for the furious curious

The Confused Helen Mirren Fan’s Guide to Watching The Fate of the Furious

Magdalene consults with Toretto. Photo: Universal Studios

As you may have heard, a new Helen Mirren action movie comes out this weekend. The film, The Fate of the Furious, is the eighth installment of some larger franchise, which chronicles the adventures of Vin Diesel, the Rock, their muscles, and the various muscle cars the love. As a die-hard Helen Mirren fan — I went to see The Hundred-Foot Journey; please don’t ask me to describe anything that happened in it — I saw The Fate of the Furious out of a sense of moral obligation, despite not having seen any of the previous installments of the franchise, though the plot points of many of them have been described in great detail to me by the various straight men in my life. The movie was loud, confusing, and full of explosions, which is pretty much all you need from a blockbuster.

Now, for those Helen Mirren fans who need convincing, or just simply want to know what they’re getting into, a brief guide.

Okay, so who is Helen Mirren playing?
Though she doesn’t appear in the opening credits, Mirren plays Magdalene Shaw. Even the name is a slight spoiler: She’s the mother of Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, who was apparently the villain of Furious 7. Like any Jason Statham character, Deckard is a very angry man who loves his mom, babies, and also his brother Owen (Luke Evans), who was apparently the villain in Fast & Furious 6.

Wait, so is Helen Mirren a villain then?
Deckard was a villain in Furious 7, but by the time we’ve gotten to The Fate of the Furious, he’s more of an ally. Vin Diesel and the Rock, former frenemies, spend most of the movie apart for nebulous reasons, and so Statham acts as a sort of replacement Vin for the Rock’s character, which leads to much eye contact and grimacing. Make of it what you will.

Anyway, as Deckard’s mother, Magdalene is sort of a lawful neutral figure — like most of the Furious characters, she operates outside the law, but has a strong sense of family values. She’s a crime boss with substantial but ill-defined powers who appears halfway through the movie to chat with Vin Diesel over a cuppa. He’s being held hostage by Charlize Theron’s evil hacker, and he needs an out. You assume she’ll help him, but only for a price.

How much Helen Mirren am I getting for the price of my ticket?
Magdalene appears only in two brief scenes, but of course, both are delightful. As someone who saw Collateral Beauty simply for the sake of Helen Mirren’s ridiculous outfits, I can assure you that this is a far, far better use of your time.

What happens in the rest of the movie?
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) heads up a “family” of rogue race-racing criminals who basically have superpowers at this point and save the world in various ways that all somehow involve cars — apparently things used to be more realistic, but things have escalated over time. Also, like any good friend group, his “family” has absorbed former antagonists, including the late Paul Walker and the Rock’s government agent Luke Hobbs, into it over time. In Fate, however, Toretto betrays them because of dark, Charlize Theron–related reasons, but of course he’s not actually going to betray them because of other, deeper family-related reasons. Michelle Rodriguez, who plays his wife Letty, spends much of the movie getting mad at him about this, but not as mad as everyone else, because she knows he loves family.

Wait, take a step back, how did Helen Mirren get into this movie?
The simplest explanation is that Helen Mirren loves both cars and Vin Diesel. “My claim to fame is I always do my own driving — I was on Top Gear, and I did [my lap] in a very good time,” she said back in 2015. “I keep putting it out there, and they never ask me. I’ll be in Fast and Furious 8.”

So does Helen Mirren get to drive a car in The Fate of the Furious?
She does not. This has been very disappointing for Helen Mirren, who told EW before the film’s release, “I wanted to be driving, but unfortunately, I’m not … Maybe that will come in the future, in Fast and Furious 12.” To be fair, even Theron spends most of the movie in questionable dreads typing behind a computer screen. We hope she ditches the hairdo and teams up with Mirren in a future installment. They can be good, evil, whatever — just let them drive.

Does Helen Mirren at least wear some fabulous outfits?
Oh, come on, yes, of course she does. Magdalene Shaw’s style choices are best described as gearhead Cruella de Vil — she’s a big fan of animal prints, statement jewelry, and rocks a beautiful medium-length feathered hairdo. (One wonders whether she gets blowouts at Drybar incognito or has a criminal stylist on retainer.)

Does Helen Mirren get to use an accent?
Mirren adopts Jason Statham’s rumbling cockney accent in order to play his mother and the result is … let’s say there’s a reason why Mirren is best known for playing posh characters. It all sounds like Mirren is auditioning to play a Fagin in an automobile-based version of Oliver!, which, to be fair, would have all the same themes as the Fast and Furious movies.

Will Helen Mirren appear in future Fast and Furious movies?
Given her stated enthusiasm for both Vin Diesel and the franchise, we can only hope so.

What do I do with my life until she does?
I recommend Helen Mirren’s Instagram, which has been inactive lately, but often includes delights like two photos from the same bathtub, political make-up tips, and her thoughts on umbrellas.

The Helen Mirren Fan’s Guide to The Fate of the Furious