I have a confession: prior to The Fate of the Furious, I had never seen a Fast and Furious movie. Don’t get me wrong, I’m familiar enough with the general idea of this series. I’m aware that it started out being about illegal street racing but then morphed into being about car-themed spy/heist adventures; I know that the films feature large ensemble casts that seem to grow with each installment (and evidently more than once a bad guy in a prior film becomes a good guy in a subsequent entry as a way to grow the roster); I know about Paul Walker’s involvement in this series up until his passing in, ironically enough, a car accident, and that his character was gracefully written out of the series in 2015’s Furious 7; and lastly I know that these movies have been increasingly successful at the box office, with the last one grossing over $1.5 billion dollars worldwide. But for whatever reason, I just never actually watched a Fast and Furious movie until this entry. As such, I fully admit that I’m not exactly qualified to consider The Fate of the Furious in the context of the rest of the series. I can’t analyze or critique continuity with the other movies or whether or not it builds on any themes from prior entries; more importantly, I have no measuring stick of quality for this series, so I won’t be able to tell you whether or not this picture is good or bad compared to what came before it. All I can do is offer an opinion about this film as a stand alone piece of work.
The Fate of the Furious is the closest anyone has come in a while to making a live-action cartoon, which is saying something since it was released only a month after Beauty and the Beast, a film which was literally trying to be a live-action carbon-copy of a cartoon. This movie has the dialogue of a cartoon, it has the physics (or lack there of) of a cartoon, it has the inner logic of a cartoon, and it is has the story structure and pacing of a cartoon.
The cartoonish nature of the film gives it an interesting edge, though. This is so clearly a “turn your brain off and enjoy the ride” kind of movie that one doesn’t really mind how insane it is. It doesn’t matter, for example, that half of all the dialogue is comprised of action movie cliches; or that the villain’s rationale for targeting our heroes and blackmailing Vin Diesel’s character into turning on his team (that’s the big twist this time around, by the way) doesn’t stand up to any real scrutiny; or that it’s completely moronic that our heroes insist on doing every one of their missions in souped up street cars regardless of how impractical that is for 99.999999999999% of all situations. As long as there is high octane vehicular action, and as long as the film isn’t cynical or bloated, it doesn’t matter if it is kind of an amiable mess otherwise.
And this movie certainly does deliver on the goods. All the car chase scenes are creative and engaging, there’s some surprisingly good non-car-based action thrown in for variety, and we get genuinely amusing moments from the cast. The two show stealers, in my opinion, are Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Johnson displays great charisma as the hyperbolically macho leader of our heroes, and he made me grin whenever he was on screen. Statham, who I think was a villain in one of the prior films but — spoilers — has become a good guy in this movie, cranks his character’s No-Nonsense-British-Guy persona up to an eleven and is absolutely hilarious. Oh, and Charlize Theron does a good job as the film’s antagonist. She breaks little new ground for action film villains, but she’s at least allowed to be interesting*, cunning, and generally competent, and so I found her to be an effective opponent for our heroes. And without giving too much away, we may not have seen the last of her, and so I look forward to potentially having her character in a future installment.
This is all just another way of saying that this picture more than works as a fun time at the theater. Having said that, I do have one criticism to levy its way. As I said, I can’t compare the storytelling quality to other Fast and Furious movies, but since this movie aspires to be a cartoon, I can compare it to cartoons from my youth that had similar plots to this film. And to the best of my recollection, while just as outlandish as this picture, they managed to tell their stories better in terms of pacing and character moments. The Fate of the Furious, by comparison, feels just a tad rushed** and some of the supporting characters just a bit marginalized, and so to the extent that it matters, I think this film’s story could have been told better. Again, it’s not a serious blight on a film as ridiculous as this one, but even silly pictures need to be held to some standards.
Apart from that, though, I would certainly recommend The Fate of the Furious. It’s goofy, escapist entertainment, which I imagine is all you really want out of a Fast and Furious movie at this point. It’s currently making buckets of money at the box office, so I imagine we’ll be getting another sequel sooner rather than later. Now, it’s time to start thinking of clever ways to work the number nine (or some portmanteau of it with the letter F) into a Fast and Furious title. I move for The Fine and the Furious***.
*Though it’s never commented on, I found it amusing that, in one of the scenes, Theron’s character wears a retro Metallica t-shirt with a design circa 1982. That’s a nice little easter egg.
**You’re probably thinking it’s odd that I’m saying that a two-hour film feels rushed compared to a half-hour cartoon. I admit it’s weird but that’s somehow the case.
***Corny, I know.