The Fate of the Furious

Oooo, such serious faces!

The most prominent theme in the “Fast and the Furious” movies isn’t family (they didn’t come up with that until a few sequels in) but conciliation. Enemies who aren’t killed often become friends in the next chapter, their former misdeeds evidently forgiven and forgotten. I suspect this is due more to narrative convenience than any overarching moral philosophy on the part of the writers, but it can be fun to see villains become heroes (“heroes” being defined as “those on the same side as the protagonists, who are criminals”).

It means, however, that in part 8 of the saga, “The Fate of the Furious,” our lead-footed pals team up with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the cockney bastard who killed their friend Han! You must remember Han’s death. It happened in part 3, was shown again at the end of part 6, and shown again in part 7. Han dies so regularly that his friends call him “Bruce Wayne’s parents.”

If you’re emotionally invested in the sprawling cast of characters who populate these movies, you may feel betrayed to see Deckard Shaw welcomed so casually into the crew. But desperate times call for desperate measures! While honeymooning in Cuba with the recently not-dead-after-all Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is leveraged into going rogue by a cyber-terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron).

Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), whose superhuman strength has now reached comic-book levels, gathers the team to stop Dom, find out why he’s being naughty, and restore order. Since Deckard Shaw successfully found Dom once before, and since he has his own reasons for wanting revenge against Cipher, and since Jason Statham was willing to appear in another film, shadowy government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) brings Deckard onboard as well.

(By the way, Mr. Nobody has an assistant with him, a junior agent played by Scott Eastwood. This character, dubbed Little Nobody, is a duplicate of Mr. Nobody, serves no narrative function, and has presumably been introduced as a budget-conscious long-term replacement for Kurt Russell.)

And that’s the gist of the plot: Hobbs, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), and recent addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) must capture Dom, whose rogue actions they don’t understand but we do, which removes all suspense or tension from the scenario. To achieve their goal, they must drive some very expensive cars very fast through New York City (famed for its wide, empty streets) and across a frozen sheet of Russian ice, among other places. Their cars are extensions of their bodies, like Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, and there’s a cool sequence where five of them harpoon Dom’s car like knights attacking a dragon.

Cool sequences are in short supply, though, relative to the overall runtime. That’s become the norm for the series: 30-40 minutes of solid action surrounded by 90 minutes of soapy melodrama. Remember when I said you might feel betrayed if you’re emotionally invested? If you’re not emotionally invested — if, like me, you find everything not car-related in these films to be pedestrian (ha!), forgettable pap — then the other stuff can feel interminably hokey. This one was written by Chris Morgan, who’s penned every entry since part 3, and directed by F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”), who’s new to the franchise and brought what appears to be a lot of CGI with him. The orgies of destruction that punctuate the film are effective, but as usual they’re overwhelmed by the tiresome details of the characters’ personal dramas — dramas that can be overwritten or ignored in the next sequel, so why bother? Anyway, we look forward to Charlize Theron joining Dom and Letty’s team in part 9.

Crooked Scoreboard

C (2 hrs., 16 min.; PG-13, a lot of violence and destruction, moderate profanity.)