If 2015’s Furious 7 was a bit too reserved and subdued—what with cars parachuting from cargo planes and leaping skyscraper to skyscraper—don’t worry, The Fate of the Furious, also known as the eighth Fast and Furious movie (AKA #F8), rectifies that with gleeful abandon. It walks a fine line between sheer idiocy and inspired brilliance, often leaping back and forth between the two, and represents a marked drop in quality in the franchise for the first time in almost a decade.
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his rag-tag, self-appointed “family” of gear-heads-turned-street-racing-James-Bonds are back with full tanks, jazzed-up cars, and a blatant disregard for the laws of physics. At this point, they’re basically an international special ops team, and the Rock has become a full-on cartoon superhero—he seriously tears his way out of a pair of handcuffs and shrugs off getting shot point-blank multiple times.
Here’s the twist: a mysterious hacker and cyber terrorist, the unfortunately named Cipher (Charlize Theron), pressures Dom to do the one thing he’d never do, turn his back on his family. Beyond that, the plot is insanely convoluted, which leads to far too many overlong scenes that rely on questionable dialogue. But all that’s necessary to know is the betrayal, everything else is background noise. In The Fate of the Furious, it’s Dom versus his own crew.
The Fate of the Furious has all the bells and whistles: exotic locations, an absurd toy box of automobiles, ludicrous action, and barely covered butts. The usual team is back—Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson)—along with recent additions like Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). A few familiar faces pop up, like Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, who actually joins the team in what’s a huge middle finger to anyone who loved Sung Kang’s Han. (Deckard did brutally murder him in cold blood a few movies ago, after all, a fact the “family” conveniently seems to forget—though now the franchise has reached the point where it’s successfully retconned out every last thread of Tokyo Drift.) There are even a handful of new puzzle pieces, like Scott Eastwood’s Little Nobody and Kritofer Hivju’s Rhodes, as well as a few best left unmentioned.
Charlize Theron’s villain leaves much to be desired in the antagonist department. Her motivation remains nonexistent for most of the movie, and when the script does deign to clear it up, it’s somehow even worse than not knowing. She’s basically a generic James Bond villain who’s evil for the sake of being evil and nothing more, and the movie hits a wall every time she appears on screen. I don’t know that white-girl dreads are enough to build a character on, and she her primary defining personality trait is that she looks like the albino twins from the Matrix sequel.
What The Fate of the Furious lacks most is the emotional resonance of its predecessors. It trades on inherited goodwill and pre-existing connections, and it’s never fully engaging as a result. Sure, Roman and Tej bicker like a married couple, Letty never loses faith in Dom, and Hobbs and Deckard bantering back and forth about causing the other grievous bodily harm is a highlight (again, if you never cared about Han, you cold, soulless bastard). But the heart that makes the audience care about these characters isn’t there, and it becomes obvious early on how much the franchise misses Paul Walker. The attempts to fill that rather sizeable void fall far short of the mark, and the movie struggles to find an identity in a post-Brian O’Connor reality.
Instead of action driven by emotional stakes, The Fate of the Furious is action for the sake of action. It’s fun, occasionally spectacular, but it rings hollow and the bigger picture suffers. The sequence through the streets of New York is fantastic and inventive, and is where new director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) leaves his most significant mark. He clearly lets loose and makes the movie most his own—there’s a moment where the sky literally rains cars and another where a throbbing pile of automobile corpses pulses like a dying beast. But then there’s the submarine chase that forms the centerpiece of film’s marketing, which plays out like a rehash of the airport runway scene at the end of Fast and Furious 6.
The answer to the question of why anything happens in The Fate of the Furious is: because it’s awesome. Why does Tej drive a tank with a machine gun on the top? Because it’s awesome. Why are there jetpacks? Because it’s awesome. Why does the movie start with Dom in Cuba racing a flaming car backwards through the streets of Havana? I think you get the point. The whole film is constructed on the logic, “What’s the craziest thing we can do here?” and it leaves gaping plot holes you can drive a ‘roided out muscle car through.
I can respect and appreciate the constant one-upmanship of the action. After all, that’s the foundation of the franchise: continual escalation. It’s not even the dodgy science or willful ignorance of gravity, but for all of the spectacle, The Fate of the Furious lacks the binder and cohesion of the last few installments; the special sauce that makes these movies more than just throwaway eye candy. Though the characters and formula are the same, it’s missing key ingredients and picks and chooses which bits of its heritage and continuity to remember. The eighth chapter feels like something different, and not necessarily in a good way.
The Fate of the Furious should ultimately satisfy many fans. It’s packed with absurd action and moments of inspired lunacy. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham form the beefy center of an epic prison brawl, but watching Hobbs unleash intimidation tactics against a pee wee girl’s soccer team is pure joy—my newest life goal is to get a rah-rah motivational speech from the Rock. There’s a great Raiders of the Lost Ark homage, along with the requisite well-meaning quips and insults. It’s mindless fun, which is fine, but we’ve seen how much more these movies can be. And while it sates some devotees, it leaves others wanting more, wondering what could have been, and curious about where it’s all heading. [Grade: B-]