If you haven’t seen all or at least most of the previous installments in this absurdly action-packed and often surprisingly moving series, you’ll miss out on some of the new one’s (the eighth, if you’re counting) inside references to story and characters. If you have seen the preceding entries, you will be in the company of many fans who will label “The Fate of the Furious” one of the best of the bunch.
A complicated tale is spun here, but at this point, so long after “The Fast and the Furious” started it all in 2001, do loyal audiences really care about the actual narrative? No, we’re here more for the car chases and gunfire and explosions and one-liners and camaraderie and the subject all of the films keep getting back to: The importance of family.
Returning for his sixth time as scriptwriter is Chris Morgan (he started with the underrated “Tokyo Drift”), who by now knows exactly how to retrieve bits and pieces from the earlier films, then mix them together with new plotlines to produce a winning combination that’s at once fresh and exciting, while coming across as the equivalent of comfort food (for those return viewers).
This one gets cooking with Dom and Letty (Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez) settled and relaxed in Havana. Of course, it only takes about 6 minutes before Dom is involved in an initially honorable, eventually dirty, car race through the city streets. And before a breath can be caught, a new character is introduced. She’s nameless for a while, until the script reveals that name to be Cipher (Charlize Theron), a cold, calm, and collected A-List evil genius who has some plans for Dom -- plans that will soon turn his loyal team, including Letty, against him.
It’s good to see former Secret Service Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) back, even if at first he’s been relegated to coaching his daughter’s soccer team (in one of the film’s funnier scenes). Also returning is the cleverly named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), the mysterious government man who gets Hobbs back to work, only to have him land in jail, where he meets up with fellow prisoner Deckard (Jason Statham), his nemesis from “Furious 7.” Suffice it to say, these two guys now wearing orange uniforms do not like each other.
But enough of the buildup for what’s to come. When it all starts happening, we’re treated to Dom going “rogue” when, under the orders of Cipher, he steals an electromagnetic pulse weapon; a “malfunction” in the prison that’s holding Hobbs and Deckard; Mr. Nobody bringing on an eager assistant who it’s fine to refer to as Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood, looking more and more like his dad); a trip to New York City, where a massively destructive, over-the-top sequence featuring lots and lots of cars on and above the streets grows exponentially crazier; and a change of scenery in the wastelands of Russia where, naturally, a wild car chase ensues across the frozen tundra.
Why is all of this happening? Well, there are a number of secrets, some kept from viewers, some kept from characters, all them eventually explained. Director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”), taking his first crack at this series, does an excellent job of capturing and exploiting the action, and nicely executes the film’s few quiet, emotional elements.
The final half hour shifts the pace up to seat-shaking velocity, tosses in some perfectly placed revelatory flashbacks, and manages to include fragments of daredevil stunt work, unflinching violence, and some aw-shucks cuteness. There are a couple of questions left hanging at the end. One concerns a character that goes missing. The other, which would likely provide an answer about that character, is how long do we have to wait for another one of these?
-- Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.
“The Fate of the Furious”
Written by Chris Morgan; directed by F. Gary Gray
With Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron