Film Review: ‘Fate of the Furious’ Revs Engines for Craziest Adventure Yet

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Zombie cars attack New York City. We have come to this point in movie history and I never want to turn back. The “Fast and Furious” series has defied even the loftiest of expectations since it emerged in 2001. From a surprise mid-budget hit about drag racers who steal DVD players, to a multibillion-dollar spy franchise, the series has experienced as dramatic of an arc as we have ever seen. While we may have graduated to cars vs. submarines, the working class heart and charisma are ever in tact in the eighth outing, “The Fate of the Furious.”

Plot isn’t unimportant, but it certainly isn’t the most important part of this series. Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) celebrate their honeymoon the only way they know how. They travel to Cuba and engage in street races in broken down VW bugs souped up with Nos. It doesn’t take long for a mysterious villain, Cipher (Charlize Theron), to get a hold of Dom and get him to turn to her side. As Dom and Cipher go after bombs and nuclear codes, the rest of the team, assembled by American covert ops leader Frank Petty (Kurt Russell), has to bring Cipher to justice and bring Dom home. This time, Petty has joined former DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) with former villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Cipher has also torn apart the Shaw family, and it will take both teams working together to bring her to justice.

In short, the less questions you ask, the more fun you will have. If that is a compromise you are not willing to make, this might not be the film for you. For those that do, they’ll get the daffy spy extravaganza they were once promised with Bond’s “Die Another Day.”

While the MCU continues to blow up colorful CGI cities, the “Fast and Furious” franchise knows how to stage real action set pieces. Each extra dollar put into the budget shows. Director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) is more fond of the shaky cam action than previous helmer Justin Lin. Yet, the spectacle of cars falling from buildings or getting smashed by wrecking balls remains thrilling and visceral. The film features nearly nonstop action that manages to only grow more and more compelling. These moments are only interrupted by character moments that are equally sensationally entertaining and over the top. Subtlety is a word that doesn’t apply to this film. While at over two hours, this can be grating, the film manages to sustain itself by consistently raising the special effects bar.

The most notable new edition is Oscar winner Charlize Theron as the villain, Cipher. In fact, she’s positioned as the Blofeld of “Fast and Furious” in many ways. Rather than camp it up, there’s a cool aloof nature to Cipher that proves to be an interesting acting choice. It’s as if “Young Adult’s” Mavis Gary took lots of computer science courses and started her own terror organization. Yet, she isn’t even the best Oscar winner in the film. Stay tuned for a cameo you won’t want to miss from a fellow Best Actress winner.

Still, the biggest takeaway from the film is the epic comedy duo of Johnson and Statham. Hobbs and Shaw have had many epic square-offs as enemies. However, it is easy to see how Statham’s British rogue is the perfect comedic foil to Hobbs’ rough and tumble bodybuilder. “Spy” was the best comedic audition for Statham. With this as exhibit B, casting directors best look to cast him in the next big comedy.

An indisputable element of the franchise’s success and freshness has to do with its multicultural DNA. Even more than “Ocean’s Eleven,” we are dealing with a fully fledged ensemble where everyone is given something to do. Johnson’s Hobbs teaches his daughter’s soccer team to perform a traditional Samoan haka. Tyrese Gibson’s Roman has the most fun poking fun at the squeaky clean, basic demeanor of Scott Eastwood’s new law enforcement recruit Eric. The franchise started in a garage in Los Angeles. Over the course of eight films, it has recognized the diverse world we live in. Even better, it does this effortlessly, without making it a point. It’s not a statement. Diversity is just the playing field this film plays on.

What is most refreshing about this installment is how the macho franchise tackles the concept of fatherhood. The last film saw a major character leave from a life of fast cars to be a full time Dad. This entry kicks that drama into high gear in other storylines. Rather than let that be a hamper on the fun, there is a sort of progressive look at the value of fatherhood over work and play that isn’t didactic.

For such a macho film, “Fate of the Furious” manages to offer a definition of masculinity that isn’t so different from what we’ve come to expect, but is different in interesting ways. Playful ribbing and one-upmanship are once again king. However, honor and familial duty remain cornerstones. It has reached almost self-parody the amount of times Vin Diesel has said “family.” Yet, the conflict in this entry manages to challenge and push that central concept in interesting ways. How many other franchises in their eighth entry up the ante not just in explosions and cars, but also in how it defines its core thesis and the makeup of the audience it services?

“The Fate of the Furious” is currently in theaters.

GRADE: (★★★½)

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