Before you see The Fate of the Furious, ask yourself: Have you seen any of the other Fast & Furious movies?
We’re betting you have, because since it erupted in 2001, the franchise has become arguably the millennium’s most successful movie juggernaut not featuring lightsabers, wands, or superheroes. And if you have enjoyed even a few of the Fast & Furious flicks, you should know: You’ll enjoy the hell out of The Fate of the Furious.
But if you’re somehow in the (shrinking) segment of movie fans who’ve never sat white-knuckled through even a minute of this franchise, and you’re capable of not taking yourself seriously for nearly three hours, then you might as well start now, because The Fate of the Furious is a bonkers good time.
Yes, it has plot holes big enough for a nuclear submarine, and there are more than a few head-smackingly dull bits of dialogue. Fine. But The Fate of the Furious so earnestly wants to entertain the crap out of audiences that you can’t help but giggle through all the goofy one liners and the incessant self-serious talk about family. Hell, Fate starts with any other movie’s grand finale—a Havana street race that ends in a fiery explosion and a crowd of cheering Cubans—and then just gets more incredible from there.
Fate picks up where Furious 7 left off, as gravel-throated everyman Dom Toretto (Men’s Fitness hall-of-famer Vin Diesel) and his new fiancée, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), find their Havana honeymoon rudely interrupted by a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron), who is a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman in the Fast & Furious franchise, and therefore almost certainly evil.
Unsurprisingly, she is: It seems Toretto has a few liabilities of his own, and soon finds himself under the control of Theron’s spidery villain, known as Cipher, who somehow convinces Toretto to turn against his beloved team and steal some world-ending weapons for her untraceable hacker cell. As he leaves a path of devastation in his wake, his crew must first understand why he’s turned against them—and then figure out how to stop him.
The gang’s all up for it, of course, and that’s half of what makes this show so much fun—we’ve seen Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) bicker onscreen so many times that their fraternal ribbing really does feel earned. Mr. Franchise Viagra himself, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is of course a one-man wrecking crew/hot-mom magnet as Luke Hobbs—and this time, his supercharged physicality gets even more voltage opposite villain-turned-reluctant-teammate Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, in one of his best appearances yet).
Kurt Russell is back with bemusement as
Basil Exposition Mr. Nobody, as is his sidekick, Little Nobody (former Men’s Fitness cover guy Scott Eastwood), who mainly exists to get pinned between The Rock and a hard place. Ramsey (the lovely Nathalie Emmanuel) returns from Furious 7 as the team’s hacker/babe-who-isn’t-Michelle Rodriguez, while Game of Thrones fans will likewise recognize newcomer villain Rhodes (Kristofer Hivju, aka Tormund Giantsbane).
While it may feel inevitable that the Fast & Furious franchise has grown from its street-racer roots into a spy thriller—less Bullitt, more Jack Reacher—director F. Gary Gray wisely paints in some homages to the series originals. Nitrous oxide is still a racer’s cure-all, an orange Lamborghini is still an orange Lamborghini, and there is plenty of hot-babe underbutt.
This probably goes without saying, but there are also some jaw-dropping stunts. One scene involving hordes of zombiefied cars careening through Manhattan will be nightmare fuel for anyone who’s been stuck in traffic. The opening race, in which Toretto somehow retrofits a rustbucket into a racer with only a soda can tab, is vintage 2 Fast 2 Furious. And yes: At one point The Rock redirects a torpedo with his bare damn hands. He also fights through a supermax prison by himself, but the torpedo thing looks cooler. Walking out of the theater, I realized that my calves were sore from tensing against the floor for most of the movie. (At two hours and 40 minutes, Fate is a long haul for a movie obsessed with fast cars.)
Like any good action movie, Fate succeeds not just on its heroes or stunts but with the vileness of its villain—and Theron is arguably the franchise’s best big boss yet. As the resourceful digital terrorist Cypher, she is a cold, calculating, and almost stomach-churningly ruthless sociopath—the perfect antimatter to our hot-blooded crew—and just seductive enough to threaten our team’s idyllic bonds of “family.”
About that: For all Toretto’s emotional growling about family—everyone growls a lot about family in this movie, actually—the one stunt Fate never seems to land is Toretto’s betrayal. He’s a reluctant captor, not a true backstabber, and while it may seem truer to his character, it basically keeps the movie’s central conflict in third gear.
Ultimately, though, you’d have to be a pretty picky curmudgeon to find much fault with Fate of the Furious. It never claims to be anything more than a two-hour adrenaline rush, so it’s easy to look past and forgive the often clunky dialogue and glaring plot holes. After all, The Fast & Furious franchise isn’t so much formulaic as it is the perfect distillation of the entire action movie genre, and Fate of the Furious is a double shot of the strong stuff. It is the uber-action movie, the ultimate Die Hard successor, founded on muscle cars, muscles, and Rodriguez’s pout. (Seriously: The last actor to wring this much range from a frown was Charles Bronson. Rodriguez is a goddamn national treasure.)
As for that suspension of disbelief, there’s only one thing we can’t wrap our heads around: As far as we can tell, at no point in the movie does Johnson seem to voluntarily wear a shirt with sleeves. The guy is in a prison jumpsuit for all of five minutes before, voila, they’ve been torn off. Sure, he wears a coat or two, and at one point he dons some tactical bulletproof gear that does seem to have sleeves. But while the team may have access to an arsenal of supercars (or, in his case, super-trucks, because in action movies The Rock always drives The Big Truck), at no point does anyone have access to a shirt that will contain Johnson’s biceps and triceps.
Actually, you know what? That makes total sense.
The Fate of the Furious hits theaters worldwide on Friday, April 14.