While watching The Fate of the Furious on IMAX, I found myself switching between three inner voices. The first being the Fast & Furious fan who’s enjoyed the series since the very beginning and how it’s evolved over the last 16 years. The second being the 13-year-old movie fan growing up in the 1980s who lived for action movies and left all logic at the door of the local mall’s General Cinema. The third being the film lover and writer that appreciates pure logic, dramatic conflict, and common sense.
Fate (or F8) has franchise staple Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) going rogue on his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the rest of his team of bandits-turned-government operatives. The villainous Cypher (Charlize Theron) has an ace in the hole getting Dom on her side: she’s holding his ex Elena (Elsa Pataky) hostage along with their baby son.
The Fast & Furious fan in me loved the opening sequence in Cuba which took the series back to the pure adrenaline of street racing from the first film. The Latin hip-hop soundtrack and Brian Taylor’s score cues musically tie F8 to the previous films. The return of familiar characters Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) and their back-and-forth jabs are always welcome. Having more of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) than we did in Furious 7 also a bonus.
The young teenage version of myself watched the stunts and action sequences in awe. Cypher gains control of an army of cars in New York City and sends the driverless vehicles across town to attack Dom’s team. The climax in Russia was also beautifully staged when a nuclear sub and army of armed jeeps goes gunning after the team across a frozen lake. Director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) goes big and conservatively utilizes the CGI. I was rarely taken out of the action because of visuals that didn’t work.
Sadly, logical writer in me had sooo many questions: How could Elena be pregnant after she barely survived a fall from a seven-story building? Why doesn’t anyone mention the Toretto family home that’s been obliterated? How could the team be working with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) after Deckard killed Han (Sung Kang) and spent all of Furious 7 following the team around the world trying to kill them? Why isn’t Han even mentioned in this film? Why does Hobbs seem to despise Shaw much more than the team does? How did Shaw go from murderer to baby lover in the course of a film? Why does Cypher want to blow up the planet? Why is the photograph of Brian and Mia in the trailer but not in the movie?Speaking of Brian O’Conner … Paul Walker’s character is sorely missed. He stood out not only as the moral compass of the films but the most evolved over all the other characters. O’Conner spent six films figuring out what side of the law he was on and what really mattered in life. After a tearful sendoff in Furious 7, we lost not only the heart of the series, but a sense of emotional cohesion. In F8, I would’ve loved to see the team reflect more on the loss of Brian, and also on their own lives before they were fearless superhero agents of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). Maybe call one of their parents or children. Hobbs is the only one with a child and their scenes bring a much needed emotional resonance to F8. The more human you make the characters, the more their pain and conflict matters.
Overall, death itself has become an afterthought in the course of the films and has somewhat diffused a sense of real danger. Letty survived an exploding vehicle but still suffered amnesia. Decker’s brother Owen (Luke Evans) survived a fall from a plane. Hobbs and Elena (and her unborn child) survived a fall from his exploding office. By this time, Dom is full on superhero, surviving falls off bridges, exploding planes and houses, collapsing parking garages, cars careening down cliff sides, etc. the list goes on. Remember the viscerality of Bruce Willis’ John McClane running barefoot across a floor of broken glass in Die Hard? We need to see more burns, bruises, gunshot wounds, that we did in previous Fast & Furious installments. Something to remind us that we’re not watching a movie: we’re living it.
Despite the flaws, F8 still entertained me and left me with hope for the series’ future films. Potential for true drama and betrayal is still possible for F9 and F10 as factions of criminals and government agents work together, double-cross, and go to war with each other. The door is also still open for some characters to return from previous Fast & Furious installments. I’d love to see the cast of Tokyo Drift appear and remind Dom and the crew that Deckard Shaw killed Han and is still a bad dude. Or have Eva Mendes’ Monica Fuentes of 2 Fast 2 Furious show up to create a love rectangle between Tej, Roman, and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel).
All in all, the action of The Fate of the Furious is still a spectacle well worthy of the big screen experience, but a part of me still wishes I could leave all logic at the door (or even in the car) before I walk in.