We know there is chicken soup for the soul, but is there such a thing as cotton candy for the soul? If so, it may just be the Fast and Furious franchise. No one could have expected that when the original arrived in June 2001, in a summer where it was sandwiched between movies like Laura Croft: Tomb Raider and Pootie Tang, that it would start what would ultimately become the most successful franchise for Universal, the same studio that gave us Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Jason Bourne.
To some, the once street-racing movies now live-action cartoons, are guilty pleasures. Why should you feel guilty about liking the Fast and the Furious? Here we have a series that brings back ‘80s-era machismo with its mix of action and cheesy one-liners. Not to the level of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando per se, but Dwayne Johnson saying he’s going to beat Jason Statham like a “Cherokee drum,” I don’t think that was meant in reference to Paul Revere & The Raiders’ “Indian Reservation.”
What was once all about living life a quarter mile at a time in California has devolved into a globe-trotting franchise where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) an his crew of vehicular avengers engage in international espionage as if James Bond had a racing team. But don’t expect to find any shaken martinis here. Only Corona beer.
The situations that occur are beyond the realm of plausibility and I’m okay with that. The audience knows the laws of physics do not apply when you have skydiving cars (Furious 7); a plane runway that seemingly never ends (Fast & Furious 6); or former broskies Brian and Roman (Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson) upstaging those good old boys, cousins Bo and Luke Duke, when crashing a car into a speeding yacht. Surprisingly, this climatic stunt from 2 Fast 2 Furious is on the low end when it comes to the ridiculousness that would come in later sequels.
Face it: these movies are dumb. But fun. So dumb they’re fun. So fun that you can defend how dumb they are. Not everyone can be so forgiving, and are probably dumbfounded knowing there are eight of these with two more in the pipeline. Usually when the sequel number get this high we are watching a hockey mask killer that targets camp counselors.
Those looking for a credible story best look elsewhere; the script has been jettisoned to the backseat, wedged in between cushions already containing loose change and some half-eaten French fries. I don’t like the use of “leave your brain at the door” as a credible reason to give a movie a pass, but this franchise is pure popcorn. The Fate of the Furious (F8, for short) is the latest in adhering to audience expectations. They know they are getting at least two hours of vehicular action in wash, rinse, repeat fashion. They could care less about its incoherent goings-on.
If there is a saving grace to be found with this series it is motivation and why Dom and his crew do what they do. Dominic Toretto’s moral compass points him to family. Always has, always will. Yet that compass is compromised this time around as he betrays the ones he loves at the behest of the mysterious Cipher (Charlize Theron), who recruits Dom while he and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are celebrating their honeymoon in Havana. It’s a Godfather offer – one that he can’t refuse. His subsequent betrayal lands Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in the same prison as old nemesis Deckard (Jason Statham), while leaving a lasting sting on the rest of the team. Now it is Dom and Cipher going up against the “family,” all the while we anxiously await to learn what drives Dom to betray his friends.
Every Fast and Furious installment seems to shed its skin and genre classification. Fast Five, by far the highpoint of the series, fell into the heist/caper subgenre. Fast & Furious 6 was a superhero movie with the team assembling to take down an international baddie. Furious 7 was a revenge thriller with Statham’s attempt to kill Dom’s friends. Which leads us to F8, riding along like a cheeky homage to 007 adventures. F. Gary Gray, fresh from Straight Outta Compton has a little reunion with Statham and Theron, two of the stars of his Italian Job remake. His direction on that pic made him an easy recommendation in taking over for James Wan.
While the early stages are a slog, once Johnson and Statham start to trade barbs the movie pops the clutch as things start to move fast…and furious. Their interactions are one of the high points as is Theron as the villain, and Helen Mirren popping up and laying down the singular f-bomb to ensure the film doesn’t go beyond its PG-13 rating.
F8 has been billed as the start of a trilogy that will end the franchise in 2021. There is no cliffhanger ending (and no reason to stay through the credits) but there are a few loose lug nuts that leave speculation as to what the future has in store for the drivers left remaining after being chased by a submarine in the arctic under Cipher’s control.
Unless they take the action to the high seas, where the team must thwart global warming with raising the Titanic and dragging it to shore with their souped-up superchargers, I don’t know how stunt coordinator Sprio Ratzos (who has been with the series since Fast Five and coordinated the stunts for Captain America: Civil War) can top himself.
The Fast and Furious series has become a global phenomenon with each installment since Dwayne Johnson offered some much needed “Franchise Viagra.” It has now reached a level of saturation that is the movie equivalent to a can of Pringles. You can’t have just one. The Fate and the Furious may not be good for the spare tire, so if you feel yourself on the receiving end of movie heartburn, just remember that you’re consuming fast food entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer: Chris Morgan (based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson)
Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris
Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language)
Running Time: 136 minutes