Suspension of disbelief. Some movies require it more than others.

The entire “Fast and Furious” franchise asks that viewers have oodles upon oodles of it, and the eighth installment in the series, “The Fate of the Furious,” is certainly no exception. From the first car race with Dom (Vin Diesel) in Cuba to Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) redirecting a torpedo gliding on ice with a single hand, “The Fate of the Furious” demands that viewers simply not care about what is possible.

Instead, the sole concern is what is cool, and the movie gives plenty of that. It is unabashedly about doing things bigger and better and badder than they have been done before.

Now, this is the eighth entry in the franchise and they have done a whole lot of big and bad things before (including parachuting cars out of airplanes and later driving between buildings at a great height in “Furious 7”). So, to end this growing preamble, let us ask the question that has to be asked – does “The Fate of the Furious” manage to offer the audience new and different and wonderful?

Oh, it does.

It isn’t just that they have brought back favorite characters once more (in addition to Diesel and Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Jason Statham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, and Kurt Russell all appear), they have upped the ante tossing in Charlize Theron, Scott Eastwood, and Helen Mirren for good measure. While having this many cast members certainly minimizes the time that can be spent on each character—Mirren is criminally underused—it enhances the fan service of it all.

That is to say that at this point a “Fast and Furious” movie can almost be thought of like an episode in a television series. If you don’t get movement on the story you want this episode, you’re sure to get them in the next one. The best example for “Fate of the Furious” is that there is a serious lack of Hobbs in “Furious 7,” so this time he’s got a beefed up storyline (and redirects a torpedo with a single hand… a single hand, people!).

One of the elements the franchise has been great at is adding new blood to the mix (Emmanuel made an immediate impact in “7,” her first appearance in the franchise) and Theron makes a fantastic villain here as Cipher, sinking her teeth into the role with gusto. Again, one shouldn’t work too hard trying to understand exactly how the character could tie into the franchise’s overarching story as she does, but rather roll with the punches and accept it.

Essentially, I think, what we’re talking about is presence and each character/actor making a big impact in the time that they do get on screen, and each and every one of them does it here. They are a fun group to watch, no matter just how dumb any of the plot points they spit out might sound if the audience stops to think about it (again, don’t do that).

There is a formula to these movies at this point and “Fate of the Furious” knows it well — give the audience a couple of moments where Roman (Gibson) makes them laugh and Tej (Bridges) does something slick on a computer with Ramsey (Emmanuel) in order to allow Dom to do another drag race with Letty (Rodriguez) nearby as things blow up behind them and you’ve got a winner. Each of the characters are larger than life, their interactions are larger than life, and Theron makes room for Cipher to work in that world as well as—or better than—others have done in the past.

The biggest disappointment in “Fate of the Furious” is F. Gary Gray’s direction of the action. Also a franchise newcomer, Gray chooses to shoot action many of the action sequences in the way all too many actions sequences are filmed today, with an overabundance of close-ups, too many handheld shots, and all too rapid cuts. While this method can get one’s adrenaline going as they watch the film, it makes it far too difficult to decipher what is taking place and, rather than enhancing the necessary suspension of disbelief, it only serves to convince an audience that the reason they can’t really work out how any of this could happen is because none of this could ever happen. There are some fantastic moments where Gray takes a breath and slows it all down, but they are the exception not the rule.

Paul Walker’s absence is certainly felt during the film, and while his character is mentioned, it feels all too unsatisfying. One can only imagine what he might have been able to add to the mix this time out.

That said, the franchise has found a way to continue despite the untimely loss of the actor and they have put together a good move. It is certainly better than “Furious 7,” but you will have to look elsewhere for a definitive ranking of all eight movies.

With luck the ninth one will be even better still (and Theron and Mirren will return).

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photo credit: Universal Pictures