New Review: The Fate of the Furious (2017)
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Vin Diesel, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Jason Stathom, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Kristofer Hivju, Luke Evans, Janmarco Santiago
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 16 years since the formulaic but highly enjoyable The Fast and the Furious hit theaters. While that movie had its share of silly and over-the-top stunts, it was perhaps the only film in the franchise that was the most grounded in something resembling reality. The reason why the movie worked as well as it did wasn’t because of the over-the-top stunts (although they were fun to watch), but because the cast was so appealing that we went along with the story, in spite of the fact that it was something we’ve seen many times before.
Now, here we are with The Fate of the Furious, where the car stunts easily outshine the characters performing them. At this point in the franchise, that’s kind of to be expected. As likable as the cast is, the car stunts and crashes have gotten more over-the-top with each new chapter that they’ve become the real stars of the franchise. In the previous film, buddies Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (the late Paul Walker) drove a car through the three Etihad Towers in Abu-Dhabi and lived to tell about it. After something like that, you’re no longer wondering if the heroes are going to live to the very end. Instead, you’re wondering what insane stunt they’re going to pull off next.
In The Fate of the Furious, there is actually a moment where it begins raining cars down a back alley in New York City. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. The film’s villainess, the cold-hearted Cipher (the deliciously ruthless Charlize Theron), has one of her henchmen hack into the computers in the parked cars of a parking garage in the city. She then has them drive off the parking garage several stories to the streets below, all in an effort to incapacitate a limo where one of the occupants carries with him a briefcase containing codes for Russian nukes. That's one way to do it, I guess.
Now this Cipher is truly one mean lady. We learn as much when she convinces Dom to do her bidding by threatening a former romantic interest that I honestly don’t remember him ever having (it actually took me a while to realize who the character even was). I always thought Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) was the only woman in his life. Maybe there was someone else in the sixth film, and if so, it makes sense why I don’t remember her. That film was perhaps the most forgettable entry in the franchise.
But I’m straying from the point here. There is a screenplay for The Fate of the Furious, written by Chris Morgan, the same man who penned the previous five films, but thinking about it is perhaps the last thing one should do. If you do, you may start to wonder how our heroes were able to set up a wrecking ball during their escape from a German base to have it take out pursuing vehicles (they even put a winky-face on the thing). You also might be gob smacked at the way Morgan turns Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw into an honest-to-goodness good guy here, in spite of the fact that he murdered one of Dom’s friends (There’s even a scene where Dom and Deckard shake hands and smile at each other. Yes, I understand why, but come on…)
There’s even a particularly groan-inducing moment where Dom and Letty are in bed and she asks him if he’s thought about having kids. The human elements here are (predictably) hokey as hell, but as mentioned before, the characters are not the real stars of the movie. The stars here are the set-pieces, and as directed by F. Gary Gray, they are certainly fast, furious, creatively stupid, and as much fun as fans of this franchise could possibly hope for.
Things get off to a particularly nutty start where Dom soups up a decrepit old car and races a bad dude down the streets of Havanna, which ends with Dom’s car catching fire and him racing toward the finish line in reverse. Later, Dom’s old team try to trap him in the streets of New York by shooting harpoon guns attached to their vehicles at every corner of his car, and watching him get out of it is an absolute hoot. The climax involves our heroes racing across a frozen lake as a submarine breaks through the ice beneath them. Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds, but you want to know something, it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.
Perhaps the film’s most entertaining set-piece involves a prison break, in which the Rock’s Agent Hobbs is an inmate (he was caught because Dom betrayed him after the mission at the German base), and he begins tossing around guards like rag dolls after they make the mistake of shooting him with rubber bullets. Also of note is perhaps the funniest scene involving the rescue of a baby from an enemy airplane ever put to film. The audience I saw the movie with was roaring with laughter during that scene, and I may hate myself later for admitting it, but I was right there with them.
That’s the second element here that keeps the movie afloat: its sense of humor. I was surprised by how much of this movie made me laugh. From the scene where Hobbs performs a warrior dance with the girls’ soccer team he coaches just before a game (frightening the little girls in the opposing team), to the few moments with Helen Mirren who shows up breifly as Deckard’s mother, I was laughing out loud through quite a bit of the movie. The best line belongs to The Rock, who threatens Deckard by saying that he’ll knock his teeth so far down his throat that he’ll need to take a tooth brush and…well, I won’t spoil the punchline for you.
By now, the returning cast members are so comfortable in their roles that they could play these characters in their sleep. They’re just as charming as ever, and so is Kurt Russell, who reprises his role as Mr. Nobody from the previous film. Newer players include the affable Scott Eastwood as an ambitious young agent working under Mr. Nobody, and of course, Charlize Theron, who is so terrifically evil that she stands out as the best villain in the franchise so far (although that may not be saying a whole lot).
The Fate of the Furious accomplishes what it sets out to do, and while it may go on for too long (it clocks in at 136 minutes, which is as ridiculous as the many stunts in the film), everyone involved in its making was clearly having so much fun that it’s almost impossible to not have fun with them. What more should you expect from it? The summer movie season has officially begun, and while I’m sure there are better movies to come (I’m looking at you War of the Planet of the Apes), this movie gets things started with a wonderfully goofy bang.
Rated PG-13 for lots of violence and mayhem, brief strong language, some skimpily dressed skinny women
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)