The Fate of the Furious (Universal Pictures, PG-13)

F&F movies are preposterous but fun, the team members are hot and have a sense of humor, and the films are bursting with futuristic gadgets.

You know exactly what you’re going to get with the Fast and Furious (F&F) films: muscle cars, crazy stunts, wisecracks, a multi-culti crew, and lots and lots of action. These films offer a maximum of fun and a minimum of pretention, and that basic formula has held up well through multiple directors, locations, and plot contrivances. Director F. Gary Gray’s The Fate of the FuriousF8, if you’re counting—sticks with what makes the franchise work while adding enough that’s new to keep viewers coming back for more.

What’s new this time around? First off is the appearance of Charlize Theron as the big bad, an icy computer genius/supervillain who could give Emma Frost the chills. Theron’s character is loads of fun and sexy as hell, while her name, Cipher, is an obvious shout out to the James Bond franchise. In fact, you could make the case that the F&F franchise is the modern reincarnation of the Sean Connery–era Bond films, with the whole team occupying the position once held by James (and obviously, being much more gender and racially inclusive than the original). Think about it: F&F movies are preposterous but fun, the team members are hot and have a sense of humor, the films are bursting with futuristic gadgets, and whatever the film is ostensibly about is just a Maguffin that provides the motivation for lots of over-the-top action sequences.

Another new thing is the shift of Deckard (Jason Statham) to the side of the angels. Statham is firing on all cylinders in both action and comedy modes, and his change of sides also provides the occasion for the introduction of a third new character: his dear old Mum, played by none other than Helen Mirren. It’s not every action franchise that can boast a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire among its cast members, but you’ll be glad this one does. Mirren’s screen time is minimal, but she makes a strong impression and her character’s actions are key to resolving the plot. Finally, government representative Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) has gotten himself a new assistant, dubbed “Little Nobody” by the team (actually, that’s the nicest thing they call him); the role is played by Scott Eastwood, son of Clint, who shows a flair for both action and comedy.

The story is set in motion by Cipher, who lets Dom (Vin Diesel) know she has some dirt on him. You don’t immediately get to see what that is, but it’s clearly bad enough to make him forsake his pals and defect to the bad guys’ team. That sets him up against not only his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), but also the whole gang of F&F regulars, including Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Lucacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Owen (Luke Evans). The quest to acquire and keep the Maguffin (which in this film is referred to as a “nuclear football”) takes the story first to Havana, where Dom wins a street race to salvage the honor of his cousin Fernando (Janmarco Santiago). Then it’s off to Berlin for some action that could have been set just about anywhere (night scenes can be like that), and then off to New York, where self-driving cars are employed in an amazing sequence in which cars literally rain down from the skies on an unfortunate Russian official.

To be honest, the story could have ended with the New York sequence and I would have been satisfied. But this is the kind of a franchise where too much is never enough, so there’s 40 minutes or so more (the whole film runs 2 hours and 16 minutes) that take the story to Russia (sequences that were actually filmed in Iceland), where our heroes and antiheroes do battle on the frozen tundra and the icy seas. It’s all absolutely ridiculous, of course, but lots of fun, and very Bond-like, both in the recall of our old Cold War enemy and in the way that the faceless enemy minions are mown down by the dozens. (By way of contrast, all the street racing in crowded places like Havana and New York City seem, rather miraculously, to result in zero casualties.)

There’s no point in trying to relate any of the F&F films to reality: They take place in a fictional world where the laws of biology and physics don’t apply, but the tenets of friendship and family do. It’s no accident that the team is diverse in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity, and that the families celebrated within these films include both the traditional variety and the kind who people make for themselves based on their specific values and experiences. Who knows: Maybe in future installments, these films will get out of the heterosexual straitjacket and add some characters representing diversity in sexuality and gender identification, as well. It would be a natural outgrowth of the series to date—and also the right thing to do. | Sarah Boslaugh

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