s that good. I want to re-watch this movie right now for just that scene. Damn!
Whew, I think that’s about it. I should give a shout-out to F. Gary Gray for his first time out in the series. Man, if you had nailed the first two thirds like you did the last third, I’d be starting your Oscar campaign right now. That said, although I have to fault you for a weak buildup, you ultimately delivered the goods and gave me a grand finale I won’t soon forget.
In the end, it was good to see everyone back and I had a lot of fun with “The Fate of the Furious”, especially the latter parts. It does deliver everything a good Fast and Furious movie should, even if it was lacking early on. I think if you enjoyed the others, this one will not disappoint. With regards to the upshift in gears as we approach the ending, it’s the kind of excitement theaters were built for.
The fate of this series is far from sealed.
Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by F. Gary Gray