Dominic Toretto defies logic. Not just in the obvious way, doing things with cars that one should not, and literally cannot, do. But as an entity, as a being, Vin Diesel’s character defies all logic. He’s a thief and a criminal who goes on stealth missions with shadow agencies, and yet he looks like a giant, a pale meat-locker type, unmissable in a crowd. He’s a poet and a sage, but his voice is quiet, labored, and hushed. He lives by his own code, but that code is absolutely absurd. He says the word “family” far too many times to be a credible human.
And yet, I love Toretto. I love every silly, elaborate appearance that he has ever had on screen. I love his whisper shouts and his pouty, dramatic over-the-shoulder looks. I love the way that the things he says, which every character in his universe takes as gospel, make literally no sense. “In a street fight, eventually the street always wins,” he says to a cowering Jason Statham in the seventh “Fast and Furious” film.
I’m sorry, what?
In the newest film of the franchise, “The Fate of the Furious,” Toretto spends a lot of time alone, glaring menacingly out of car windows. He is separated from the family of drivers and criminals he has built his life with. And as a performance, this is Vin Diesel’s finest hour as Toretto.
“Fate,” with Toretto enjoying life in Havana, Cuba with his wife Leti (Michelle Rodriguez). In an opening scene, a normal morning in the Furious land of gratuitous car shots and human posteriors gives way to the film’s first street race, along the strip known as “Cuban Mile.” In order to save his cousin’s car, Toretto races Havanna’s fastest driver in a sequence that, of course, involves criminal sabotage, driving in reverse, and explosions. The other driver, who tried to kill Toretto less than five minutes earlier, gives him the keys to his sweet-ass ride, saying, “You’ve won the car, and my respect.” Toretto looks back in stoic silence, smiles, and pushes the keys back. “Keep the car,” he growls, “your respect is good enough for me.” It’s both sweet and baffling that he is so quick to forgive the person extorting his family and attempting to kill him, but Toretto is the god of this world of fast cars going fast, and he is a benevolent one.
Of course, Toretto’s paradise has to be shattered, and it is the second he sees about the evilest thing in this world: white dreadlocks. Charlize Theron’s Cypher, a criminal both of the cyber and fashion variety, waltzes into this movie with a plane and a black phone full of blackmail. On Toretto’s next mission for his buddy, Luke Hobbs (the always incredible Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who says both ‘Tay Tay” and “I will beat your ass like a Cherokee drum” in the same movie) along with his driving family (Leti, Tyrese Gibson’s fast-talking comic relief staple Roman, Ludacris’s Tej, and the new addition of Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsay), steals a WMD, and leaves them all in his destructive wake. It would be sad, but there’s a giant wrecking ball involved too, smashing everything except for his franchise’s essential silliness.
The film, at this point, diverges into two sections: Toretto’s attempt to escape the blackmail that Theron holds over his head, and Hobbes and co. searching for him under the smarmy supervision of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), a character introduced in the last film who’s wonderful to see again because, well, it’s Kurt Russell. What is Mr. Nobody’s most important move? Bringing back Deckard Shaw (Statham), the last film’s antagonist. Statham, who was fun if underwritten in the last movie, has a blast this time around, mostly because he appears to be playing the exact same character he did in Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy.”
Many have been underwhelmed by this film. I don’t wish to speak for them, or shame them, but why? Is it dumb? Absolutely. Is it similar to the last few movies, which were gigantic, colorful, testosterone-fueled fever dreams of fast cars and muscly men? Absolutely. Do most of the characters blur into the background? Yes, unfortunately. Is it a little disappointing that Theron, who starred in what might be the best car movie ever made, doesn’t drive in this? For sure, but she’s going for something else here. (This somehow works though, especially in the scene where she’s behind bulletproof glass that, despite everything, I found myself genuinely afraid of.) Is it kind of weird that everyone accepts Deckard as a part of the team after he casually murdered one of their best friends in the last film? For sure. But the thing is, it’s still great. Really great. I-saw-it-in-theaters-twice great.
I mean, how can you hate a movie that takes a fear of self-driving cars to its unnatural extreme? How can you hate a movie that introduces a character named Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), makes him the world’s worst, blandest buzzkill, and has him get choked out by The Rock within mere minutes of his first appearance? How can you hate a movie with a submarine this big? How can you hate a movie in which Vin Diesel unironically calls himself a tiger? You can’t, that’s how.
The Fast and Furious series has gone on for eight adventures, and yet the formula doesn’t feel stale. Whether it’s because of how outsized and ridiculous everyone is, or the fact that they keep one-upping each other with set pieces (though the parachuting cars in the last film are tough to forget), or because every second of posing, sloganeering, muscle flexing, stuff exploding, and pulp poetry is done with absolute unblinking sincerity, at the end of the day, this franchise is the world’s best dumb idea. We should bow to Diesel and everyone involved for stretching and stretching it without it fading or falling apart. And we should bow to Dominic Toretto, the Fast One, the Furious One, God of the new world, and being of unwavering faith, for always keeping us in the driver’s seat.