Cyberterrorism. An electromagnetic pulse weapon. Nuclear launch codes. A Russian submarine. And one very orange Lamborghini skidding across a frozen Barents Sea.
It’s hard to believe all this started as a movie about street racers stealing DVD players.
Seven movies later, “The Fate of the Furious” finds Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) honeymooning in Havana, one of the innumerable cities across the globe where, whenever an illegal street race breaks out, there’s always a young lady in a skirt the size of a headband, filmed from below, who’s ready to wave the starting flag.
Dom’s enjoying the charms of Cuba, livin’ la vida a quarter-mile at a time, when he encounters Cipher (Charlize Theron), a legendary hacker who hands him a phone that instantly persuades him to turn on his family and become her puppet.
Sure, the having-to-fight-one-of-their-own thing was just done two movies ago when Letty was working with the bad guys. But she had amnesia or something. I forget.
Anyway, what’s left of the team — Letty, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), mysterious federal agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who joined up in “Furious 7,” Nobody’s new protege (Scott Eastwood) and, for some reason, the villainous Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) — come together to track Dom and Cipher to Manhattan and eventually Russia.
“Fate” offers several shout-outs, big and small, to Brian O’Conner and, by extension, the late Paul Walker. “Brian would know what to do,” Roman declares when Dom goes rogue. “We can’t bring Brian and Mia into this,” Letty reminds him. “We agreed on that.”
In addition to the scenes that play out like car porn — and there are many — the action sequences feel bigger yet slightly less ridiculous than in “Furious 7.” A montage of Cipher and her crew hacking automobiles will make you want to rush out and downsize to the least technologically advanced car available. After this, there may even be a run on Yugos.
The directors may change — F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) steps behind the camera after “Furious 7” director James Wan decided to make “The Conjuring 2” and Justin Lin, who helmed movies three through six, was busy filming “Star Trek Beyond” — but the movies maintain some semblance of continuity thanks to Chris Morgan, who’s written every installment since 2006’s “Tokyo Drift.”
Family still comes first. Roman and Tej still bicker like children. And Hobbs still hurls grown men a good 30 feet during his fight scenes, although his dialogue is sounding more and more like Johnson’s days in the WWE when he was cutting promos on his adversaries.
Statham gets some fun new shades to play as Shaw. But, unsurprisingly, the biggest treat is Oscar winner Theron as Cipher.
Yeah, she comes equipped with a flying supervillain lair that’s part armory, part boutique. But you can’t talk about Cipher without talking about her truly remarkable weave. The movie’s full of elaborate stunts and even more elaborate CGI, yet it’s all upstaged by some long blond hair that falls somewhere between Bo Derek in “10” and The Predator.
Seriously, it’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off that thing.
They’re the sort of extensions you get during spring break in Panama City Beach, Florida, and immediately regret as soon as your blood alcohol level drops below 0.2.
Amazingly, the same number of people — one — are credited for being Johnson’s barber and Theron’s hairdresser. I assumed it would’ve taken at least a dozen or more highly trained professionals to wrangle that weave. I expected it to have its own entourage.
At one point, I started thinking maybe Cipher was the result of some sort of symbiotic relationship, with the weave being the brains behind the operation like the tiny Master riding the hulking Blaster in “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”
There’s been talk over the years of Hobbs getting his own spinoff movie. I’m OK with that, so long as that weave gets one first.
“The Fate of the Furious” has plenty of callbacks to previous movies for die-hard fans to enjoy, and it’s the franchise’s most entertaining installment since at least “Fast Five.”
Even if most of the physics-defying action continues to be unbeweaveable.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.