The Fate of the Furious is great. Whether it’s as good as the last films or not is another question, but if you liked the previous films, chances are you’ll dig this one. Ever since the introduction of The Rock in Fast Five, and the shift away from underground street racing, this series has been a legitimately entertaining action juggernaut. It’s stupid, and it’s ridiculous. It’s self-aware, and tons of fun. Each movie has a diverse cast of cool characters, incredible action set pieces, and a bunch of shots of tanned young butts dancing around cars. You know, if you’re into that. And there’s more of the same here. Only now Vin Diesel is basically car-Jesus, which leaves Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson as the de facto buddy-leads. Let’s be clear: none of that is a bad thing.
Minor spoilers will follow.
The Fate of the Furious (‘Furious 8′) features the returning cast of Furious 7, except for Jordana Brewster and the late Paul Walker. After giving those characters their happy ending in the last film, there’s no need for them here. This time, the team is forced to work with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw as they hunt down Dominic Toretto, one of their own. Dom (Vin Diesel) is being manipulated by cyber terrorist Cipher, played by newcomer Charlize Theron. From there, it’s just set-piece to set-piece as the team fights the terrorists for the fate of the world. Oh, and Scott Eastwood is in it too. Eastwood might be a personality black hole where jokes go to die, but he’s a young attractive white guy so…yeah. He’s there. Luckily the rest of the cast makes up for him.
“You chose the wrong team.”
While Eastwood is the colour beige come to life, the rest of the team are as fun as ever. Johnson’s hulking Hobbs is the legitimate star of the film, and is never topped for one-liners or charisma. Statham’s Shaw makes a remarkable good guy turn, and is downright lovable in the film’s best action sequence. Tyrese Gibson’s Roman continues to be the comic relief, even as the team deals with incredible danger. And Diesel puts out his best live-action performance in years, though that’s still not saying much. Theron’s Cipher is the one of the only weak-links, but even she’s compelling to watch. Her wide-eyed unblinking stare and Machiavellian mannerisms are suitably off-putting, but sometimes feel hammy even for a Furious film. Michelle Rodriguez and the rest of the cast have less to do this time, but still sell family and betrayal as well as expected.
The critical reception to Furious 8 is surprising. Not only are the reviews lukewarm, but several think-pieces have been devoted to the idea of ending the franchise outright. While some of these might be click bait ‘hot takes’, several seem to want the franchise to fail. Most critics worth their salt want every movie to be good—seriously. But perhaps the Fast & Furious franchise has reached the same tipping point as the Marvel films: so consistent and successful that failure is the only interesting option to discuss. Whatever the reason, Furious 8 is far better than you’d expect. It’s silly, stupid, and total nonsense—and it’s great.
“It doesn’t matter what’s under the hood.”
Since this is a Fast & Furious film, in the end it’s all about the car stunts. While Furious 8 has less technical driving stunt work, there are still a number of impressive vehicular moments. No, the ‘zombie cars’ scene in New York wouldn’t happen in real life, but as an action sequence it’s absolutely rock-solid. No, a sexy car can’t beat a nuclear submarine under ice, but hell yeah it can in this film. Shut up. Unfortunately, the character beats and build-up between stunts are noticeably weaker this time around. Theron makes a good villain, but her scenes involve a whole lot of staring into screens without blinking, which isn’t entertaining. And too much time is wasted on the drama of Dom’s betrayal, when we all know how it will end early on.
Speaking of Dom, by the 8th film in the series he’s officially become a sort of folk-hero car messiah, talked about in whispers as he performs miracles with muscle cars. Even the other characters on the team seem to treat him like a supernatural force, and nobody seems to match him. With Paul Walker no longer able to provide balance, Dominic has become almost cartoonish in skill. There’s an ever-increasing sense in Furious 8 that for every problem, there’s a car-shaped solution. Stuck pickle jar? Drive a car at it. Trouble with your taxes? Drive a car at it. As long as Dom’s the one driving, it always seems to work out. This makes the central conceit of Dom vs. His Team an interesting match-up conceptually, if not narratively. While his skill strains credibility, it never breaks with the internal logic of the universe, and always allows for great stunts. How else can you stop a nuclear submarine with a muscle car?
“I am the crocodile at the watering hole.”
But a lot of this also seems like a Vin Diesel fantasy come to life. His agent and contract must be the stuff of legends, because parts of Furious 8 are very…familiar. The first twenty or so minutes are almost exactly like the first twenty minutes of Vin Diesel’s other live-action film this year, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Both feature an action scene meant solely to showcase Diesel’s limitless badassery. Both end their action scene with Diesel adored and celebrated by the poor locals he’s impressed. And both lead to encounters with mysterious women who recruit him for a dangerous job. It’s a Vin Diesel fantasy ride, and plays to his ego too much at times. When he wins the teary-eyed respect of another racer early on, it’s clear what kind of movie you’re about to get.
This is why there might be some truth to the rumours of on-set hostility between Johnson and Diesel. It might also be why Diesel spends so little time on screen with the rest of the cast. The script does it’s best to make it work, and if you accept car-Jesus, it doesn’t break the movie. But the script isn’t perfect, with pacing issues and crimes against dialogue throughout. You go see a Fast & Furious film for one-liners and car action, not overlong drawn-out animal metaphor monologues. Certainly not two of them by the same character. But it’s easy to laugh at moments like these, making even the worst parts of the movie utterly enjoyable. And the budding bromance between Johnson and Statham more than makes up for the rest.
“Whatever you do, don’t think.”
Furious 8 is a blast. See it with a friend, and treat it like the action comedy it is. Let yourself laugh and gasp, and try not to think too much. Even the bad bits are good, and the good bits are pretty damn great. Wherever the series heads next, I’m in. Into space, under the Earth, crossing over with Michael Bay’s Transformers. I’ll cheer along with everyone else when Vin Diesel delivers one-liners while driving Bumblebee. I’ll gasp and clap when he’s reborn as the muscle-bound muscle car Autobot ‘Dom Diesel’. These movies are stupid, but they’re also stupid fun. And The Fate of the Furious proves there’s plenty of gas left in the tank for this franchise.
My Rating: 8/10