I have no idea how in its eighth installment The Fast and the Furious franchise has reached the box office clout of Star Wars. While it’s nowhere near as possible as THE SAGA in the US; globally, it seems there is a worldwide love of fast cars, pretty people, explosions, and increasingly humongous set pieces. The Fate of the Furious opened with the largest international opening in history, passing even Star Wars Episode VII to set the new record. The opening is bigger than Furious 7, but is F8 an improvement on the first movie in the series to be a legitimately great action movie? No. In no way is it a descent of epic proportions, but it feels a lot like the fifth and sixth installments: islands of cool moments, enjoyable enough, but bloated beyond justification and beginning to get mired down in its own mythology.
The eighth film should have been a chance for the franchise to retool, refocus, and realign itself to sustain itself. Officially, the series is supposed to end after the 10th installment, but do you really think Universal is going to let this end if it drops $1 billion in their coffers with each outing? Universal isn’t Disney. They don’t have multiple, bankable billion dollar films every year. It doesn’t matter who is driving the cars, planes….tanks…submarines (really anything fast or vaguely furious), this series will continue until the revenue stream dries up. What is fairly certain is that Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, and the roughly 11 other members of the now huge ensemble (to which this film adds Charlize Theron, Scott Eastwood, and Helen Mirren) are going to rotate out at some point. Paul Walker’s time is done. Universal would have been smart to begin to introduce new blood (well, older new blood, than junior) and make these three films a gradual transition of the cast. Instead, the plot, which centers around Dom (Vince Diesel) turning on his team and going to work for cyberterrorist Cipher (Theron), hinges huge plot points on characters who haven’t had more than a few minutes of screen time in several films.
Gary Gray certainly proved his directorial chops in Straight Outta Compton, but F8 seems to get away from his control. The opening sequence in Havana seems to serve only to remind us that this series was once about street racing. It’s a weak opening, and it takes the film until Dom’s betrayal to really find some momentum. Trying to give everyone in the cast a “moment” is a large reason for the 136 minute running time. When your cast is Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Helen Mirren, Scott Eastwood, Luke Evans, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron, and breathe, and various associated other members from past films or new supporting characters, trying to give them all a glory moment is nuts. The ensemble is nearing the size of a Middle Earth saga installment.
Some of these character moments, though, are the best parts of the film. Jason Statham and the baby; Ludacris and Tyrese’s constant grousing at each other; and Agent Hobbs: girl’s soccer coach: the first and last of which are probably my favorite scenes in the film. We do get ABSURD action pieces: Carmageddon and the extended convoy of sports cars (and a tank) versus an old Soviet sub being the two showcases. I won’t lie; watching cars fall like rain in NYC was something to behold, but the entire sub sequence was just so over-the-top (yes, even for a F&F film) that my brain, which to enjoy a film in the series you really should just let soak in a jar or something while you watch the pretty splosions, was passing me notes.
“How does Hobbs know that’s a heat seeking missile by eye-balling it?”
“Not now, brain.”
“Why doesn’t the EMP fry the electronics in the car it’s in?”
“Shut up, brain!”
“Do cars really block the physics of fire?”
“The Chipmunks Christmas really is delightful.”
Look, the film is bonkers. You KNOW it’s going to be bonkers walking in, and if you throw spitballs because it’s absurd, you’re expecting way too much. The thing is: last time they managed to deliver absurdity and a tight action movie and even turn the tragedy of Paul Walker’s death into a classy and moving farewell to his character. That raised expectations; F8 returns them to pre-Furious 7 levels. It’s dumb fun, but nothing more special than that. Pity.