I say this as a devotee of the Fast & Furious universe, which around the time of its fifth installment (Fast Five) became the kind of transcendentally schlocky super-soap that only the greatest long-running film franchises can be. Though the screenwriter Chris Morgan (who wrote the last six entries) and the producer Neal H. Moritz gradually swapped out the films’ “street racing bandits” focus for something far more grandiose over the years, they’ve retained the series’s core as a ballad of family and friends, sitting on the porch and clinking bottles of Corona together, toasting their loyalty and brotherhood.
Only this time, there are no Coronas (indeed, there’s a scene where, heavens above, the gang is drinking bottles of Budweiser). It’s one of the details that passes largely unnoticed in the still very watchable Fate of the Furious, but stuck in my craw after the fact: How could a series so focused on those fan-friendly details miss something so obvious? Other, larger story holes come later that require the audience to be willfully ignorant of events in past films. In a lesser franchise, I might forgive these slights, but part of the appeal of Fast & Furious is its ridiculous emphasis on continuity from sequel to sequel, and the delightful webs of alliances and rivalries it’s developed between its growing cast over the years.
The Fate of the Furious begins in Havana, where Dominic Toretto (Diesel) is enjoying his honeymoon with fellow car bandit/black-ops agent Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez). He gets dragged into a thrilling street race, an enjoyable call-back to the series’s roots, before being approached by the dreadlocked Cipher (Theron) with a mysterious piece of information that suddenly switches his allegiance. Toretto quickly betrays his pals and teams up with Cipher to wreak havoc around the globe, though the eventual revelation of her blackmail material is a satisfying link back through the franchise’s past.
This places a lot of the plot impetus onto Luke Hobbes (Dwayne Johnson), Toretto’s Hulk-sized former ally, who leads the team of Letty, smart-aleck Roman (Tyrese Gibson), tech whiz Tej (Ludacris), hacktivist Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and the mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to try and take Cipher down and learn how she flipped Dom. For this effort, they recruit Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the last movie’s villain, and Eric Reisner (Scott Eastwood), a by-the-book government official who doesn’t know how to gel with our freewheeling gang of friends.
Statham, who’s always at his best when he’s mocking his own tough-guy persona, is a blast as a quasi-reformed Shaw, even if his inclusion in the group is tough to reconcile from a plotting perspective. Eastwood gives the series something it has long lacked—a genuinely uncool stick-in-the-mud that the rest of the gang can mercilessly mock. Still, he’s a pretty wooden replacement for the dearly departed Paul Walker, a mainstay of the series who was a perfect second fiddle to Diesel (Walker’s character was given a stirring sendoff in Furious 7 after his tragic death in the middle of filming).