#1 movie, weekends of 4/14-4/16/17 and 4/21-4/23/17

Gross: $98,786,705, $38,408,415

What it is: The eighth entry in the Fast and Furious action movie franchise (“F8 of the Furious,” get it?), which originated with 2001’s The Fast and the Furious and follows a team of street racers who have evolved over the course of the series into a sort of crime-fighting heist gang. This time around, crew leader Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is kidnapped by an evil hacker named Cipher (Charlize Theron) and forced to help with her world-domination scheme, while his old teammates (or his “family,” as this series always insists) try to put a stop to the whole thing.

I saw The Fast and the Furious in theaters when it first came out (I think for my twelfth birthday party), didn’t like it, and still haven’t seen any of its sequels except for this one. Normally franchises just get worse as they go on, but when you start out bad there’s more room for improvement, and my understanding was that this series got better as it embraced its own cheesiness. Indeed, I definitely enjoyed The Fate of the Furious a lot more than its predecessor. It doesn’t try to come across as edgy or groundbreaking (unlike, say, Logan, which was good but not as smart as it thought it was) and knows that it’s just a big Hollywood tentpole designed to deliver two things: Movie star charisma and big crazy action set pieces.

The charisma is handled by an ensemble cast that’s had sixteen years to assemble and includes (in addition to Diesel and Theron) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell and a couple people from Game of Thrones. It’s an impressive lineup, but the action sequences might be even more impressive given how numb I think most of us have become to big, CGI-rendered carnage. There are a lot of moments here–a bunch of unoccupied cars getting hacked and forced to drive out the windows of a parking garage, showering down into the street below; or a huge nuclear sub crashing up into the midst of a car chase going on across a stretch of Arctic ice–that are genuinely breathtaking. It’s all done with a tongue-in-cheek sense of camp, though, as you can tell from the scene in which Jason Statham fights his way through an airplane while carrying an infant to whom he occasionally coos comfortingly.

There isn’t much of an overt ideological bent to the plot, beyond the usual devotion to family and, of course, a love of acrobatic violence. Theron’s hacker villain sort of seems like a Julian Assange stand-in, in that her ultimate goal is to force “accountability” on world leaders (though it’s never clear what she thinks they need to be held accountable for–chemtrails?). But it feels less like screenwriter Chris Morgan really wanted to stick it to Assange and more like he watched Skyfall and decided, “I’ll just make that guy my villain but as a girl with dreadlocks.”

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