The Fate of the Furious Takes the Franchise Back to Square One (And That’s Fine by Me)

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Although I saw the first Fast and the Furious when it came out in 2001, it wasn’t until recently that I became a fan of the franchise.  It took Paul Walker’s death leading up to the latest installment to make me realize that there were going to be seven of these movies and, even more shocking, they were supposed to be pretty good too.  Having caught the briefest glimpse of the emotional send-off to Paul Walker at the end of Furious 7, I marathoned the other six before seeing the seventh in full.

That’s when I realized that there was more to these things than just Vin Diesel and muscle cars.  While it was still as crazily over-the-top and silly as I remembered from back in the day, somewhere along the line — I’d say movie #4 — it really did become about this weirdly cobbled together, multi-national family.  There were still explosions and chase scenes a plenty, but they were just window dressing: the movies’ core was about the eclectic cast of characters and their unshakable relationships with one another.

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After Furious 7, there was a real question about where they could possibly take this franchise.  Paul Walker — who played franchise lead Brian O’Conner — was dead.  His character was written out of future movies in a touching and narratively fitting way.  By extension, so was Mia, who presumably retired from all of the high-octane car-fu with her husband to care for their child.

Their story was over.  Where could the rest of them go without two thirds of the characters who started the franchise a decade and a half ago?

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But The Fate of the Furious seems to make that question — how to continue a narrative driven by the concept of family without key family members — into its central premise.  Dominic Toretto has turned on his crew to work for a cyber terrorist, seemingly “turned [his] back on family,” and now needs to be hunted down by those he betrayed.

We haven’t seen Toretto on the wrong side of the law since 2009’s Fast & Furious.  But given that that was a revenge thriller where he was settling the score for his wife’s apparent death, family was still his sole motivating factor.  You would have to go back to the original Fast and the Furious to find him willfully bad.  And I have to say, it feels good to see him squaring off against the good guys again.

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Obviously, I know how these movies play out.  When a character not only goes rogue like this out of nowhere, but goes so glaringly against his established character, something else must be going on behind the scenes.  It’s bribery or blackmail or turning on his family to keep them safe.  There’s no way that this plays out without Toretto somehow still being a hero at heart, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the ride while it lasts.

While dumb beyond all possible belief, The Fate of the Furious also looks incredibly fun: the same kind of fun that stretched out this phoned-in riff on Point Break to going on eight movies now.  I want to see an orange Lamborghini get in an arctic chase with a fleet of tanks.  I want to see Toretto’s tethered muscle car somehow overpower five others in a city intersection.  I want to see Jason Statham join the crew after starting a one-man war against them in the last movie.  I want every last, over-the-top, unbelievable, dumb thing about it.

While I doubt that the franchise will ever be as good as it was with Paul Walker again, there’s still a lot of life left in it.  And as for entry number 8, the trailer has me sold.  I’ll be there opening night, popcorn in hand, ready for any dumb thing they decide throw on the screen.

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