The Fate of the Furious May 1, 2017
Eight films in, The Fast and the Furious franchise has achieved the impossible: Despite remaining in the public eye for nearly two decades, the saga hasn’t lost an inch of its appeal. Beginning with 2011’s bombastic Fast Five, the series reinvented itself by wisely deciding to own up to its inherent preposterousness. And ever since, Vin Diesel and company have become the superheroes we never knew we needed, showcasing their talents in action sequences so audaciously choreographed that it would be impolite not to feel a little thrilled.
The Fate of the Furious, made bittersweet by the noticeable absence of Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster, only solidifies the staying power of the franchise. What began in 2001 as a facile throwback to the car movies of the 1970s has now become a cinematic juggernaut, a purveyor of impossible, almost balletic car chases and fight sequences. Following the finale of 2015’s punchy Furious 7, I recall leaving the theater breathless, pondering how its inevitable sequel would be able to top its grandeur. But fans and newcomers alike needn’t worry: The Fate of the Furious doesn’t disappoint. It makes for both a satisfying follow-up and an inventive continuation that leaves us wanting even more.
In the movie, we find that many of the series’ principal characters are considering drifting away from their sinful, high-octane lives. Lovebirds Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) have recently married and are thinking about starting a family. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is slowly but surely putting his work with the DSS second to his domestic life. Former protagonists Mia Toretto (Brewster) and Brian O’Connor (Walker), missing from The Fate of the Furious, have successfully paved the road to retirement and are blissfully laying low with their son miles away from their old friends.
But all dreams of normalcy are crushed when Dom runs into a mysterious woman who only goes by the name of Cipher (Charlize Theron). A dreadlocked minx with snake eyes, Cipher only has to say a few words to Dom to make it abundantly clear that this is a woman from his past – and that she has enough power over him to convince him to betray his team to work on her nefarious side. Time reveals that Cipher is not your typical franchise villainess, but an internationally sought-after cyber-terrorist who could start a global crisis with just a couple clicks of a mouse. It’s up to Dom’s cronies to save their former leader and stop Cipher and her congregation of hackers from destroying the world as we know it.
Per usual, the sequences of action are electrifying, highlights including a Jason Statham-starring throwdown that sees him punching out various thugs with a baby in hand, and the finale, which mixes the car fetishes and brutal instances of hand-to-hand combat of the series and literally sets them on top of thin ice. But The Fate of the Furious’s unexpected strong suits are the performances of newcomers Theron and Helen Mirren (making a scene-stealing guest appearance as Statham’s street smart mother) and the dialogue, which can go from rib-tickling (especially when delivered by the affable Tyrese Gibson) to intimidatingly solemn in a flash.
In spite of the wardrobe department dressing her up like an impassioned Korn fan, Theron is the finest foe the saga has ever seen. Ruthless and irrepressibly chilly, we interchangeably despise her or fear her. She’d be the villain we love to hate if we weren’t also decently frightened by the mere mention of her name. As an effect, the best scene in the film is not based in carnage, but in acting. During the film’s middle, she delivers an icy monologue, a gun pointed directly to her head, no less, with such quiet acrimony that we’d swear we were watching warped Shakespeare and not one of the decade’s great action movies.
The Fate of the Furious runs slightly long at a little over two hours, and contains a few too many instances of the half-baked, soap opera imitating dramatics that were the weakest components of the franchise before its 2011 comeback. But that’s forgivable: everything else is so uncompromising, so astoundingly made, that we’re pressed to think of another modern blockbuster that thrills so effortlessly. More, please. B+
This review also appeared in The Daily.