It’s possible some jokester could have called it “The F8 of the Furious,” to indicate part eight of the hugely successful, 16 year-old franchise — the awful second part was called “2 Fast 2 Furious” — but that silliness seems to have passed.
Cast members of the new properly-titled “The Fate of the Furious” are mostly around 40, and the theme of “family” takes precedence. The days of characters spending whole films trying to out-cool each other are over.
Once aggravatingly stupid, the films now have reached a comfortable, non-offensive middle-ground, occasionally elevated to the spectacular.
The last entry, “Furious 7,” buoyed by the gifted director James Wan, was the best so far.
Now F. Gary Gray, of “Friday,” “The Italian Job” and “Straight Outta Compton,” takes the wheel, and he manages to hang on. He doesn’t improve on anything, but he doesn’t stall out, either.
The plot of “The Fate of the Furious” is barely worth repeating, but, after an opening teaser race sequence in Havana, Dom (Vin Diesel) is blackmailed into working for a super-evil computer hacker called Cipher (Charlize Theron).
He betrays his team without telling them what’s going on, because, if he did, there would be no movie.
But never mind. The setup leads to a sequence in which giant a wrecking ball swings down the street and smashes the cars of the pursuing bad guys.
In another scene, hundreds of cars are activated and remotely driven through New York City, with a great many crashes and stunt people jumping out of the way.
Then, Shaw (Jason Statham) performs a daring escape while carrying a baby in a carrier seat. Finally, a submarine (!) chases our heroes across a frozen Russian tundra.
Except for an unfortunate shaky-cam-ridden prison break sequence, Gray films all these moments with expert clarity and speed.
It’s hard not to be thrilled by the sheer ingenuity, as well as the joyous enthusiasm with which the stunts are executed.
Among colorful locales and scantily-c
lad, objectified women, former friends return, played by Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel and Kurt Russell.
As for the newcomers, Scott Eastwood is fairly bland, but Helen Mirren, of all people, somehow brings the whole movie up a notch.
Yes, Oscar-winner Mirren has joined a series that’s not exactly smart, nor clever, nor funny, but it is a series that can make you smile from time to time, and that’s not a bad thing.
The Fate of the Furious
Two and a half stars
Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Running time 2 hours, 16 minutesCharlize TheronDwayne JohnsonF. Gary GrayFate of the FuriousMichelle RodriguezMovies and TVVin Diesel