THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS. Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren. Directed by F. Gary Gray. 136 minutes. Rated M (Action violence and coarse language).
When ‘The Fast and the Furious’ came out in 2001, no one expected the midrange budgeted thriller about street racing, low-key criminals and family to spawn a franchise spanning eight films, sixteen years, and billions of dollars at the box office. Yet here we are. As has been the trend since ‘Fast Five’, the action and utter desecration of the laws of physics have been dialed up, and Vin Diesel’s already gravelly voice has dropped a few more octaves. With its gloriously, naturally diverse cast and constant evocation of the power of friendship amidst the carnage, there are really two ways to approach ‘The Fate of the Furious’. Cynical viewers will hate it, riled up by its transparent pandering to the themes upon which its house was built (‘I don’t have friends, I got family’) and its patently absurd set pieces, both designed to sell tickets en masse. However, if you’re like me and therefore willing to accept the franchise for what it is, a goofy, ridiculous appeal to your inner child, then you’ll get exactly what you came for.
After Brian Connor (the late Paul Walker) retires from his life of danger at the end of ‘Furious 7’, F8 (‘Fate’ – geddit?) begins with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his new bride Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, stoic) enjoying their honeymoon in Havana, Cuba. This pretty much includes everything that you’d expect of a Toretto honeymoon: lots of pale lagers and an epic street race, when Dom’s cousin owes the local don some dough and Dom bets his own car against his relative’s debts in typically macho fashion. After reminding viewers that Dom’s the reigning champ when it comes to anything with wheels, their holiday takes a turn. Returning from the corner store one morning, Dom stops to help a gorgeous blonde having car trouble – she knows more than she lets on, and suggests that he should come to work for her. She’s Cypher (Charlize Theron, wasted for my money), an international criminal and cyberterrorist. Dom politely declines.
Back on US soil, DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is charged with retrieving an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, stolen by a group of German terrorists (that’s right, pretty much the same MacGuffin that set ‘Fast and Furious 6’ in motion). Naturally, he gets Dom on the phone, who heads to Berlin with his crew; Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). The team pulls off the job, but as they split up to rendezvous at the safe house, Dom rams Hobbs off the road and steals the EMP. That’s right folks, he’s come around to Cypher’s offer.
Anyone who knows Dom from previous films was likely unconcerned by the trailers’ attempts to sell this plot development as a true betrayal (‘Dom’s gone rogue’, utters Hobbs in one). My initial guesses were some form of blackmail or mind control (this is a franchise that has happily leant on amnesia as a crutch, so mind control was never out of the question), and while I was partly correct, the reveal of the particulars is surprising enough to land a blow.
With Hobbs now implicated in Dom’s theft, he gets locked away in a US supermax prison, where his cell is across from that of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the big bad from ‘Furious 7’ and a former special forces assassin. Covert government agent Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his junior (Scott Eastwood) bust both men out of the clink (set in a brutal prison riot that makes the most of Johnson’s background in WWE wrestling and Statham’s svelte gymnastics from competitive diving). The duo share a cheesy chemistry as they sling insults to and fro, and the one-liners from screenwriter Chris Morgan lean handily on both men’s alpha male charisma.
The remnants of Dom’s team is reassembled by Nobody, and with their two new additions, they are sent into the fray to take down Dom and Cypher before they can complete their plan to bring the world’s superpowers to their knees. After the taster in Havana, the action set pieces only get more bananas, including a 100+ car chase through New York City and a battle against a nuclear submarine in the Russian tundra. It’s never been a franchise for subtlety – to call it over the top would be overselling where the top is. Is miles past the top. Director F. Gary Gray, brought into the franchise after his massive hit ‘Straight Outta Compton’, manages the action fine. He lacks the pulpy thrills of James Wan (‘Furious 7’ ) and doesn’t have the technical precision of Justin Lin (‘Fast and Furious’ 3-6), but set pieces of this scale were always going to raise eyebrows.
The ‘Fast and Furious’ films have developed over the years from extremely niche into the most broadly appealing blockbusters imaginable. There’s laughs, there’s tears, there’s plenty of wows, and there’s family. Just as writer Chris Morgan (who’s penned the series since #3) knows his job inside and out (if there aren’t at least five hilarious asides in each action beat, then it’s back to the storyboard), everyone in the team knows how to milk their personality to fit the story. Vin Diesel is a growling ball of cool and locked-down emotion; Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is a swollen knot of muscle and jokes made funnier by the physique of the person delivering them; Michelle Rodriguez is utterly devoted to Dom and able to kick butt with the best of them; Statham hasn’t been more British since spitting rhyming slang in early Guy Ritchie flicks; Tyrese Gibson spars constantly with Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, and their banter scoops up whatever laughs are left after The Rock and Statham have had their share; Nathalie Emmanuel is given little in the way of character (she challenges Roman and Tej to tell her own last name – neither can), but she offers her insights into tech and hacking with conviction. Even new addition Helen Mirren nails her bit part, and evokes plenty of guffaws with every line.
‘Fast and Furious’ is a well-oiled machine by now. If you’re a believer, then welcome to everything you love about the films but turbocharged. If you’re a naysayer, then your opinion is both valid and unquestionably justifiable, but you’d better move, because ‘Fast 9’ or ‘Furious 9’ or ‘Faster and Furiouser’ or whatever it’s called will be hurtling around the corner.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out April 12.