By Joey Nolfi
April 09, 2017 at 03:54 PM EDT
Matt Kennedy/Universal Pictures

The Fast and the Furious series is a rarity among Hollywood blockbusters; where other big-budget tentpoles typically lose critical steam as they crank out later iterations (take a look at the Pirates of the Caribbean fleet, the uneven performance of the X-Men flicks, or the mediocre-to-downright-awful notices received by Michael Bay’s Transformers line), the Vin Diesel-fronted franchise has actually generated increasingly positive reactions from movie critics across its 16-year existence. Furious 7 even notched a series-high score of 79 percent on Rotten Tomatoes back in 2015, more than doubling the 28 percent low of 2009’s Fast & Furious.

So, will film No. 8 — smugly titled The Fate of the Furious (F8… get it?) — appropriately carry on the legacy of its forerunners? According to film journalists in attendance at the film’s North American premiere Saturday night in New York City, most signs point to yes.

“Screenwriter Chris Morgan, now on his fifth Furious outing, swats away plot logistics and the laws of physics like the pesky mosquitoes they are, and director F. Gary Gray… has no intention of slowing his roll,” EW’s Leah Greenblatt notes in her B-grade review. “But the movies are nothing if not consistent in their themes of loyalty and brotherhood and blowing stuff up — and in retaining the core crew, including Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, and towering late-game additions Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.”

Though some writers continue to scoff at the brand’s ludicrous nature (IndieWire‘s David Ehrlich calls F8 the worst franchise entry in years that renders its lineage “an empty shell of its former self” while disrespecting “its own proud heritage at every turn”), others have praised the film for delivering exactly what fans have come to expect over the years.

“[The Fate of the Furious] is a dazzling action spectacle that proves this franchise is far from out of gas,” Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman writes in his review. “Director F. Gary Gray… who has shown a propensity for action going back to Set It Off (1996) and The Italian Job (2003), now proves that he’s a high-flying ballistic wizard at it. The Fate of the Furious is nothing more than pulp done smart, but scene for scene it’s elegant rather than bombastic, and it packs a heady escapist wallop.”

Gray, who helmed the Oscar-nominated N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton in 2015, also received praise for his work on The Fate of the Furious, with Screen Daily’s David D’Arcy complimenting the filmmaker’s ability to “find a balance between the specifics of new locations and the spectacle of crashing cars there” as well as infuse a bit of humor into F8‘s otherwise bloated screenplay.

Throughout a story that involves a female superhacker who turns Diesel’s character against his longtime comrade, Fate also introduces several new cast members to the Fast and the Furious canon, including Helen Mirren in what many are calling an expertly executed cameo and Charlize Theron as the villainous Cipher.

“[Theron] carries plenty of weight in the story,” The Hollywood Reporter‘s John DeFore writes. Calling Theron the standout of the ensemble, IGN’s Jim Vejvoda adds she “brings the proper degree of icy cruelty to Cipher [and] underplays the role, making Cipher’s head games and willingness to kill anyone — and delivering it all with a cobra-like stillness — all the creepier. The biggest letdown is that we never get to see Theron — who previously burned rubber in The Italian Job and Mad Max: Fury Road — behind the wheel or throwing down, as Fury Road and the trailers for her upcoming Atomic Blonde prove she’s more than capable of handling.”

Before The Fate of the Furious opens April 14 in theaters nationwide, check out more review excerpts below.

Leah Greenblatt (EW):
“It wouldn’t be a Furious climax if there weren’t inordinately expensive moving objects to destroy (in this case, a military submarine), a remarkably one-sided barrage of high-grade weaponry (bad guys, dead; good guys, ricochet!), and an explosive hail-Mary finale so sublimely ridiculous it defies both good sense and gravity. (It helps, perhaps, that several main players have no hair to singe.) The movie ends with more than one literal bang, but the series’ fate is hardly sealed; it’s merely to be continued: There are two more sequels due by 2021.”

Owen Gleiberman (Variety):
“… director, F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton), who has shown a propensity for action going back to Set It Off (1996) and The Italian Job (2003), now proves that he’s a high-flying ballistic wizard at it. The Fate of the Furious is nothing more than pulp done smart, but scene for scene it’s elegant rather than bombastic, and it packs a heady escapist wallop. The fact that it’s the first film in the series to have been made after the death of Paul Walker (and the first not to feature him since The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, in 2006) only gives fans that much more of a reason to rally around it. Box office should be over-the-top… The Fate of the Furious feels standard-issue when the crew uses the God’s Eye global-scan computer program (sorry, but it’s got nothing on the stuff in the latest Bourne film — or the real-life N.S.A.), or when Helen Mirren shows up, in a too-cute cameo, as Deckard’s Cockney spy-overseer mom. Yet the action set pieces are stunning, staged with a flamboyance that’s surgical in its precision, and that emerges from their logistical sense of purpose.”

David Ehrlich (IndieWire): 
“F8” is the worst of these films since “2 Fast 2 Furious,” and it may be even worse than that. It’s the “Die Another Day” of its franchise — an empty, generic shell of its former self that disrespects its own proud heritage at every turn. How did the great F. Gary Gray, whose surprisingly strong remake of “The Italian Job” displayed a tremendous flair for comedic vehicular mayhem, waste the biggest budget of his career on such boring smash-ups? How did Diesel and co. manage to learn all of the wrong lessons from the last two movies, delivering an episode where everything feels so fake that even the “family” matters seem forced?”

David D’Arcy (Screen Daily):
“You don’t watch The Fate Of The Furious for the acting, except perhaps for the wisecracks that come from the men in the cast. Yet Helen Mirren, in a brief appearance as Deckard’s mum, gives a delightful turn as a London mother-mobster with the make-up to match and a killer instinct for making her murderous son bleed with guilt. Assuming Mirren was well-paid for a role that couldn’t have taken long to shoot, her scenes are worth every penny and every second… References to the character of Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) ensure that the loyal audience doesn’t forget the actor’s role in building this dream team dynasty. The Fate Of The Furious is evidence that life goes on. The franchise has shifted gears once again and is racing toward new pile-ups.”

John DeFore (The Hollywood Reporter): 
“After his surprisingly fun remake of The Italian Job in 2003, whose most memorable sequence revolved around a scene-stealing Mini Cooper, F. Gary Gray would seem to have been a no-brainer to direct a Fast and Furious installment — especially once Vin Diesel and his thrill-seeking clan segued from mere street racing to heists and other forms of high-speed mayhem. But careers make left turns (in this case, a misfiring sequel to Get Shorty), and it took the success of Straight Outta Compton to get Gray in, well, the driver’s seat of this eighth installment of the stupendously successful cars-and-guns action franchise. The result isn’t as big a gear-shift as some fans expected in the wake of founding cast member Paul Walker’s death. In fact, it recycles plot-twisting devices from earlier chapters and keeps action firmly in the street-hoods-save-the-world neighborhood entered a couple of years ago. Fate delivers exactly what fans have come to expect, for better and for worse, and it would be a shock to see it disappoint producers at the box office.”

Jim Vejvoda (IGN):
The Fate of the Furious is as ridiculously entertaining as you might expect. It’s certainly better than its trailers — which came across more like parodies of a Fast and Furious movie — suggested. Indeed, no eighth movie in any franchise has any right to be as fun or effective as Fate manages to be… The final act is essentially one prolonged chase across the ice in Russia. If you ever wanted to see The Rock surf a torpedo or cars take on a nuclear sub then Fate of the Furious is the movie for you. But this whole sequence goes on for way too long, culminating in some truly logic-defying antics even by this series’ admittedly low standards.”

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