Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: F.Gary Gray
Writers: Chris Morgan, Gary Scott Thompson
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodrigez
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Drama, Thriller & Suspense
The world of The Fate of the Furious is a curious one. In it, one car’s engine can overpower four others’, a magic plane can find anyone in the world, and a solid chassis can protect you from a giant fiery explosion. It’s a world of possibilities, to be sure, which is why it sucks that much more when it’s boring. By the eighth film, any franchise can succumb to feeling like a routine exercise. The Fast and the Furious has avoided becoming stale by growing, moving from being about street racing to covering a group of outlaws to government turns to when no one else can do the job. This film, however, is evidence that if the franchise wants to continue being successful, then it’s got a lot more growing to do.
Violence: It wouldn’t be Fast & Furious without the Furious part. The movie features explosions throughout, but the deaths of expendable enemy combatants doesn’t start until the third act. Most of the combat is firmly within PG-13 parameters, with plenty of non-lethal take-downs and bullet wounds that don’t produce any blood. There is a lot of death, but it’s brushed over and exaggerated, understudy to driving really fast.
Language: Here the movie tries to test its PG-13 limits. There are lots of uses of the s-word, one f-bomb, and plenty of instances of the a-word. Most conversations involve at least one curse word, so if that’s off-putting to you, you might not have a fun time.
Sexual Content: Most Fast and Furious movies feature a gratuitous scene that’s all about the sex appeal. Outside of a few quick cuts in the first scene, however, Fate eschews this trend and sticks primarily to car-related action.
Positive Content: Though it’s not as heavily emphasized as in some of the other films, the theme of the importance of family, whether by blood or bond, is still present. The film also offers examples of readily given forgiveness and redemption for former adversaries.
Our story opens with Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) and his now-wife Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) honeymooning in Havana. Since these films abide by the adage that there’s no bad reason to have a street race, that’s where our story begins with Diesel driving a racing a car that’s literally combusting as he drives it, just to make sure you know what you’re getting into. Soon enough Charlize Theron, playing an international cyber-terrorist named Cipher, presents Dom with an offer that he can’t refuse. Thus we jump into our main conceit, that the only real challenge for the F&F team at this point is one of their own.
Here’s where things start to go wrong. That opening scene, pointless though it may be, is vintage F&F. It’s visually pleasing, adrenaline pumping, and it features Dom being cool for the sake of being cool. The moment Dom’s heel-turn is revealed is the same time that the film’s major flaw is exposed: It takes itself too seriously. I think we can all agree that F&F isn’t built to be a vehicle for serious emotional conflict and weighty scenes that are meant to be carried by their dialogue. It’s meant to provide fast cars, explosions, and in the more recent films a hefty death toll that goes widely unacknowledged.
While those action scenes are present here, they’re separated by long stretches of listless plot. If the story here was a compelling one, then it would okay, even preferable, for the movie to take its foot off the gas. But that isn’t the case here. Ideas are brought up and discarded at a rapid pace, all the talking amounting to “We need to go here next.” The film also manages to prove surprisingly unfriendly to newcomers, with many of the plot devices and characters coming from previous movies in the series. Fate assumes that you’ve at least seen the previous three movies and are familiar with each of the characters, relationships, and made up pieces of technology therein. With the exception of the climax, the momentum built up by the action scenes quickly dissipates under the weight of the ever more ridiculous plot threads.
The action scenes that are here are for the most part, admittedly, pretty darn cool. There’s a scene in the second act where the film reaches the pinnacle of techno-babble magic, giving Theron’s Cipher a fleet of zombie cars with which to fling at a single target. While I actually found the submarine scene from the trailers a bit underwhelming, the prison riot scene and and the plane shootout both proved very impressive. It’s also probably no coincidence that both the scenes featured Jason Statham, who’s right at home in these films. Somewhere along the way F&F became a lot more about gunfights, and that is definitely Statham’s wheelhouse.
Another standout is Dwayne Johnson, who is usually the best part of whatever movie he’s currently in. Fate is no exception, with Johnson being the most consistent source of laughs as well as matching Statham in action performance. In the middle, we have the main crew, consisting of Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Rodriguez, and Diesel. They all give serviceable performances, unremarkable one way or the other. They’ve been playing these characters for a long time now, and Fate provides no opportunity for them to grow or expand, so it all feels pretty routine. On the other end of the scale we have Charlize Theron, who seems pretty bored throughout. Her performance is almost passionless, a far cry from her incredible turn as Furiosa in Mad Max. Here it seems like she’s happy to just collect her paycheck.
I don’t really blame Theron here, because on some level the whole endeavor feels like it’s just going through the motions. The film lacks the heart of its predecessors, unwilling to commit to being a competently fun romp and unable to be more of a dramatic enterprise. The twist of Dom acting against his team rings hollow, since we know from the jump that Cipher has leverage on him and that he’ll inevitably be redeemed by the end of the film.
The movies have become a lot less about racing as they’ve gone on, which has worked well for them, but after so many films they need to make some bold moves. The tropes of “Enemy from previous film becomes ally”, “Family over everything”, and “Make snarky remarks as the crew casually piles up a significant body count” are beginning to grate. While the action scenes are entertaining, there’s none here that represent something truly unique or epic, nothing that justifies the long stretches of blandness. Fate of the Furious feels like a step backward for the franchise, a disappointing entry in a franchise in need of a refresh.
The Bottom Line