“The Fate of the Furious” Movie Review

     Now armed with some sixteen plus hours of character development, here we are again with the latest installment in Universal’s wildly successful “Fast and the Furious” franchise, “The Fate of the Furious”, or “Fast 8” for those who prefer to skip the title and get right to the action.  And oh what fun there is to be had in this eighth chapter, as director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) takes the reigns from “Furious 7” director James Wan and continues the well established tradition of attempting to one up the previous film with massive doses of spectacular car chases and physics defying stunts.  Chris Morgan again provides the story and script, continuing on with themes he established going all the way back to the series’ third entry “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”.  For his part, Vin Diesel had said 2009’s “Fast and Furious” would not only see his return to the franchise after being absent for the second and third films, but it would also mark the beginning of a new story arc.  One which would see Dominic Toretto and his team take their street racing act to new levels within the world of international espionage.

     The death of Paul Walker certainly had a profound effect on the future of the franchise.  Though you wouldn't think the storylines established in the fourth film were cut short in the seventh entry because of Walker’s tragic passing, watching “The Fate of the Furious” led me to feel a tremendous void within the back and forth banter amongst the main characters.  No Brian O’Connor is like “Friends” trying to go on without Chandler.  It just doesn't feel right.  But with the last installment filling Universal’s coffers with $1,516,045,911, per Box Office Mojo, (Let that number sink in for a minute.) Diesel and company were certainly coming back regardless, with the studio announcing “Fast 8” is the beginning of a new trilogy with a ninth installment due in 2019 and a tenth in 2021.  So what have the filmmakers cooked up to sustain the franchise and fire its cylinders in another lucrative direction?

     The film’s trailer indicates Dom will do the one thing we never thought he was capable of.  Betraying his family.  And in a round about sort of way, that’s exactly what he does.  After the film concludes its opening set piece shot on location in Cuba, Dom meets a mysterious computer hacker who calls herself Cipher (Charlize Theron).  Cipher shows Dom something on a cell phone screen which is, of course, not shown to the audience that enables her to unequivocally take control of Dom and have him do her bidding within the realm of her nefarious plan to take control of the world.  If you’ve seen the other seven films, than at this point you should already have prepared yourself to accept anything these characters say and just role with it.  For their part, each member in what has become a very crowded field has plenty of moments to shine.  Key returners include Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs who as always brings a larger than life presence to the role and serves up hefty helpings of colorful and inventive one liners as he takes more of a leadership role in Dom’s absence.  We also get larger doses of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman and his timely wise cracking during moments where others would be lucky to even utter a single word.  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Tej (Ludacris) are there but aren't in a position to make a significant impact.  And Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody and Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsay return from “Furious 7” with the former showing up to serve as the much needed glue for the team and the later functioning as a potential love interest for Tej and Roman.

     Where “Fast 8” throws us a curve ball is the inclusion of Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw into the mix.  After killing Han (Sung Kang) in the previous film and going on to become one of the nastiest adversaries Dom and his team have ever faced, we are now somehow forced into believing he has been integrated with Hobbs and Dom’s remaining crew in order to take on Cipher and the now rogue Dom who has skillfully stolen an EMP weapon capable of taking out a major city.  I suppose you could say the pairing is about as doubtful as successfully driving a sports car through a window located near the top of a skyscraper from the inside and jumping it directly into the neighboring skyscraper, so in the case of this franchise its better to just accept what they throw at us because none of what we see on screen is exactly plausible.

     All plausibility aside, “Fast 8” is a highly entertaining thrill ride from beginning to end.  In essence, these characters have become superheroes without capes or super powers.  They are, in fact, everything I wish the DC Universe would become of which Marvel has already mastered.  Even in situations when the characters find themselves in the upmost of peril, they remain fun and easy to digest.  There’s no brooding speeches or woe is me overly melancholy pontification about faux and pretentious dramatic events within these characters lives.  Instead, they stay within their assigned roles and function as part of a team designed to wow the audience with a “can you top this” attitude toward filmmaking.  This wasn’t a franchise that needed new life, but Gray does provide a new direction, creating new wrinkles amongst the main characters and adding a few notable new ones to the fray.  When you combine the talents of this cast, you have to figure the sky’s the limit with what kind of scenario they will find themselves involved with in the future.  But one thing is for sure, we’ll be talking then about how “Fast 9” is even crazier than “Fast 8”.  And that’s saying something.  GRADE: B