The Furious deserve a better fate than the latest film from director F. Gary Gray. The eight installment of the long-running Fast and Furious franchise, The Fate of the Furious tears its family apart, and in the process of doing so loses its heart.
Picking up not long after the events of Furious 7, The Fate of The Furious opens with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) celebrating their honeymoon in Cuba. A quick street race informs us not much has changed the film’s leading man, as Dom navigates the streets of Havana while driving a car that is literally on the verge of exploding while Letty tails close behind. It’s the kind of sequence that, not unlike the opening moments of this year’s xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, exists for no other reason than to remind us Dominic Toretto is a really good guy.
The next day, Dom is returning from the market when he encounters a mysterious blonde (Charlize Theron) with car trouble. He attempts to help the woman, but soon learns he has fallen into a trap set the woman, an international cyber terrorist, has set for the sole purpose of convincing Dom to work for her. Of course, Dom has no interest in becoming entangled with another person’s problems, but the woman – known only as Cipher – has possession of something that he cannot walk away from.
All of this unfolds in about twenty minutes, which leaves nearly two full hours of movie for Cipher to carry out her plan. Her goal can best be summarized as a desire to control the world, but her motivations for doing so is never made clear in a meaningful way. The bulk of her dialogue is wasted on cat and mouse talk with Dom, which in turn exchanges actual character development with surface level narcissism and witty one-liners. Theron is capable of much more, but she never has a chance to showcase any of it in the context of this film. Instead, her characters speaks vaguely of global corruption and the need for reckoning. It’s never explained, nor explore, and as a result you get the feeling it never really matters.
In order for Cipher to take control she must first force Dom to betray his family. He does so following a mission to recover an EMP, and in the process leaves Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) wondering what could have convinced a man they’ve known for nearly twenty years to turn his back on them. Answers do not come easily, especially after Dom and Cipher attack the group’s base of operations, but the crew carries on with the belief that the Dominic Toretto they know and love still exists.
The plot becomes further complicated by the return of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who pairs the team with the only man other than Hobbs to ever locate Dom, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), and a new recruit (Scott Eastwood). The team is forced to set aside their differences with Shaw, who has been considered a villain up to this point in the franchise, in hopes of finding Dom and stopping Cipher before her plans – which remain largely unclear to the team – can come to fruition.
F. Gary Gray did a fantastic job balancing the multiple storylines of his last film, Staight Outta Compton, but the far more numerous threads of Fate are too much for him to handle. The story spends so much time establishing motivations and setting aside legitimate disputes between characters that the film only manages to produce three, arguably four, major action sequences, all of which we spoiled by the multiple trailers released in the months leading up to the movie’s premiere. Worse yet, all development of the characters pretty much comes to a standstill in favor of adding more humor to the mix. The laughs do help keep things clipping along as the film moves from scene to scene with no one in or around cars, but like the limited amount of action it’s a change the hobbles the momentum of the franchise rather than pushes it forward.
When the action does arise, primarily in the third act when the film replaces the absurd ‘endless runway’ sequence from Fast Five with a similar scenario involving a submarine set atop a frozen river, Fate of the Furious comes to life with all the cartoonish fun fans have come to expect from the franchise. Gray handles these scenes well, masterfully moving from character to character while maintain a sense of clarity on the moment as a whole, and thanks to the capabilities of Cipher there are far more vehicles at play. Everything from tanks to autonomous cars are used, as well as a few bits of spectacular non-vehicular gadgetry, and it all goes to help up the ante for action. I just wish there were more of it to enjoy.
It’s hard to imagine anyone walking away from Fate of the Furious feeling the same way they have following any of the previous seven Fast and Furious films because this is a different kind of movie. The things helped keep the franchise grounded have been abandoned in the name of big budget action and bottom of the barrel jokes. None of it is outright terrible, in fact a lot of it is pretty entertaining, but all of it falls far below the bar set for quality in previous franchise entries. It seems the series that once seems as if it could venture into outer space while keeping us engaged is now struggling to make us a give a damn about characters we have known for sixteen years, which does not bode well for the two additional Fast films planned in the years ahead. There is still time to make corrections however, so here’s hoping Fate is a misstep and not a sign of what is yet to come.