Fate of the Furious (2017)
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez
Synopsis: When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language)
Release Date: April 14, 2017
One Last Ride.
That was the tagline for Furious 7 (James Wan, 2015), the final film with the late actor Paul Walker portraying his career-defining role of character Brian O'Conner, one of the few remaining original members of the Furious crew. Some fans (including myself) at the time were under the impression that, judging by the tagline and the circumstances, the film would be the final installment in the blockbuster franchise. And, if you took the time to look around on social media following the film's release, many voiced that they wanted the seventh film to be the last, as the final sequence was one of the most beautifully filmed and executed scenes that not only gave justice to actor Paul Walker himself, but to his character and the team as a whole. There was a great sense of closure to the film and the franchise as a whole.
But when the film grossed over $1.5 billion dollars worldwide, it wasn't a shock the studio wanted more. And let's be honest--fans that wanted the series to stop would go out and see future installments with or without Paul Walker. The franchise is just that entertaining.
Enter The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment of this monstrous, rich franchise. This time around, Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) is approached by a cyber terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron) for a job that pits him against his crew--his family. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the rest of the crew, unconvinced that Dom is voluntarily working with Cipher, set out to stop Dom and Cipher and rescue Dom in the process.
It doesn't take a filmmaker's eye to realize that the stunts and carnage in the Fast and Furious films have increased in magnitude to the point of unbelievability. The runway chase scene at the end of Furious 6, the crew's cars being dropped out of an airplane thousands of feet in the air and parachuted down onto a tight landing spot, cars being driven effortlessly on ice while being pursued underneath by a nuclear submarine (featured in this film)---needless to say the team isn't merely racing to beat a train at a railroad crossing anymore. With each installment, the studio aims to present new, exciting, jaw-dropping stunts for viewers. That's not a bad thing. But when the stunts become so grand that they involve so much CGI (both sets and people) and stunt people, the entertainment value can diminish rather than increase. This is the point that I have gotten with the franchise. Furious 7 was the very edge for me. The cars dropped out of airplanes and parachuting down seemed implausible, but at least you feel it's something that could be tested in reality (say Mythbusters if they were still around). The majority of the stunts in The Fate of the Furious are so far out that there's no way they could be even be tested to be plausible, much less plausible in itself. Some fans have joked that they expect the crew to go to outer space in a future film. I don't think it will ever go that far, but the future films that will inevitably be released following the success of the eighth film (it's about to cross the $1 billion mark as I write this review) will almost certainly evoke the feeling of watching Transformers rather than a Fast and Furious movie.
Despite the over-the-top action sequences, this franchise in recent years has prided itself in providing viewers with copious amounts of humor mixed into the story, which has greatly aided the fun of the stunts. Yes, a lot of the humor comes from Roman (Tyrese Gibson), but the franchise really shifted into it with Dwayne Johnson's character Hobbs in Fast Five, who's physique all but matches Vin Diesel's and so created a bit of a fun rivalry between the two. Johnson proved he had a knack for comedy in earlier films like The Game Plan (Andy Fickman, 2007) and Get Smart (Peter Segal, 2008). In this film, the franchise has found yet another comedy producer in the character of Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham. Though Statham played the antagonist in Furious 7 with a couple of humorous moments, his character largely remained serious and bent on destroying Dom and his family. The studio must have seen his performance and the success of Spy (Paul Feig, 2015), because he's brought back to the franchise and emulates his comedy from that film into this film. He plays off of Dwayne Johnson in the best way possible, as both consider themselves tough guys ready to throw down each other at any moment, and the results are just simply hilarious. In fact, the on-screen chemistry between the two has been so well received that Universal now has plans for a spinoff film with Dwayne Johnson's Hobbs and Statham's Shaw teaming up to go after Cipher (Charlize Theron).
The Fate of the Furious provides the continually increasing over-the-top action for fans, as well as well-timed humor from Statham, Johnson, and Gibson that make the film fun in spite of serious stakes. The dialog is at times very choppy, more so than I remember in past Furious films, but that will most likely be glazed over by audiences. Charlize Theron also shouldn't be forgotten, as she delivers a surprisingly strong, nuanced performance as the cyber terrorist cipher in a reversal of roles from director F. Gary Gray, who directed her in The Italian Job (2003). Theron's Cipher is a soft-spoken, but smart and flat out ruthless, merciless villain that tortures Dom emotionally throughout the film. Speaking of being forgotten, the absence of Paul Walker is certainly felt throughout the film, but the film never suffers because of it, and writer Chris Morgan even manages to sneak in a heartfelt reference and nod to his character in the film's final moments that lets audiences know the filmmakers haven't forgotten him or his character. In the end, The Fate of the Furious delivers what fans will come for--action, humor, and fun, while still retaining heart and the theme of family that has become the cornerstone of the franchise. Though it doesn't reach the height of its predecessor, it's a worthy sequel that justifies its existence as something beyond a money-grabbing installment from the studio.