Who knew little things like foreshadowing and leaning on characters would work for this franchise?
The first ten minutes of the eighth installment of The Fast And The Furious filled me with hope. Prepping for a race (for slips!), Dom Toretto snatches a Coke can from Letty's hands, breaking off the tab and putting it on his nitrous line, so he could save half of it for later in the race. It's a "trick that the Buster taught him", and it was such a nice little throwaway moment that I sorta forgot how much I hated Furious 7 and got cozy. Dom proceeds to race a Cuban street king in a beat up jalopy and win my heart.
The whole movie didn't have me like this again until the third act, but it's important for a film like this to start strong.
The premise of this entry has been explained again and again in the trailers, but if you skipped them, it's this -- Dom turns bad for a super hacker named Cipher (Charlize Theron), and it's up to the team to stop him from starting World War III. It's part Skyfall, and it's part Winter Soldier. But with cars, explosions, Vin growling...
...and Jason Fucking Statham.
Statham is so good in this movie it makes my head spin. It's like Chris Morgan and F. Gary Gray (who's worked with him before on The Italian Job) watched Spy and decided to trust Statham entirely with the fleshing out of Deckard Shaw for his eventual folding into "the family" (yeah, they show this in the trailer, so I don't mind mentioning it here). Yeah, he totally killed Han. Yeah, the movie doesn't bring it up and it's kind of a problem.
But -- Statham, with an assist in a few truly amazing scenes with Dwayne Johnson, really sells his face turn in The Fate Of The Furious. It's the hardest I've seen this guy work, and Jason Statham is a guy who routinely gives his all. This is his flick, top to bottom.
Also hard working is Vin Diesel himself -- Dom's reason for betraying the group is a genuine surprise. It's a place for Vin to show an emotional side we rarely see, and while not all of his moments work, I'd rather have him trying than not at all (rewatch Furious 7 if you want to see some of the laziest performances of 2015).
Faring less well is poor Scott Eastwood, saddled with essentially filling Brian's role on the team; nobody was going to like this. It's interesting that they made him an actual buster, somebody who continuously fucks up so many times that even Roman jumps all over him. He does his best with what he's given, and it certainly helps that he's constantly roasted by everyone else (including Kurt Russell, who's his goddamn boss).
As for the directing side, I think we've all forgotten that F. Gary Gray is really good at shooting action. While he had help from the best second unit in the business, the guy did The Italian Job and it really shows. There's some wire fu in the fights, but this Furious film has a metric ton of practically shot sequences, I think almost as much as Fast Five (the once and future king of the series).
So, where does this film, the first one without Paul Walker, put the franchise in the grand scheme of things? I think it's safe to say the stakes have fully pushed it into its own Roger Moore era; the climax is a race on ice against a nuclear submarine for Christ's sake. However, even though the circumstances that have beset these former DVD player thieves are more ridiculous than ever, it works more than the last two entries.
I've been trying to parse why exactly that is for the past twelve hours, and it's because they've fully leaned in. Maybe others won't agree with me here, but the past two films have been trying to check both boxes - the realistic box and the ridiculous box, with little success in either. Despite all that's happening, The Fate Of The Furious is a lighter movie that's only interested in fun interactions and ridiculous set pieces. It simply commits to a tone this time out, and it benefits.
After Furious 7, I wasn't sure if I was coming back, but The Fate Of The Furious has me ready for parts nine and ten. You know, as long as the Han/Gisele elephant in the room gets addressed.
Terry Erickson is a screenwriter, lifelong film fan, and all around good guy based in Baltimore, MD. He's driven across America twice, is obsessed with Back To The Future, and loves almost everybody.