Due to fictional screen deaths and the tragic real-life death of Paul Walker, most of the original “Furious” crew has now departed. Left to represent are only Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). And it was right around the time when our intrepid heroes were zooming over arctic ice in souped-up vehicles while being chased by a Russian sub about to launch a nuclear ICBM, that my mind flashed back 16 years, returned to where it all began in 2001 with a modestly budgeted ($38 million) B-film called “The Fast and the Furious.”
No one expected anything other than a profit in ’01. “TFATF” was basically a remake of 1991’s “Point Break,” with undercover cop Walker in the Keanu Reeves role and highway robber Diesel standing in for bank robber Swayze. Instead of the existential magic of the surf, the lure here was “living life a quarter mile at a time” while racing through the streets of Los Angeles.
“TFATF” was just that simple. Dom fixed cars by day, raced and robbed by night. He lived in a nondescript L.A. house with his sister, remained faithful to his beloved Letty, barbecued in the backyard with his extended-family on the weekends, and said grace before every meal. But here they are now, a gang of James Bonds working for the American government (off the books, natch) to save the freakin’ world from villainess Cipher (Charlize Theron), a vengeful cyber-terrorist.
Of course it is all ridiculous and absurd… But does it work? Oh, hell yes, it does.
Of course it is all ridiculous and absurd, and unless the next chapter (this is the start of a new trilogy) is set in outer space, I do not see how the franchise has any choice other than to strip back down to its gritty, street racing roots. But does it work? Oh, hell yes, it does.
Although two years have passed in real time since the previous chapter, in movie-time Dom and Letty are still honeymooning in Cuba when he is manipulated by the sultry Cipher into coming to work for her. This plot twist unfurls with Dom betraying his team in Berlin during the daring heist (that makes everyone outlaws again, including Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs) of a massive EMP, a weapon of mass destruction that drops everything in its range back to the stone age. It will take another half-dozen action scenes, including one that “rains cars,” before that sub joins the chase.
From the opening scene, a terrific street race filled with hot chicks in tight pants (a welcome tribute to where it all began), the action is non-stop, which is only part of the appeal of a franchise that has cleared over $4 billion. The characters and their chemistry is what keep us coming back, and it is to screenwriter Chris Morgan’s great credit that he not only gives this cavalcade their individual moments to shine, but having written chapters 3-8, he is also able to expertly mine his own history in a way that does more than thrill fans-from-day-one like myself.
By bringing back certain characters (if only for a moment) and building on the back stories of, say, Jason Statham’s Deckard, a satisfying puzzle just keeps coming together, which breathes new life into an ever-expanding mythology, and in turn keeps the franchise fresh and vibrant.
“F8” is nowhere near as good as its predecessor, which so perfectly and beautifully said goodbye to Walker (who is not forgotten here). Nor does it reach the glorious heights of chapters five (the one with the giant bank safe) or six (the one with the giant airplane). I would rank this with 2009’s “Fast and Furious,” a perfectly entertaining placeholder (that I will rewatch 100 times) and a promise of better things to come.