‘The Fate of the Furious’ keeps cast and crew intact ahead of April debut

the-fate-of-the-furiousWith over 4,000 US theaters preparing to show “The Fate of the Furious” from April 14 — and a massive international opening the same week — this eighth entry to the blockbuster action franchise looks to keep a firm hand on the wheel despite the unexpected loss of a lead actor.

It’s hard to say how much of a boost 2015’s “Furious 7” got given the passing of one of its lead actors, Paul Walker, in an automobile-related accident.

Using digital composites and Walker’s willing brothers as doubles, the finished film roared to a US$1.5 billion global box office, making it the sixth highest-grossing movie of all time.

Consequently, it nearly doubled 2013’s US$789m predecessor, “Fast & Furious 6,” which in turn overtook 2011’s US$629m “Fast Five.”

In fact, the only time a “Fast and the Furious” film didn’t becomes the franchise’s biggest hit was with 2006’s “Tokyo Drift.”

That one had to go without both franchise co-leads, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, making for a weak connection with previous outings.

But good connections are in strong supply for “The Fate of the Furious.”

Alternatively known as “Fast 8” or simply “F8,” the new movie keeps the most of its big name cast and crew intact.

Vin Diesel, as tough, anti-hero heist mastermind Dominic Toretto, leads his sixth “Fast and the Furious” film, matching Walker’s record.

Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, and Chris Bridges reach the five-film mark, while Dwayne Johnson is on four — together, the quartet have been on screen in each movie since 2011’s “Fast Five”.

Jason Statham returns from “Furious 7,” and his character’s brother, played by Luke Evans, comes back from “Fast & Furious 6;” there are other links to “Furious 7” through Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Eden Estrella.

Behind the scenes, writer Chris Morgan, composer Bryan Taylor, and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon are still involved.

One brand new face to the franchise is director F. Gary Gray, Universal Pictures bringing him in after breaking Justin Lin’s four-film run with “Furious 7.”

Even so, Gray already has a number of connections to the franchise.

He’s known for another Vin Diesel action film, “A Man Apart,” the “Italian Job” remake, which co-starred Statham as well as new “F8” baddie Charlize Theron, and helmed “Be Cool,” which had Dwayne Johnson among its ensemble.

Not only that but he was roundly praised for steering “Straight Outta Compton” (2015), which was also for Universal, while behind the scenes he worked with Bryan Tyler on “Law Abiding Citizen” (2009.)

Releasing April 14 in North America and the same week in numerous territories worldwide, March tracking for “The Fate of the Furious” predicted a US$120m debut weekend on home turf; for comparison, openings of over $147m domestically and US$397m worldwide would be needed to better its immediate predecessor.