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THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017) review

April 30, 2017

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written by: Chris Morgan
produced by: Neal H. Moritz, Vin Diesel, Michael Fottrell & Chris Morgan
directed by: F. Gary Gray
rated: PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language)
runtime: 136 min.
U.S. release date: April 14, 2016

 

Eight films in and with already mixed returns, “The Fast and the Furious” series didn’t peak until film “Fast Five” after hitting its low point with film the first sequel.  All this franchise has to do to keep me in the passenger seat at this point is keep coming up with great action set pieces, and stick to its code: family is everything. “The Fate of the Furious” does both. 

The trailers gave away the big central premise, that Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) “goes rogue” and turns on his crew. Given the focus on family throughout the series, the question was whether or not this film would provide a satisfying justification for his actions here. Without spoiling anything, I thought the reveal of the only thing more important to Dom than family (referring to characters played once again by Michelle Rodriguez, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Tyrese Gibson) was interesting and complicated, and continues the series’ tendency to lean hard into its own mythology. That tendency is all over “Fate”, both pulling from the existing mythology and expanding it.

 

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As fun as some of these touches are, they’re ridiculous enough to almost hurt the movie. Jason Statham is back as Deckard Shaw from “Fast and Furious 7“, but the way the film forces him onto the team and how quickly he is accepted into it feels like a betrayal of how badly he hurt them the last time they met. Sure, there’s resistance, but most of it seems to come from Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who can’t wait to beat Shaw “like a Cherokee drum.” This leads to an prison escape sequence that is a lot of fun and demonstrates F. Gary Gray (“The Negotiator” and “Straight Outta Compton“) is more competent an action director than James Wan (who helmed the last installment) was – everything here feels more tangible even as the absurdity is amped up towards the final sequence. But, seriously. No one is going to comment on how this guy murdered Han in cold blood? Still, the “Hard-Boiled” inspired sequence on the plane is enough to justify finding a reason for Statham to be here; and the film uses both his physical and comedic chops to the max.

Charlize Theron pulls the strings as Cypher, a hacker even more formidable and dangerous than Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel). She’s sort of wasted here though, spending the entire movie giving orders from a plane, but her adept nature with technology makes for some really interesting sequences in a film that has several pleasant narrative surprises. The New York City section in the middle of the film is particularly creative, and has pretty horrific real-world implications regarding the future of the automobile. Would it have killed them to put her in a car, though? This is Furiosa we’re talking about.

 

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Even though the finale of this film features a chase scene over a frozen lake involving a Russian submarine – something that sounds straight out of “Die Another Day”, except it’s actually fun to watch – “The Fate of the Furious” feels pretty grounded in comparison to where this series has gone before. A lot of its scenes are kept at street level. More cars fly out of buildings here than in “Furious 7”, but in a less ridiculous context. No cars are dropped or birthed from planes, and the most outlandish thing The Rock does here is pull a concrete bench out of a wall with his bare hands. Oh, and also take countless rubber bullets to the body without reacting, like he’s the Incredible Hulk. “Grounded” is a relative term in these movies. If we’re being honest, this has been a full on superhero series since 2013’s “Fast & Furious 6“.

Most of the sins this movie commits are overshadowed by how much fun it is. The greatest sin of all is its failure to cast Zac Efron in the role of “Little Nobody,” rule-stickler and protege to Kurt Russell‘s character. Every time you see Scott Eastwood onscreen is a reminder of that missed opportunity.

I don’t know where they go from here – there are two more films planned before the series finally ends. But I’m along for the ride.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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