Way back in 2001, the notion that director Rob Cohen’s street-racing movie The Fast and the Furious kicked off one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time would have seemed insane.
But here we are, 16 years after Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto first shared his philosophy on living life a quarter mile at a time, looking at a franchise that will roar past the $4 billion mark worldwide when The Fate of the Furious hits theaters this weekend.
And against all odds, the Fast and the Furious movies just keep getting better.
The eighth installment of the franchise, The Fate of the Furious reunites Diesel with his director on 2003’s A Man Apart, F. Gary Gray, fresh on the heels of the latter’s success with Oscar-nominated NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton. As with the last few sequels, the film brings back the majority of the supporting cast from previous films – but this time around, that includes several villains, too.
The Fate of the Furious is another win for the blockbuster franchise.
The Fate of the Furious finds Dom and his team living the good life around the world, evidenced by scenes of Dwayne Johnson’s hulking federal agent Luke Hobbs coaching his daughter’s soccer team in the suburbs while Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) enjoy a well-deserved honeymoon in Cuba. Saving the world several times over has put the franchise’s heroes in a good place – until Charlize Theron’s international cyberterrorist Cipher comes along.
One of the recurring themes in the Fast and the Furious franchise has always been the notion of family loyalty, with Diesel’s ex-convict street racer at the center of the series’ close-knit cast of colorful characters. In The Fate of the Furious, however, that dynamic is turned inside-out when Cipher turns Dom against his team, pitting him against his family in a globe-hopping caper that somehow manages to raise the bar even higher for action, explosions, and so many of the other elements that have made the series so popular.
A few sequels ago, it would be hard to imagine the series topping some of its own, well-established high points of action excess – the Fast Five sequence featuring a pair of cars using stolen bank vaults as wrecking balls throughout the streets of Rio or the fleet of cars taking on a tank in Fast & Furious 6, for example – but that’s exactly what the series keeps doing. And that’s also why it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that The Fate of the Furious features yet another set of memorable set pieces that feel more fresh, thrilling, and cheer-worthy than the contents of any eighth installment of a franchise has any right to be.
At this point, it can’t be easy to conjure up scenarios that move the excitement needle.
You have to hand it to Gray, veteran franchise writer Chris Morgan, and the rest of the film’s creative team for their creativity in finding new ways to create chaos – and outrageous amounts of vehicular carnage – around their cast of characters. At this point, it can’t be easy to conjure up with scenarios that move the excitement needle after having your characters jump a car from one Abu Dhabi skyscraper to another in Furious 7, but The Fate of the Furious does a surprisingly good job of turning the dial to 11 yet again.
After multiple films together, the cast of the Fast and the Furious also seems to have taken that “family” theme to heart. The chemistry between the franchise veterans continues to glue the series together. That’s even the case even when Diesel’s character is isolated from the group and Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs provides a more than adequate surrogate for the team to orbit around.
Returning characters played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Tyrese Gibson both fall into familiar roles with or without Diesel’s character in the picture, and the addition of Jason Statham – who reprises his role as deadly special forces assassin Deckard Shaw – shakes things up in a way that distracts from Diesel’s absence.
As for the newcomers to the franchise, Theron offers one of the most compelling villains the franchise has had so far – which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given how brilliant the Oscar-winning actress has been in just about every project she’s appeared in the last few years. Her ruthless terrorist is cold, calculating, and the perfect foil for Diesel.
Sadly, there’s not much to be said for Scott Eastwood’s junior agent “Little Nobody,” who is forgettable. The same can be said of Game of Thrones actor Kristofer Hivju’s character, who barely needs a name in his henchman role. Thankfully, a brief, clever cameo from Helen Mirren keeps the overall score for the film’s newcomers on the positive side.
If there’s one element in which The Fate of the Furious is lacking, it’s that aforementioned co-star chemistry that ran through the first seven installments of the series, which is almost entirely absent from the latest chapter.
The Fate of the Furious is missing that bro-mantic, brotherly vibe between its male leads.
Whether it’s the film’s status as the first sequel after Walker’s character was written out of the series, or the reports of a bitter feud that developed between Diesel and Johnson during production, The Fate of the Furious is missing that bro-mantic, brotherly vibe between its male leads that was present in each of its predecessors – even the installments that didn’t star Diesel or Walker. At times, the film tries to establish that dynamic between Johnson and Statham’s characters, but it never works.
Making matters worse, Diesel and Johnson manage to go through much of the movie without even having a scene together, which might be the best evidence yet that the pair’s reportedly cold relationship off-screen might have affected their characters’ on-screen chemistry.
Still, The Fate of the Furious is another win for the blockbuster franchise in just about every other way.
Not only does it up the ante when it comes to many of the stunts and set pieces, but it does a nice job of advancing the series’ evolution from street-racing crime stories to globe-hopping ensemble capers. If future installments of the series can rediscover that spark that made the franchise’s family-first theme feel sincere, everything that works so well in The Fate of the Furious makes it entirely reasonable to believe that the series has many more exciting miles to go before it reaches the end of the road.