The Fate of the Furious, the eighth feature film in the Fast and the Furious series, opens on a familiar setpiece: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) challenging somebody to a race.
The hallmarks are in place. It’s someplace hot and colorful; this time, Havana. The women are hot and colorful. The cars are hot and colorful. Except this time, Dom isn’t driving one of those cars. He’s been dared to race the fastest car in Cuba, while he himself drives a beat-up wreck.
After kicking off half the body and rigging a turbo system out of the heater and a Coke can, Dom’s on the final stretch with the engine on fire. Of course he wins. Of course the car explodes soon after. And of course he gets away clean, in white jeans.
From this moment on, I was cackling with glee. With each escalating setpiece, each ridiculous defiance of gravity and physics, each bludgeoning bro-down of fisticuffs, each stupendous stunt, I grinned from ear to ear.
I’ve been saying this since 2015’s Furious 7, and I’ll say it again: Fast and the Furious is the best superhero action franchise going. Bar none. And here’s why.
Epic, outsized action that still feels human-sized
In these movies, there are no ostensible superpowers or magic. The movies do function as superhero stories, though, given how technology here works like magic powers, and characters such as Dom and Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) are nigh-indestructible and possess superhuman strength.
I mean, during a fantastic prison riot sequence in Fate of the Furious, Hobbs shrugs off rubber bullets while picking up grown men and hurling them into other grown men! He later dents a shipping container with a bare-handed punch!
Still, even in this hyperbolic reality, everyone is human, and the insane action remains with stuff we sorta know: cars, fistfights, guns and the like. And that matters!
Cognitively, we have an idea of how those things work. But we know a man can’t fly, no matter how much we suspend our disbelief. There’s no having to learn power sets, rules for weaknesses, and what-not.
Dom and the Family’s superpowers are driving sick-ass cars and fighting! If Dom drives a Lamborghini out of the window of a high-rise in Dubai, into a neighboring tower, we know Lambos and skyscrapers.
And, what are the schemes of the big bad villains in each Fast and the Furious movie? Dudes stealing electronics, drug dealers, gangsters and international terrorists trying to gain world-bending leverage or hold the world at ransom.
Generally, the villains are not seeking the apocalypse. (Or, in X-Men: Apocalypse’s case, Apocalypse.) By and large, the fate of the free world does not hang in the balance for Dom and the Family. Even if they’re fighting a submarine this time.
Also, while they often fight hosts of nameless bad guys, at least those bad guys are human, of limited number, and actually on the screen. No endless waves of computer-generated Chitauri drones, Kryptonian battleships or Ultron robots, here. And there are no civilian deaths, or pretending to care about the collateral damage. (Looking at you, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.)
That’s not exactly a knock on superhero movies’ tendencies. It is, though, a feature that, after movie upon movie, can be repetitive and lose flavor. The lack of grounding the reality of the fantasy sometimes takes me out of these movies now.
Maybe that’s why the Captain America movies are the “grounded” members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even with magical tesseracts, mad-science cybernetics, and secret techno-prisons in the Pacific Ocean.
Diversity is their way of life
By the end of The Fate of the Furious, two white actors play members of the Family: Jason Statham and Scott Eastwood. And Eastwood is placed into the slot vacated by the deceased Paul Walker, to the point that he gets the kind of car his character, Brian, would drive.
Otherwise, the crew returns as we know it, diverse as hell.
Dom appears to be Latino given all of his time in Latin America, his knowledge of Spanish and, in this film, a Cuban cousin. Dwayne Johnson brings his Samoan heritage to the Hobbs character, coaching his daughter’s tween soccer team to perform a pregame haka war dance. Johnson’s very large, very visible tribal tattoos undoubtedly inform such decisions.
A Latina (Letty), two black men (Tej and Roman), and a black woman (Ramsey) round out the rest of the gang. Not to mention dearly departed team members Han, a Korean man, and Gisele, an Israeli woman.
Not even several versions of the X-Men are this diverse, or are centered on its nonwhite characters in this way. The Avengers are still working on it. Funny enough, Suicide Squad, which was a majority-minority cast, was a team of outlaws and criminals, like Fast and the Furious. (And both films use Eastwood as a generic token white guy.)
That diversity on screen is met behind the camera as well.
The franchise was kept alive and rejuvenated with who-can-top-that action setpieces by Taiwanese-American filmmaker Justin Lin, who made four of the eight feature films. James Wan, the Australian director of Malaysian Chinese descent, brought the franchise to even greater heights in Furious 7. Black directors John Singleton and F. Gary Gray, whose work includes iconic black films Boyz N The Hood and Friday, are in the mix, with Gray making the biggest installment now in The Fate of the Furious.
Marvel Studios won’t have a black director until Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is out next year, some 17 movies in after 10 years since Iron Man launched it all in 2008. Singleton, however, directed the second Fast and the Furious film.
DC’s Extended Universe will have a female director after three movies, with Patty Jenkins helming Wonder Woman out in June. Marvel’s Captain Marvel will have a female co-director, Anna Boden, for the 2019 film.
I want to see a female director on a Fast and the Furious film. Maybe then we get Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) to have more of her own arc. It’s tough to say “her own story,” given that everyone’s story runs through Dom.
Or, perhaps, Letty leads the gang for a movie.
For example, Dom’s betrayal of the Family in The Fate of the Furious is not played too hard for the drama it likely should have been. The film should have leaned harder on either Letty’s shaken faith in Dom, or she goes extra hard on doubling down that Dom is still good. I’m not saying a female director, per se, would fix this blind spot, but it wouldn’t hurt.
Amid the requisite skinnny girls in bethonged ass-bearing skirts, The Fate of the Furious does get in one very solid jab about its gender politics. It was a nice touch to see hacker Ramsey, after two movies of Tej and Roman peacocking over getting a shot at her, get the last word on both of them by asking, “What’s my last name?”
As far as which woman should direct a Fast and the Furious movie, start with the grand dame. Hire Kathleen Bigelow. These movies come from the tree she planted with Point Break.
Folks such as The Walking Dead alum Lesli Linka Glatter, Belle helmer Amma Asante, and The Punisher: War Zone’s Lexi Alexander – packing in action on Supergirl – come to mind as well.
Continuity that remains convoluted yet breezy
The Fate of the Furious must contain about 27 callbacks to the other seven movies.
We see a character who sat out the entirety of a previous film after being the main baddie in another one. The main villain of Furious 7 turns into a good guy. Even one part, a bevy of quick-cut flashbacks for how-they-done-itreveals, brings back dudes from three movies ago.
And the big twist of the new film creates a timeline that makes 3-4 movies span, at best, 18-20 months. How these folks’ immune systems haven’t collapsed, or all their bones shatter after nonstop action, I don’t know. Oh wait, I do know – they’re superheroes!
Never mind that the third film, Tokyo Drift (2006), now is retconned to have taken place between Fast & Furious 6 (2013) and Furious 7 (2015)! Or that Vin Diesel stepped out on the franchise for the second and third films!
Credit to Gary Scott Thompson and Chris Morgan. Thompson has been writing these movies from the beginning, and Morgan came on with Tokyo Drift.
In this world, enemies become allies, allies become friends, and friends become family. It’s nice to see, rather than the heroes always creating their villains.
In a Fast and Furious world, Batman doesn’t drop the Red Hood into the chemicals. Tony Stark or his father wouldn’t be the source of pretty much every Marvel Cinematic Universe villain. General Zod doesn’t come to Earth and get his neck snapped because Clark set off the Kryptonian search beacon.
The wild cards strengthen the formula
In Fate of the Furious, Vin Diesel brings emotional depth to Dom Toretto that we simply haven’t seen. There wasn’t just the action-hero standards of stoic vengeance, good-humored satisfaction, or determined fury. We saw frustration, desperation, impotent fuming.
In other words, it’s exactly what I didn’t expect from a Vin Diesel performance.
Of course, it helps that Diesel has Charlize Theron to play off.
With an actor of Theron’s calibre, Diesel pulls out emotional line reads that he may not have otherwise. The scenes between Dom and Cipher, by and large, are quiet in the Fast and Furious world. Theron’s menace wrapped itself around Diesel’s rage, snuffing any of its strength. The effect is chilling.
As each movie has gotten bigger, an eclectic roster of movie personalities, stars and actors join the Fast and the Furious stable. Sure, we’ve gotten that with the Marvel movies, which have drawn a lot of quality talent, and Fast and the Furious has been able to draft off that dismantling of typecasting fears. Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren sign up for the eighth film, after Johnson and Staham joined the franchise, and Kurt Russell reappears as government spook Mr. Nobody.
The Fast and the Furious franchise operates similar to how Roger Ebert characterized the casting in the first Sin City movie. Style and ultra-heightened reality soar as strength, and, as Ebert wrote back in 2005, “The actors are mined for the archetypes they contain … rotated into a hyperdimension.”
Ebert’s description of Sin City as a whole also is greatly used for The Fast and the Furious franchise: “It’s like a comic book brought to life and pumped with steroids. It contains characters who occupy stories, but to describe the characters and summarize the stories would be like replacing the weather with a weather map.”
Sure, the superhero movies have been bumping up their game for quality cast members. But it’s also fun when they get to embrace the nuttiness, the cheesiness of it all. Marvel, for example, has left that to The Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor films, which are so far from grounded that they’re literally in space.
Everyone’s having a good time
Think about major superhero movies of the past few years. Besides three-point landings, citywide destruction and female love interests in danger, we’ve also gotten used to superheroes not having much of any fun.
Batman movies are all about him not enjoying himself. Logan operates in a post-mutant future that looks like the end times. Superman never smiles in Zack Snyder’s movies, and the jokes in the Justice League trailer come off as a labored overcorrection. Ant-Man has the most fun in Captain America: Civil War, and that’s only because he’s new.
It was Rorschach who said in Watchmen, “We do it because we are compelled.” Dramatically, it’s so much more powerful to watch someone be compelled to take up something as extreme as putting on a costume to fight evil. But why can’t more superheroes jump in simply because it’s a fun use of their talents?
That used to be Superman’s reason, no? Folks are too cynical for that now, I guess.
But Dom and the Family? They end every movie hanging out over a meal and some bottles of Corona. Every single time.
If the movies ended in a freeze frame like episode of The A-Team, I’d be fine with that.