There’s something fascinating about the Fast and Furious franchise, something that I’ve never been quite able to put my finger on. It’s such a massive franchise now — eight films over the last sixteen years, and it has survived everything from on-set bickering to the death of one of its co-stars. The core group has remained the same, and steadily expanded over the years, with a couple of notable names dropping out (two of the more charismatic actors — Gal Gadot and Sung Kang — were killed off). Through all of that, the films continue to make bonkers money at the box office. What’s most remarkable is that they are, for the most part, absolute trash. They’re silly, paper-thin, overwrought nonsense films with actors who, while charismatic, are usually not actually good They get by on action, effects, and the camaraderie of their surprisingly and refreshingly diverse casts.
And yet, The Fast and the Furious films receive almost no vitriol for sins that other franchises are often crucified for. I could use many of the same lines about the Transformers films, but those are almost universally reviled by critics (this one included), while the Furious franchise is subjected to a sort of genial affection, the kind of affable, patient love that you express towards your idiot cousin, the one who’s not too bright but damn it, he tries.
All of this continues to apply to the next entry, The Fate of the Furious. This one sees the Furious family patriarch, Dom (Vin Diesel) turn his back on his family of outlaws at the behest of a steely techno-villain known only as “Cipher” (Charlize Theron, having the time of her goddamn life). He’s charged with stealing a series of high-tech weapons kept in increasingly ridiculous locales, using increasingly ridiculous methods, all while his team tries to figure out a) why he betrayed them and b) how to stop him. It’s a hilarious and eye-popping bit of technological chaos, with EMP’s and nuclear threats, zombie cars and a submarine chasing a Lamborghini across a frozen lake. Basically, after each movie, they just turn the dial a quarter-turn more.
The problem that comes with reviewing these films is that so little about the core cast actually changes. Even here, with Dom turning on his friends and family, you know it’s not for real, and his personality is as stoic and implacable as ever. Even when he’s roaring in anger at the desperateness of his situation, while Theron smirks gorgeously at him, he’s just playing the same tape at a slightly louder volume. Fortunately, the film throws enough curve balls to keep the cast from getting stale. Jason Statham returns as renegade SS agent Deckard Shaw, this time drafted to their cause by government spook Mr. Nobody (the always wonderful Kurt Russell). Statham continues his streak of playing charismatic, slightly unhinged badasses, and his banter with Dwayne Johnson is one of the film’s highlights. Scott Eastwood is also onboard this time around, and while I consider Eastwood to be little more than an arrogant, smarm-flavored vanilla milkshake, he spends the bulk of his screentime with the Furious team making fun of him for that very reason, which is so fantastically meta that I couldn’t help but giggle.
Oddly, that’s probably the film’s strongest point — sure, the action is as unchained and bananas as ever, but this is hands down one of the funniest in the franchise. Chris Morgan, who has served as screenwriter for all of these films since Tokyo Drift, has upped his game and the film is better for it. While all of the silly posturing and gravelly proclamations about family are amusing in their own right, this time around the playfulness of the cast and their dialogue is ratcheted up substantially, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
There are times when I was tempted to just copy+paste excerpts from my prior Fast and Furious reviews for this one because while the plot is (slightly) different, so much else is the same. There’s a bizarre repetition to it, just with everything dialed up a little bit more, and yet we never seem to mind. In fact, I relish it — I splurged for Lux level seating so I could sit back, cocktail in hand, and just get blown away by all of its glorious, self-aware, chaotic goofiness. The films are so earnest in their desire to entertain that you can’t help but love them, schmaltzy dialogue, plot holes and all. Eventually, the Fast and Furious films will hit some sort of ridiculous action scene event horizon and it’ll trigger a black hole that will make us all blind and blood will explode from every orifice and the Earth will turn inside out, but until then? Fuck it, just drink up and enjoy the goddamn ride.