Universal hit on something special with the “Fast and the Furious” franchise at the beginning of the millennium and now the series is eight films strong as “Fate of the Furious” races into theater this weekend. Filled with action and a compelling story, “Fate of the Furious” actually manages to be one of the most divisive films for me personally that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in 2017 as it brings a lot of fun and excitement to the big screen, but no real originality or sense of identity to keep it grounded.
“Fast 8”, as I will call it throughout this review, picks up after the events of “Furious 7” with Dominic Toretto and Letty Ortiz, once again played by Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez, on their honeymoon in Cuba when Dom is approached by the mysterious cyber terrorist Cipher, played by Charlize Theron, and is forced to betray his family and friends to do her dirty work. Dom’s team, consisting of Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) team up with former enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to hunt down their friend and put an end to Cipher’s plans. The crew is assisted by Kurt Russell’s “Mr. Nobody” and Scott Eastwood’s “Little Nobody” Eric Reisner in their mission.
In many ways “Fast 8” is a return to form for a series that has somewhat ignored the “fast” portion of its franchise title in recent years. The film kicks off with an entertaining race sequence and in many ways the cars and vehicles take center stage as Dom’s crew takes on their leader and Cipher in the streets of New York City and Iceland where Cipher’s computer logic and Dom’s skills behind the wheel provide for some amazing chaos and legitimate threats for the team. The themes of family, brotherhood, and self-sacrifice are all present once again as we see Dom struggle with turning on his friends and we come to realize exactly why he agreed to work with Cipher in the first place, creating an inner struggle and defining Cipher as a threatening villain very well.
My prime concern with this film is that it has a problem deciding exactly what it wants to be. We get some laughs from a few over the top one-liners, including a mildly amusing ongoing, for lack of a better phrase, dick-measuring contest between Hobbs and Deckard Shaw that actually gets pretty old by the one hour mark. We get a lot of great cars and mayhem which, again, gets kind of old eventually when you come to realize that by this point in the series the miraculous escapes and stunts there characters can perform behind the wheel are pretty much par for the course. Outside of the opening race we never really get a sense of peril for anyone even if the chase action is well presented.
Then you have the central plot of the film that revolves around Dom being forced to turn on his family and friends and Cipher using her skills to try and force the world into submission and its here where the movie is best suited because, as over the top at any “Fast” movies can be, when they have a plot that drives the action and conflict and seamlessly incorporate the vehicle action into said plot they tend to shine well beyond the simple “speed and cars” concept. “Fast 8” does an exceptional job blending the series’ roots with its more modern feel by making the cars important tools to get the job done, almost like the armor is to Iron Man.
Still, the film feels a bit muddled. I felt like I was watching a jumble of several different scripts and films rolled and at times it took me out of it. I credit the movie though for bringing me right back in once the real action started to kick in but even then with all the ridiculous stunts and predicaments these characters find themselves in, and barely any of them get hurt, I found it hard to even fully invest myself in the “life or death” feel of any of these scenes because I knew what was going to happen. The heroes would find some convoluted way to come together and save the day and each other.
All that said I don’t hate “Fast 8”. In fact I enjoyed it as long as I didn’t take it too seriously and that to me is the key with this film in the same way that it was with “Power Rangers”. The car and racing scenes were well choreographed and the action scenes were pulse pounding and fun to watch and if you go into the film with an adjusted sense of disbelief, which I recommend everyone should, then it’s probably easy to overlook the ridiculousness of some of the films close calls. What’s great if “Fast 8” knows it’s incredibly over the top and doesn’t try to be anything else, which I can respect. This isn’t a film that tries to be more than it really is, and that’s a B-level spy/action thriller that incorporates speed, extremely over-the-top action and acting, and well placed cliché’s to take the viewer on the adventure they want, even if it’s not the one they really deserve by this point in the franchise.
All in all “Fast 8” is not really as great as I expected. It’s not even close to the glory that “Furious 7” earned the franchise a few years back. However, it’s nowhere near as bad as it very well could have been. “Fast 8” may not win any awards for originality or perfection, but it’s still fun to watch and a fitting entry in the “Fast” franchise that paves the way for even more adventures still to come.