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Holy motors! Excuse me while I catch my breath. This is perhaps the fastest and, if not, certainly the most furious of the Fast & Furious movies. The goal with each new film seems to be to one-up the last, and if you’re wondering how one possibly one-ups 2015’s Furious 7, a movie in which cars fall out of planes and jump between skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi…well, fasten your seat belts for the eighth installment of this increasingly bonkers series. These guys have driven on land, they’ve even driven in air and — what’s even left? Oh yes, water — I kid you not, they actually go there.
The beauty of the Fast & Furious movies is that no car stunt is ever too nonsensical. But before F8 goes into full gear, it gives us a taste of throwback with a good ol’ drag race in Cuba, featuring main man Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) doing what he does best: revving up a vehicle to fire-catching speed while talking about living life a quarter-mile at a time.
This opening sequence is not just a nostalgic reminder of the series’ kickoff 16 years ago. It also serves as a burst of pure, promising showmanship from Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray — in his first Furious movie — who immediately puts his stamp on the film with exhilarating style. Never mind that Dom is short-shifted in this race with a rinky-dink car; Gray plays with bird’s-eye view, low angles, point-of-view cam and wheel-level shots to make even the lowest-stakes driving scene something that might inspire you to hold your breath. And while slo-mo can be a drag when overused in action scenes, Gray makes smart use of it here. Has a cross to the finish line in this series ever been so dramatic? (And that’s just the first 10 minutes.)
Of course, anyone who has seen the trailers or commercials knows that Dom’s moment of victory won’t last long. This is the movie where he turns on the family that, sequel after sequel, he hasn’t been able to stop talking about and has even made a part of his catchphrase (“I don’t have friends, I got family”). Tapped by cyber-terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) — never trust a white woman in dreads — Dom is coerced into betraying his own squad. While the teasers have tried to lead us to believe Dom has gone rogue, there’s a good reason why he’s “betraying” the fam he’s long promised to ride or die with (though you’ll have to find out why yourself).
After all the team has been through, and despite how mysteriously unscarred they are after so many fights and crashes, no mission has felt quite as impossible as the family fighting against its own member — the best of them, no less, and without the help of Brian O’Conner (the late Paul Walker). Dom’s disloyalty weighs hard on everyone, but it certainly hits his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) the hardest. It’s in the moments between these two that the film slows down from its fast/furious nature; Gray and his stars anchor all the action to come with surprisingly emotional credibility.
Reader, I cried. I’m not sure that’s something I want to admit after a Fast & Furious movie, but I did. I also laughed, but mostly, as this thing ramped up, I gawked, mouth fully open. In order to track down Dom, the team calls on Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the big baddie from Furious 7, who steals the film’s funniest moments in its action-packed scenes. A prison break starring Shaw and Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is a sequence to drool over. The new chemistry between these two — which involves Hobbs calling Shaw a “tea and crumpets–eating son of a bitch” — rivals that between fan favorites Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges). All that partially makes up for this installment pulling Dom to the dark side, which, as fun as F8 is, slightly handicaps it against the go-team pleasures of Furious 7.
As feared, Fate also suffers from the absence of Walker, and it doesn’t help that the team’s newest member is Scott Eastwood — a candy-ass of an addition. The film openly mocks his character but is still hampered by his time onscreen. Thankfully, he’s not given too much of it (though Helen Mirren deserved more), and Gray and company never lose sight of what has come to set this series apart.
After the escalating mayhem of Justin Lin’s and James Wan’s F&F films, if you’re going to see The Fate of the Furious, you’re asking for a spectacle. Gray understands the kid-in-a-candy-store mentality, letting his players have a pick at their fancy cars in his version of a makeover montage before putting them exactly where the Fast & Furious franchise doesn’t make sense: Manhattan. But remember, when it comes to driving, nothing is nonsensical in this universe. Our racers even find an outlandish way around these highly trafficked streets, and for a brief sequence, F8 looks like a classic New York disaster movie, with Dom towering over a pile of cars like a kaiju.
The biggest show is, naturally, saved for last, when they face off in Russia with icy racing (involving tanks and submarines) that plays like Mario Kart on speed. Nothing in all of the Fast & Furious movies has ever felt bigger or more ridiculous — two things F8 rightfully thrives on. It’s exhilarating. Now how will they top this one?