Fate of the Furious and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by F Gary Gray
I hope all of you out there appreciate what I do for you! A week ago, I had never even SEEN a Fast and the Furious movie, and yet I managed to binge watch ALL SEVEN OF THEM so that I can properly review this new one as the series now has a continuity more dense than the freaking Terminator, and that’s SUPPOSED to be convoluted! I HAD TO WATCH TOKYO DRIFT FOR YOU PEOPLE!! Sigh… alright, well it’s not like I even HATED any of the movies (other than Tokyo Drift) as most of them are at least DECENT if not all that engaging. For me though, they didn’t pick up until part six when the BUDGET finally started to match the VISION that was always there, because let’s face it; Fast and the Furious was NEVER a serious series. It was ALWAYS balls to the wall insanity, just at different degrees depending on what they could afford (except for Tokyo Drift which was just garbage). So with the last two films finally managing to reach the potential this series was always capable of, does that trend continue with this film? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins in Cuba where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) have settled down since the last movie where their house got blown up, and they’re doing their typical first act shtick of racing cars, talking about family, and forging new friendships! That is until a super hacker hilariously named CIPHER (Charlize Theron) corners Dom at one point and shows him something that will CHANGE EVERYTHING FOREVER!! Cut to a few days later where good ol’ Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) calls him and the rest of the crew up (Tyrese Gibson, Chirs Bridges, and Nathalie Emmanuel) to do another mission. Everything goes according to plan except… DOM BETRAYS THEM!! Their mission was to take an EMP from someplace in German (for reasons that I’m sure make sense) but he crashes Hobbs’s car right at the end and takes it for himself; leaving Hobbs to get thrown in jail back in America which JUST SO HAPPENS to be the same jail that Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is locked in as well… and they get cells right across from each other because reasons. So now it’s up to our favorite crew of street racers along with Frank Petty (Kurt Russel) from the last movie who’s the leader of some sort of spy organization as well as his new protégé of sorts Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood) to find out what Dom is doing, what CIPHER wants from him, and hopefully how to solve all this without taking him out as well. Just what is the reason that Dom betrayed the one thing he cares about more than anything which is FAMILY? Just what is CIPHER planning, and is it bad enough that the crew may have no other choice than to take Dom out? Will Vin Diesel FINALLY give that Oscar performance he’s been hoping for!?
In short, the answer is yes. This might just be my favorite one out of the whole series and not just because it’s continuing the trend of these movies getting better and better from a technical standpoint. There’s a sense of ambition here in regards the story that honestly hasn’t been present in the other films, and while I can’t say it works completely, it’s nice to see a franchise THIS easy to make bank off of still try to better itself with each subsequent film. Now that’s not to say they’ve sucked even the TINIEST bit of stupid out of this movie in the process as this ALSO continues the trend of getting sillier and more outlandish each time, but someone took the extra effort to pump up the funny dialogue, provide a few genuine plot twists (though others may pick up on them faster than I could), and give Vin Diesel a chance to REALLY act this time around and give Dominic Toretto a sense of vulnerability. Maybe you can put it on the writer Chris Morgan who’s been making better and better scripts since he started on this series with Tokyo Drift (considering how much better this is than THAT piece of shit, it’s quite an accomplishment) or maybe it has to do with F Gary Gray who stepped in to direct this and whose credits include Straight Outta Compton, Friday, and even A Man Apart starring Vin Diesel. Whoever it is that deserves thanks for why this is so good (I’m gonna go with Dwayne Johnson and you’ll find out soon enough why), what it ultimately means is that we have yet another fun action film from a franchise that isn’t half assing it at a point where they could easily be resting on their laurels.
Now before we get into the nuts and bolts of this, I will be talking about one aspect of the movie that the trailers SORT OF reveal and could be easily inferred from the premise, but just in case this is a spoiler warning if you don’t want to know ANYTHING about the movie.
We good? Alright, so the plot involves Dominic Toretto “betraying his family” because now that EVERYONE in this is a superhero the only way to raise the stakes is to have one of them be the bad guy, and as you PROBABLY saw from the trailers, clearly he’s doing it under some sort of duress. This plot thread is a good cross section of what works and does NOT work about the movie as everything is basically an extension of Dominic’s story. First, the reason he’s doing all this and the pressure point that the bad guy is using to keep him in line. Does it ultimately work? I won’t spoil it, but I think it does for the most part. It was a HUGE risk to take in the script as they make no bones about how MONUMENTAL a pressure point this is yet let it simmer as a mystery for the first hour of the film. It’s an easy way to get the plot moving and to keep the audience invested (WHY IS HE DOING THIS!?), but it requires a payoff that would be satisfying for it to work; else it feels cheap because of how much it was built up. It’s KINDA cliché and there are elements about it that aren’t perfect which I won’t get into here, but the reveal ultimately is enough for Toretto’s actions to make sense here, and I will hand it to the movie for trying DESPERATLY to tie up any loose ends the audience could come up with once it is revealed.
Now that said, it does kind of work against the villain who is unfortunately the weakest part of the film. She’s an unfocused mish-mash of every super smart hacker bad guy trope imaginable, and the fact that she came up with a scheme THIS cold and calculating to trap Toretto while ALSO having a seriously dumb as dirt villain plan feels incongruous. If she had set her sights a LITTLE bit lower or actually thought through how her plan would work out (as much “leverage” as she THINKS she’d get by doing this, she simply doesn’t have the resources to carry out her ultimate plan) she could be an effective villain, but in this she sounds like someone with too much knowledge and not enough common sense. Sure, that kind of person CERTAINLY exists, but they’re usually making an ass of themselves on Twitter instead of planning world domination or whatever the hell it is Charlize Theron is after in this. Granted, she’s trying her ass off to sell this as she’s easily the best actor out of all of them, but the script just doesn’t give her enough to work with.
Other than that though, and a few awkward aspects here and there that we’ll get to at the end, there’s not much more to complain about here. Are there logical issues even in a world as exaggerated as this? Sure, especially with one scene involving self-driving cars (there are some problems that need to be thought out, but I’m PRETTY sure this isn’t one of them), but the pacing is very tight on this film so that it doesn’t go too long before another really well executed action scene or even a bit of cheesy drama that we want to see play out. Speaking of those two elements, the biggest disappointment I had with Furious 7 was that they took Dwayne Johnson out of commission right at the beginning to raise the stakes and make Jason Statham a credible threat, but to also meant our time with The Rock was limited. They don’t make that mistake here. He’s got the best action scenes, he’s got the funniest dialogue (a scene of him coaching a little league game is spectacular) and he even gets to have a bit of an arc where he has to confront that the world and the people in it can’t always be viewed in terms of black and white. Come to think of it… that’s KINDA been his arc in each one of these where he finds a new gray area that he can live with, but it still work here as well! Seriously, the prison fight scene that they show snippets of in the trailers is one of the best action set pieces that I’ve seen in a mainstream Hollywood film since… I don’t know, Fury Road? Maybe not up to THAT level (and I’m intentionally not including films with action that’s majority CG like Marvel and Star Wars movies) but when was the last time we got a full on fisticuffs brawler that was THIS well shot and choreographed? It’s also HILARIOUS too because we’re following both Statham and Johnson as they battle their way through the prison where the former is doing his white guy kung-fu shit and the latter is… well he’s being THE FUCKING ROCK! He’s punching people with the impact of a jackhammer, he’s throws people for what has to be twenty feet, he even takes a few bullets (rubber one’s mind you which STILL hurt like hell), and only gets VISIBLY ANNOYED BY IT! BAD! ASS!! If Vin Diesel decides to leave this franchise again, I know EXACTLY who’s gonna keep it going!
The great action doesn’t just stop with that one fight though. EVERYTHING in here is so well executed and the OBSCENE budget that they have here really shows. Some movies get incredibly gaudy with their effects to the point that they aren’t appealing anymore (*cough* Transformers *cough*) but a series like this, while about as unrealistic, manages to APPEAR grounded enough that the action still has some impact. Even the freaking submarine which is absolutely loony manages to at least have a PRESENCE on screen instead of just a glob of CGI nothingness that movies with this kind of budget usually have. As much as people like to say that these movies are good DESPITE how dumb they are, there’s nothing dumb about the craftsmanship on hand. They know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to cinematography, pacing, choreography, tone, and everything else that makes a movie GOOD. So what if it’s outlandish? They manage to sell it better than plenty of other films that take themselves WAY too seriously tend to!
Now there are a few things that I should point out where this movie doesn’t manage to get it right; even in the context of its own exaggerated world. I can’t go into too much detail about one thing in particular that bothered me, but there is a female character in this that was used in such a cliché and misogynistic way that it kind of stops the movie dead when they “fulfill the purpose they need to” for the plot and I wish they had handled it much better. There’s the fact that Jason Statham is now on the crew (at least for the time being) due to Kurt Russel’s insistence, and the movie REALLY feels like it wants you to forget that he freaking killed Han in the last film considering how much more likable he’s portrayed in here and how well he EVENTUALLY ends up meshing with at least one person on the crew. God damn Tokyo Drift, how long are you gonna keep poisoning this franchise!? And finally, there’s the way that Paul Walker’s character as well as Jordana Brewster. This might be a spoiler, but I think it’s worth pointing out that Brian O’Conner is still technically alive in these movies as they made that point clear at one point in the movie, but that they’re intentionally excluding him now that he and Mia have a kid. I’m… honestly not sure HOW they should have handled it. Should they have just not thrown that line in there? Should they have had a funeral at one point in the movie? I don’t know, but the reference to him did feel a LITTLE bit forced here.
Look, we’re eight movies deep into this franchise and most people already have an opinion about the damn thing that will determine if they will see it or not much more than my opinion. I can’t say that I’ve totally come on board for the franchise considering I found at least half of them to be pretty meh (and Tokyo Drift is… well, Tokyo Drift), but after having had a concentrated dose of this shit right before seeing the new one, it at least gave me context for what I was watching and I can say that they do a good job of continuing to up the ante on this franchise which is pretty much all you can hope for from a sequel for these kinds of movies. If you HAVEN’T seen these movies, it’s honestly probably better to try and do what I did (albeit not in one freaking week) and catch up on the story first. Trust me, that’s gonna give you a WAY better idea if you’ll like this movie than me gushing over The Rock and CGI Submarines for a few thousand words.