Movie Review: 'Fate of the Furious' Among Fast Franchise Best

Movie Review: 'Fate of the Furious' Among Fast Franchise Best

Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto “goes rogue” in this latest installment in the Fast & Furious franchise, sending the rest of his former team scrambling after him before he can get his hands on:

- an EMP device that can destabilize an entire city
- the “God’s Eye’ software from the previous movie that can track any living person
- a nuclear launch ‘football’ from a suitcase handcuffed to a Russian defense minister
- the Soviet submarine containing the nuclear payload

At least, the trailers for the film are trying to sell you Dom gone rogue. The second scene in the film makes it clear that Toretto is being blackmailed by the villainous Cipher (Charlize Theron) to obtain all these items, although we don’t yet know what she’s blackmailing him with, or what she plans to do with all the weaponry.

Heck, I still don’t know what she planned to do. Blow up the world?

In any event, Dom is the perfect guy to obtain all this stuff for her, because he can drive cars really good. If we needed any reminder of this, the film’s Havana-set opening scene shows us just how good Dom can drive: with a bottle of “Cuban NOS” and a Macgyver soda can hack, he blows past souped-up competition in his rusty bucket by putting it in reverse and blowing up the engine, using the explosion to propel him to victory.

This might be the best scene in the film, because while it’s positively ridiculous it has its own set of logic and rules and street machismo, and delivers all the fast cars and furious crashes and scantily-clad oiled bodies that people expect from this franchise.

I always saw David Cronenberg’s Crash, about a group of people with a sexual fetish for car crashes, as more of an allegory, but clearly he was onto something. This kind of car porn gives certain kinds of NASCAR fans everything they want without having to sit through the race.

It also might be the first drag racing scene, in this series about drag racers, since the third movie. Admittedly, my memory of this particular franchise ain’t photographic.

With Dom doing the down-low for Cipher, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his government-issued sidekick (Scott Eastwood) recruits the old gang to stop them both, putting FBI Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel) against their former friend.

Oh, and also Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the previous film’s villain, who turns good guy here so he can get in on the action. And Helen Mirren, of all people, shows up in a wonderful foul-mouthed cockney cameo.

What follows is the usual-usual: globetrotting locales (Cuba, Berlin, New York, and Russia), fist fights, car chases, and crashes. Lots, and lots, of crashes. But the action is a little toned down, and more realistic, than the previous two entries, and the film is better because of it. That might be thanks to F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job), replacing longtime Furious director Justin Lin.

A real highlight plays on some timely tech: Theron’s Cipher hijacks the auto-drive feature on enabled cars in New York City to create a wave of “zombie” automobiles to corner the Russian minister from all sides. Including above, as she drives vehicles right out of multi-storied parking garages.

I say this entry is more realistic than the past two, but it climaxes with a scene that involves a convoy of vehicles skating across a frozen Russian lake. I recalled the famous ice floe scene from D.W. Griffith’s Way Down East, but now with cars and trucks and rockets and missiles and machine guns and a nuclear submarine popping up from beneath in an effort to sink them all like Orca the killer whale.

I’ve now awarded all eight films in this franchise 2.5 stars. They each accomplish exactly what they set out to do and manage to be blissfully entertaining in the process, and yet I cannot wholeheartedly recommend any of them as anything more than a silly diversion.

Within that rating, however, there’s a lot of wiggle room. I think this entry, after Fast Five and its memorable Rio de Janeiro action sequences, might be the second-best.

One vaguely unsettling note here, alongside the usual car crash porn, is the movie’s treatment of who I would consider to be innocent bystanders. Whether German police or Russian military, the heroes of Furious 8 straight-up murder them just for doing their jobs. No, it’s their fault for not instinctively realizing that the meatheads trying to get into the nuclear submarine are really the good guys, who can only save the world by killing everyone who gets in their way.

While promoted as The Fate of the Furious (because fate rhymes with eight?) the onscreen title is actually Fast & Furious 8.

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