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THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS Review: May This Gloriously Dumb Series Never End

Monday, April 17, 2017 Rob Samuelson

The Fast & Furious franchise believes in every person’s power to change things in their life. This earnest positivity has reached its zenith with the remarkably consistent action series’ eighth installment, The Fate of the Furious. Turning things around is not exactly the same thing as redemption, and this movie is aware of that disconnect. But it makes the case that, if one’s motivation changes even slightly, former arch enemies can become allies -- allies who can then share Coronas at family barbecues with Dom (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and the rest of their crew of vehicular superheroes.

Photo credit: Fast & Furious/Facebook

The latest character to go from antagonist to unlikely friend is Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who finds himself imprisoned in the same maximum security facility as the last man to switch from villain to “family” friend, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Hobbs, a federal agent who once tracked down the Furious crew only to become their friend and kinda-sorta coworker, gets into some legal trouble himself via a convoluted job gone wrong. He fails to secure this film’s MacGuffin, an electromagnetic pulse device capable of rendering an entire city’s electronic systems inoperable, and it gets construed as a crime. Don’t worry about the particulars. It only happens to make Hobbs and Shaw meet and throw punches at each other in a prison riot sequence that employs an army of extras shot by new series director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) as if they’re a tempestuous ocean, with clenched fists and steel-toed boots replacing waves in a storm.

Throughout the riot scene, Shaw and the pursuing Hobbs occasionally lock eyes and exchange knowing nods as if to say, “Good work on evading that guy, toppling that guy, sending that guy to the hospital,” knowing that they could be an unstoppable team if only they were on the same side. And thanks to the magic of this endlessly dumb (but charmingly so) series, they are forced by Kurt Russell’s government fixer character, Mr. Nobody, to team up with the other Furious teammates to take down Charlize Theron’s super hacker villain. Everyone is reluctant to work with Shaw, who is responsible for the death of former series favorite, Han (Sung Kang), a couple films previous. But a get-out-of-jail-kinda-free card forces Shaw to be on close to his best (cocky, elite special forces killing machine) behavior. Shaw’s past actions have not changed. There’s no way for him to make up for that, and he makes no bones about the fact that his choices were the right ones for him at the time. Because the team is desperate for any help they can get, they strike a deal. In doing so, they even find ways to chuckle with this guy who very recently was trying to kill them all.

To give Shaw’s redemptive arc enough room to breathe, screenwriter Chris Morgan creates circumstances to make Dom turn on his family for mysterious reasons to aid Theron’s Cipher in her quest to commandeer nuclear weapons. That this contrivance ends up working on an emotional level is a minor miracle and testament to Morgan’s and Diesel’s long relationship with this character and his motivations. Dom’s apparent change of heart boosts the team’s forgiveness of Shaw because it shows the flip side of what happens when a person’s circumstances, and thus motivations, change in radical ways.

Speaking of the word radical, this is still a Fast & Furious movie. Enough of this malarkey about the redemptive qualities of teamwork and deeply ingrained familial obligations. Let’s talk about brightly painted cars going vroom vroom and enormous explosives going boom boom. Fate brings the action goods, perhaps some of the most conceptually inventive work since series high point Fast Five. Morgan sets up elaborate ideas to make cars defy physics and Gray executes them exuberantly. Few things in 2017 action cinema are likely to provide as much joy as the sight of every car in New York City capable of autonomous driving being hacked to become a weapon. It’s like a locust swarm. Vehicles move with a hive mind and fall out of parking structures like a multicolored waterfall. If that’s not what the movies are for, I don’t know what is.

If The Fate of the Furious has a major fault, it’s that it takes after most of its predecessors when the climax comes around. Mind you, a nuclear submarine chasing a bunch of sports cars through the Russian tundra is bonkers by the standards of any normal movie, but in this series it plays a little quaintly, particularly after the earlier zombie car sequence upped the ante to deliriously cartoonish (and entertaining) proportions. Luckily, Gray has another set piece to intercut with the submarine chase. It might just be the cutest and funniest moment of the entire series -- and might bring one character from “changed motivation” into “full redemption” territory. It’s a beautiful thing when someone can change their life for the better, ain’t it?

Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Charlize Theron
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Available in theaters now

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