The Fate of the Furious is the reason moving pictures exist. Not the only reason, just the main one: the glory of dynamic motion which involves the pulse and the heart.
The Fast franchise is a group of action films centered around a crew of talented outlaws who engage in illegal street racing and, later, heists. Although the lineup has changed over the years, the basic formula has stayed the same: an eccentric crew of colorful characters with various talents, led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his co-conspirator/girlfriend/wife Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) get involved in ever-increasing stakes.
This group refers to themselves as “family,” and their bond is the sinew of the franchise. As the series escalates—escalation is the name of the game here—everybody eventually becomes part of the family, even the antagonists who are sent after them: the first movie saw undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) joining the crew; this habit is followed in later movies by Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson).
None of this dry summation can give you an accurate idea of franchise or its charm… which is that it is absolutely bazonkers: every single sequel tries to top the one before it. As the TVTropes page for the films reminds us, “The entire franchise was inspired by a magazine article.” It’s like a bag you can pour anything into.
Fate opens with Letty and Dom on their Cuban honeymoon. They engage in some illegal vintage Cuban street racing—which itself is worth the price of entry—and then there’s some talk about growing up and starting a family. Then Dom runs into a suspicious woman who blackmails him; the team is reassembled, and the game is on.
(While JASON is typing this review, a cloud of superior-smelling smoke appears in the seat next to him. As it congeals, it assumes the form of a hideously smug movie critic.)
JASON: By Saint Ebert and the blessed Kael! What are you?
CRITICUS: Hello, mortal! It is I, Criticus, the guardian spirit of criticism! When the first play appeared in Greece, I scoffed in the crowd and hissed, “What exactly are we doing here? This is derivative!” Since that day, I have been doomed to walk the Earth haunting critics who do not live up to my unpleasant and exasperating standards.
JASON: It’s too bad you got here right after the flick. You missed one of the best movies of the year.
CRITICUS: What? Fate of the Furious? That piece of populist garbage? Don’t you know the rules of your craft? You are only allowed to enjoy movies of this type ironically. If you give it a high rating, you must use words like “Taken for what it is” or “For an action movie, it is great.” But you actually clapped, and laughed, and made mouth sounds during this viewing. Why? Don’t you know it’s a popcorn movie?
JASON: Yes! It’s a first-rate filmwork! It’s inventive, brilliant, a lot of fun. It is so over-the-top that it establishes a new top. The actors are all charismatic, and we know the characters really well now, so it’s a joy to see them interact. On the surface, the movie is about explosions and cars, but it’s really a humanist document for our times, about what is best in life: adventure, kindness, connection, and the importance of community. All of this is manifested through Dom, who must balance his need to be a responsible adult against his outlaw, adventure-seeking nature, here symbolized by the villain Cipher. In its own way, this movie’s characters dodge the traps of easy characterization just as the movie itself escapes typical pigeonholing. Dom and his team teach us that you can keep the outlaw mindset but also be part of a larger, inclusive world, full of sweet-ass drifting moves. It has the same creative, visual genius as Mad Max: Fury Road, the same delight in ingenious action as Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd or Martin Scorsese. I want to see this film again.
CRITICUS: (Horrified, baffled silence) Chariots.
JASON: What? Chariots?
CRITICUS: It’s about chariots. That is all the movie is about. Motorized chariots. Explain yourself!
JASON: It’s about cars in the same way that Call of the Wild is about camping. There are only eighty-eight keys on a piano, but they contain all of Beethoven. Twenty-six letters in the alphabet, but all of Shakespeare marches out of that collection. All great art has come out of these limitations. Calvin and Hobbes was four panels a weekday. Rock ‘n’ roll started as teen music on the radio, three minutes a song, and look at everything that’s come from that. Have I mentioned the amazing prison riot?
This is a movie with a chase scene involving a submarine.
JASON: By your lame standards, Fate is a bad movie. It has gunfights, explosions; the laws of physics and human physiology are violated with Vegas-like abandon. This is not a drawing-room comedy of manners. There are no long monologues about longing, no banter about who will inherit the manor house. So what? Your standards are the wrong standards. The problem is not that Fate of the Furious is a bad movie. It is, in fact, a great movie—maybe as amazing as Fast 5, 6, or 7. The problem is that the critical boxes you use to judge what is good and bad are too small. If you set up one category—rock or drama—as the end-all and be-all of your art and punish all deviations from it, then you’re going to get a world where everything that doesn’t fall in line looks pretty idiotic. Fate is a very bad Downton Abbey, but it is a very good motion picture. Its exaggerations—like when The Rock lifts an insufferable bureaucrat against a wall by ninety degrees—are as much a part of its deliberate technique as the oversized gestures of kabuki or opera. Frankly, I like Dom and his ridiculous, close-knit crew more than any number of clever protagonists I’ve been asked to identify with over the years.
CRITICUS: So just write “For a big, dumb action movie, it’s a lot of fun” and be done with it.
JASON: But that’s condescending. It’s not dumb. This is a well-thought out piece of kino. You’re thinking of Zack Snyder, who makes ugly-looking, loud, CGI-heavy boom-fests where there’s no connection to the characters and no emotional stakes. Fate is just the opposite. These are movies where topping the previous installment is itself the art. How much crazier can the stunts get? How strong is the family’s bond? How many incredible moments will these stars have on screen? How intense can the stakes get? How byzantine are the plots? How can they possibly pull it off? Any other movie franchise would have run out of gas—think of Brosnan-era Bond, or of the self-love of the Ocean’s sequels. But the Fast franchise, and its latest installment, Fate of the Furious, is so clever, so perfectly executed, emotionally sincere, self-aware and gloriously cinematic that I think it’s made me happier, and more entertained, than any other movie I’ve seen this year. I give it a nine.
CRITICUS: Bah! I must go! I have a Taylor Smith concert to make mean remarks about! Have fun with your car movie!
JASON: Enjoy complaining about modern jazz on a YouTube comment thread!
(CRITICUS disappears in a burst of harrumphing fog.)
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer: Chris Morgan (screenplay); based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell,
Release Date: April 14, 2017