Transcendently stupid, flat-out nuts and pretty damned irresistible, The Fate of the Furious is the eighth in the series of vroom-vroomers that started off as modest B-movie drag-race stuff ideal for triple-bills at old time drive-in theaters. Here we are, 16 years on. The Furious series is a box-office juggernaut and moviegoing institution, and things have gone way beyond modest. In fact, the franchise just keeps getting bigger, faster, louder, sillier and more over-the-top—so much so that The Fate of the Furious is practically a superspy-style superhero movie. Nobody in their right mind goes to these flicks expecting tight plotting, deep characters or consistent motivation. We go for their emoticon-level heart and soul and to watch cars doing crazy shit in the streets, the strip, the desert and the air.
This one, directed by F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) is all over the place, kicking off during the Havana honeymoon of Dominic and Letty (Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez) that of course leads to an old-school drag race through the zig-zag streets of the city. Dom and a toxic bro race against each other so hard that their grudge match ends up with Dom careening for the finish line in reverse, with his car on fire. The fun and insanity escalate from there when power-mad, villainous cyber empress Cipher (Oscar winner Charlize Theron, stealing everything but the cameras) blackmails Dom into joining the dark side. Rarely blinking, using her purriest voice and sporting an upgrade of Bo Derek’s old 10 hairdo, she gets him to turn his back on his new wife and teammates by helping in her goal of bringing “accountability” to the world’s reckless leaders by destroying cities and unleashing chaos via a nuclear sub and a suitcase bomb. Wait, what?
Ciper, aided by a ginger-bearded goon (Game of Thrones’ Kristofer Hivju), is an icy Bond-level villain who does her business from a private jet that apparently never needs to land or refuel. Pure evil, she’s way more jolly and ridiculous than U.S. covert-ops dude Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his eager-beaver new assistant (Scott Eastwood) who persuade Dom’s good ole gang, his family, including Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones), Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris into reteaming to bring down Cipher. The next thing we know, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) gets tossed into the slammer, mostly so that he can bust out with his arch enemy, the mercenary assassin Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), whose Cockney spy-lady moms is played by, we swear, Oscar winner Dame Helen Mirren. Johnson’s and Statham’s scenes are the funniest, grabbiest and most charismatic of the whole movie.
Chris Morgan’s script serves up even more plot complications but, really, who cares when he also concocts such grand-scale idiot’s delights as a gigantic wrecking ball careening up and down streets, zombie cars terrorizing city pedestrians and tumbling from the skies, hot cars racing across the Russian tundra and plenty of excuses for Johnson’s bare-knuckled bone-mangling? Morgan’s been scripting the series since The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift in 2006, and there’s a nice tribute or two to the late Paul Walker, whose sad absence as a figure of gravitas and good sense becomes more and more crucial. But we’re not certain who’s responsible for morphing the characters into a computer-savvy pack of Bournes and 007s, or why we’re supposed to embrace Statham joining Dom’s team considering how his character once killed a slew of the team members, or why anyone thought it was a good idea to let the crew run rampant for a punishing two hours and 16 minutes.
But hey, the bigger-faster-crazier way this series is going, don’t be surprised if a future installment of The Fast and Furious sends its crew into full-on Moonraker mode.