Is it possible the Fast and the Furious franchise will never run out of gas? Could they speed along into racing nirvana for an eternity? Think about it; if it were to happen it would have been after the unfairly maligned 'Tokyo Drift', but instead these movies have only grown stronger, recalibrating from street racing dramas into four-wheeled superhero movies where cars believably hold up against armored tanks, planes, and now, submarines. The Fate of the Furious is pretty much everything fans of these movies could want; the action is bigger, the script is cornier, the rhetoric about family more overdone than ever, and Dwayne Johnson's muscles are more...muscular. He's also sweatier. And kind of a soccer Dad. But I'd be lying if I said this reached the glorious heights of Fast Five or the chaotic beauty of Furious 7. There are issues that could be a real drag as Dom and his crew head into the final stretch.
Let's be clear; nobody is going to walk away from The Fate of the Furious disappointed. The genius of these movies is that they have allowed the audience to feel as much a part of Dominic Toretto's (Vin Diesel, of course) family as any of the characters he's surrounded by. When Brian and Mia (Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster) rode off into the sunset it was a bittersweet moment we all felt. When fan-favorite Han (Sung Kang) was killed, we were all equally outraged and vengeful. That has also allowed us to connect with goofball characters like Roman Pierce (Tyrese) and Tej (Ludacris), while accepting newcomers such as sexy hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) with open arms. The bond between them is as strong as ever, ironically in the one film where that bond is broken by none other than Dom himself.
The film begins in what probably could have been a perfect post-credits sequence (There isn't one, by the way, so don't stick around.) to show Dom's evolution from street racing grease monkey to man of the world. He and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are in Havana on their honeymoon; Dom is feeling the spirit of Cuba, the culture, the people, and of course, the cars. For a few minutes it's like we've been transported back to 2001 with rows of hot rides with hotter girls in short skirts draped over their hoods. Then, all the good vibes are interrupted when Dom's cousin is bullied by a local thug. Dom challenges him to a race with their cars on the line, but it's uneven because he's stuck in an old lemon against the fastest car in Cuba. Pulling some wild, likely b.s. MacGyver-type stuff that could literally cause the car to explode, Dom wins, which goes against his motto of it “doesn’t matter what’s under the hood. It matters who is behind the wheel." Well, sorta. Dom earns the guy's respect but doesn't take his car, and all is right in the world.
That's Dom for ya. Similar to his character in Knockaround Guys, and his character in Riddick, and...well, basically ALL of Vin Diesel's roles, he lives by a certain moral code. Family and honor above all else, which is why it's so interesting when he betrays all of that to work for Cipher (Charlize Theron, more on her in a sec), a super-hacktivist with some plan to shame the world's super powers or something. She has something on Dom, and the reveal of what it is making him turn on his pals, literally running Agent Hobbs (Johnson) off the road and stealing a dangerous EMP, will make sense given his code. Cue up Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), the government spook who aide Dom's team last time, convinces the crew to mount up against their former leader. He cooks up an elaborate prison plot that has Hobbs busting out Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who has his own personal beef with Cipher that supersedes his hatred for Hobbs. The prison break is a riot; no, a literal Attica-style riot with Hobbs and Shaw plowing through dozens of jump-suited thugs and armed guards, rubber bullets hilariously bouncing off Hobbs' chest.
The film runs like a well-oiled machine every second we get to spend with Dom's team. We can't get enough of Tej's jabs at the hapless Roman or their competition for Ramsey's attention. We love seeing the "softer" side of Hobbs as we get a look at what family means to him. And we also feel for Letty, who is left confused by Dom's betrayal. All of this stuff feels familiar and it carries over into the action which, under the guidance of The Italian Job's F. Gary Gray, brings more vehicular mayhem than the franchise has ever seen. Thankfully they aren't all Mini Coopers getting smashed up this time, but literally thousands of "zombie" cars due to Cipher's technological wizardry. It's an incredible sequence, yet surpassed by the final battle set at an icy Russian outpost. Explosions, submarines, nuclear warheads, and torpedoes make for (along with the threat of a watery demise) make for one of the most elaborate setpieces these movies have ever seen. And that doesn't even count what's going on up in the air on Cipher's plane, where the action down below is matched only by the comedy above. No way am I spoiling that.
Where the film stalls is pretty much every time Cipher starts talking. The F&F movies haven't always had great villains, but they are all better than Cipher who babbles gobbledygook about "accountability" and whatever, with none of it making any sense. She tries to be mercurial and slick, but she's not interesting enough for us to care. When she starts explaining her master plan (Always a no no) it's so nonsensical she practically waves it off as meaningless, which it is. It's almost like franchise writer Chris Morgan is too embarrassed to have her say it out loud. Theron's performance is on such a low gear you wish she could swap screen time with the great Helen Mirren who has a terrific extended cameo as a character we could
Oh who am I kidding? The Fast and the Furious have limits? Pfft! This week the screenwriter didn't shoot down the idea we could see one of these movies set in outer space. I believe it. How many times can you save the world? They could totally drift a space station, right? As they rolled out of their headquarters to save the planet from a potential WWIII, it's clear our favorite bunch of free-wheelin' antiheroes have become The A-Team. They travel the world and save the day whenever duty calls. We've seen this franchise undergo one successful evolution already, and despite a few bumps in the road The Fate of the Furious shows there's still a lot of tread left on these tires.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5