It's OK to like "The Fast and the Furious" movies. Even if you like them un-ironically, there's nothing to be ashamed about. I mean, some of them are terrible (I'm looking at you, numbers two and four), but even the worst of the series are still wildly entertaining and better than your average guilty pleasure. Physics be damned, this series cares about two things: Blowing things up beautifully and talking about family all the time.
While the original was an almost copyright-infringing rip-off of "Point Break," the series has grown away from its roots and become an entirely different beast. The first three form an almost accidental trilogy focused on small stakes street racing, and the characters ride the line between heroes and criminals. Films four through six put the series squarely in the genre of heist movies, taking the characters we've already grown to love and putting them in an action-driven version of "The Sting."
Paul Walker passed away during the filming of "Furious Seven," so that film is almost an outlier, more focused on wrapping up Walker's character than telling a cohesive story.
With the "Fate of the Furious," we have our first movie completely without Walker. His goofy, everyman vibe is painfully obvious immediately. Chris Morgan, the screenwriter of the series since "Tokyo Drift," has now completely abandoned the small stakes of the first three movies and the goofy heist fun of four through seven and made "F8" an off-brand James Bond movie. With a quick rewrite this could easily pass as one of the Brosnan-era Bond movies with its goofy gadgets, forced romance and massive, world-saving stakes.
That's right. Instead of focusing on street races or robbing a massive drug lord, "F8" is actually about our ragtag group of friends and family saving the planet by helping Kurt Russell's nameless government agent prevent Charlize Theron from starting WWIII. The trailers also have been spoiling the fact that Vin Diesel's grumbly patriarch, Dominic Toretto, has teamed up with Theron's evil hacker character, Cypher (Ugh, "Matrix" much?), while fighting against his family. The reason why is explained fairly early on and doesn't require much ret-conning to make the twist work.
The best aspect of this series is how much fun they've become with each successive movie. Watching The Rock and Jason Statham beating the hell out of each other is a blast, regardless of whether you have trouble turning off your brain to enjoy these flicks. Sadly "F8" is probably the worst of the series since the downright terrible fourth one, but it tries so very hard. There's an action sequence in New York that rivals anything the series has ever done, but it feels in service to a story we don't really care about. Maybe this series has grown so large that we need a smaller stakes story to remind us why we love these characters in the first place.
After eight movies, we care about Cousin Vin, Letty, The Rock, Ludacris, Tyrese and Paul Walker's dearly departed Brian. As fun as it is to watch these characters save the world, they seem in WAY over their heads, which takes a little bit of the fun out of everything. Since we definitely have two more films in the franchise before everyone's contracts are expired, "F8" is probably just a minor speed bump in one of the best action movie series in modern film history.
Dir. F. Gary Gray
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Sisters Movie House, Redmond Cinema