Wow. I walked out of this movie energised and enthused, and quite frankly staggered at the leap in quality from Fast and Furious 7 to this, the eighth instalment. Every weak aspect of this long-running series has been enhanced, as if the writers took to previous movies with a fine toothed comb tightened every loose end.
Vin Diesel has been criticised heavily in past movies for his wooden performances. His slow and measured platitudes have been delivered with all the grace and subtlety of the cars he drives, and it's been difficult to believe he's the mastermind behind the various plans and escapades. In The Fate of the Furious he is revolutionary. It's almost like someone turned a light on in his head, and emotion shines brightly out of his every facial feature. When he smiles, he lights the entire screen up. He puts in a dynamic, show-stopping performance (sorry Charlize), and when it turns out he created an incredibly intricate and complex plan, it's believable for the very first time in the series. He's clearly the main character, and in a movie that also features Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, not to mention Charlize Theron, that's no small feat.
As for the writing, it's genuinely good. And I don't mean action movie good. In previous iterations the writing lumbered along like a Tyrese album. The story line was genuinely surprising, the twists weren't telegraphed and they came with shock. They utilised character development from previous movies to heighten the sense of loss and the emotional response to big moments. They kept the lame one-liners to a minimum, and Tyrese was hilarious when called upon. They left it open for sequels in a way that didn't feel overly contrived. Ultimately, this wasn't Armageddon, it was closer to a Bond movie. That's high praise.
Somehow, they topped the last movie in terms of insane action. I don't know how they keep doing it. Maybe they have 2 or 3 people dedicated solely to thinking up crazy things that can happen. Making it rain took on an entirely new meaning. And while those kinds of moments previously felt a bit silly, like Hobbs breaking out hospital, stealing an ambulance, and driving to a location he surely didn't know ahead of time to shoot down a helicopter single-handedly, or Dom basically dying for 2 minutes but coming back to life through the power of family, in this movie the big moments don't feel forced, which is huge considering how huge those moments are. There are points where you're just laughing at the sheer audacity of the writers and cast, at how unreal it all seems yet how it's still possible. Jumping a car between 3 buildings isn't feasible in anyone's book, but (spoiler alert) leading a heat-seeking missile on a round-a-bout trip back to the device that fired it could potentially happen.
A Deeper Analysis
There isn't much deviation from the "family is everything" message that has underpinned the entire series. We're introduced to Cipher, who is scary not because she's willing to blow the world up (there have been thousands of baddies that can do that), but because she's willing to take the life of a child. Her motivations aren't explored any further than a 20-second conversation with Dom about why she wants to control nuclear missiles. Her dialogue is whispered for effect, and it's downright scary when she feels threatened. When you consider every antagonist thus far has been loud and hands-on, capable of doing vast damage via conventional weapons, Cipher is meek. This is where the writing really shone. They utilised the intense character development, especially that of Dom, to drastically heighten the emotion attached to every move Cipher makes. Her actions are irredeemable inside the narrative Dom and Letty have created, so we know there will be no switching sides for her in later films. More so than ever, Dom has reason to seek revenge, which means we all have a reason to watch the next movie.
What is even more exciting is Dom's coming of age as a strategist and shrewd thinker. By introducing Cipher, Ramsay, the Shaw brothers, Mose Jakande, and Mr. Nobody, we've been exposed to some of the most deadly and high-tech individuals in the entire universe. While Dom always seemed sloppy and prone to fisticuffs, in Fate of the Furious he's calculated, intelligent, and 2 steps ahead of the most elusive and dangerous hacker in the entire world. Not only that, Deckard Shaw proves himself to be a story all on his own, one that is ripe for a spin-off. And Jason Statham can carry a lead role with his hands cuffed behind him. That's exciting.
Fate of the Furious marries so many fun, enjoyable elements. There is Mr. Nobody, the man with endless resources at his fingertips, who makes things appear out of thin air, who has an entire hangar of high-end sports cars, and yet who is as likeable as Jim next door, and as unflappable as Dwayne Johnson at a pancake eating contest. There is Tyrese as Roman, incredibly funny but capable of swift and effective violence when needed. The jokes carry this movie alone, Tyrese is hilarious when in full-on charm mode, dropping one-liners at will. Which is good, because the rest of the cast isn't so quick to catch on. Letty's dialogue is still slow and obvious, her occasional one-liner either confusing or dull. Ramsay is yet to find her feet as part of the team, she isn't quite developed as a character yet. Tej isn't as dazzling as in previous movies, but again, he's up against Roman, who is the light.
As for Dwayne Johnson, what more can you ask of the guy? He's hilarious, he's the most imposing action hero since Arnie, and he plays his role to perfection. He could easily steal this movie, and the fact he was the highest paid actor in 2016 proves he has the box office clout to do so, but he plays Hobbs to perfection. A character who has learned that family is the most important aspect (and device) in the series, and although his interactions with his daughter feel tacked on and played up, he approaches each scene with style, grace, and believability.
This is a great movie, and not just a great Fast and Furious movie. The series will long be remembered for the box office records it smashes, but if the final two films are of the same quality as this one, it could change what we expect and demand of our entertainment. We want it to be bigger, brasher, and sexier than the last, but if we can also get top-drawer writing and acting at the same time? Well, movies like Captain American and Suicide Squad will cease to exist.