When you hit the eighth film in a franchise, it's hard to stay exciting, relevant, or charismatic. Really, at that point, it's difficult to even break mediocrity. Seriously, who has anything good to say about Halloween: Resurrection, Son Of The Pink Panther, Jason X, or A Madea Halloween?
Vin Diesel and his Furious Family set out to break that mold with Fate Of The Furious - and they certainly succeeded.
Fate Of The Furious puts a slight twist on the franchise, as leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) turns his back on the rest of his team. With Dom at the side of the newest villain, Cipher (Charlize Theron), Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) must rally the troops for their biggest battle of all.
Initially, the premise sounded a bit too out there to be taken seriously. The franchise had built their fanbase around the idea that nothing can separate a family, so why take that direction in your new movie? As it turns out, this was the best idea the franchise could have had, as it found a way to strengthen the bonds of the family more than ever.
Director F. Gary Gray took a property that - while still successful - was starting to feel stale, and breathed into it a brand new life. The tropes that became nothing more than a caricature in Furious 7 - such as Tyrese Gibson's bad jokes, Dom's all-too-serious one-liners, and unbelievable car stunts - were starting to wear down critics and fans. While they were still around in Fate, these very issues were turned into some of the film's strongest qualities. Gibson's comedic timing found an incredible stride in the movie, and it seemed as though - despite being a bit of a bad guy throughout - Diesel was having fun with the role again.
As far as the stunts go, they were still over-the-top. If we're being honest, the submarine chase in the film's climax was downright silly. However, the rest of the action sequences in the movie found that perfect balance of crazy and believable that fans loved in Fast Five. The prison riot and automated car stampede were perfect examples of this - They were exactly what you wanted from an action film, and they didn't make you groan as they happened.
Gray also found a way to take the action in a much grittier direction. Instead of clean-cut fight scenes, there was a bit of a John Wick feel to a lot of the hand-to-hand combat. There's one particular scene involving Diesel and Kristofer Hivju that made the entire audience cringe, and it was perfect.
Possibly the most respectable part of Fate was its astounding character work. The movie faced the daunting task of leaving the Paul Walker era behind. Brian was such a key component to these films, and it was undoubtedly difficult to make fans honor his memory while still enjoying the other characters. If these characters weren't crafted correctly, audiences would find themselves saying, "Brian would've been so great for this scene" throughout the entire movie.
Fate escapes that notion entirely. The film does address Brian on two occasions, but they're woven into the narrative so well that it does nothing but honor Walker's legacy. (The latter of these is incredibly predictable, but it will make you smile nontheless.) Instead of giving viewers something to get hung up on, Fate created a chemistry with this ensemble that has been missing for quite a while.
The obvious stand-outs are newcomer Charlize Theron, and villain-turned-hero Jason Statham. Theron's character Cipher is easily the best villain of the entire franchise. Her deadpan delivery and intimidating stare brought actual fear into the hearts of audiences, and proved once again why Theron is the female action star of the century.
Statham, on the other hand, is much better served as a hero. His turn as Deckard Shaw in Furious 7 was okay, but altogether forgettable. However, in Fate, Statham channels the charm and combat skills that made him famous in the first place, and uses those tools to steal just about every scene he's in. No spoilers, but you'll fall in love with him in the film's third act. Helen Mirren was also a bright highlight in the cast, making viewers laugh with just about every line. She and Statham on screen together is a pairing that should happen WAY more often.
As many great things as there were in this movie, it still had its low-points. That submarine chase - while fun - was just one step too far. It was certainly better than the helicopter takedown in 7, or the runway chase in 6, but it was still tough to watch. Scott Eastwood was a bit of a dud as well. He seemed a bit automatic and dry but, to be fair, he wasn't given much to work with.
Despite those couple of issues, this movie was a return to form. While Fate Of The Furious is no Mad Max or John Wick, it's easily one of the better action blockbusters of the last few years. It gets you engaged with fun characters, gets you on the edge of your seat with thrilling chase sequences, keeps you guessing with a mystery, and leaves you with a soft heart.
Fate is a brilliant entry to a dormant franchise, and it's definitely worth the trip to the crowded theaters this weekend.
Official Score: 4/5 Stars.