The Fate Of The Furious Takes The Car-Filled Franchise To So-So Territory

Out of the seven Fast & Furious movies that have come before The Fate Of The Furious, I’ve seen all but two of them, the sole exceptions being 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift. Otherwise though, I’ve been able to see the other five entries in this saga and now I’ve also been privy to The Fate Of The Furious, the eighth installment in the greatest car racing spy heist action franchise in history behind The Apu Trilogy. After three gloriously unhinged action movies in a row, it pains me to say that The Fate Of The Furious goes to more routine and repetitive areas that harken back to the middling first and fourth movies in the series.

After the events of Furious Seven, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon in Cuba, a pleasant little affair that gets interrupted by the arrival of a terrorist known as Cypher (Charlize Theron), who decides to coerce Dominic Toretto into doing nasty work for her that involves betraying his family. Soon, Dominic is stealing a nuclear warhead for her and tossing his pal Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) into prison with the last movie’s bad guy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Can Dominic be saved? Will Letty and Luke Hobbs and all of Dominic’s pals be able to stop Cypher’s nefarious plans? Will Scott Eastwood’s new character succeed in becoming the new token white guy of the group now that Paul Walker has tragically passed on?

All of these questions are likely on the forefront of people’s minds as they watch all the cars explode, but I myself couldn’t help but wonder why the movie just felt so tedious more often than not. Too much screentime is devoted to a hackneyed and completely out of nowhere reason for Dominic to betray his family (which I won’t spoil, don’t worry) while new villain Cypher isn’t quite as interesting as she could have been with Charlize Theron not getting much to do beyond just whispering about vengeance and techno-nonsense and all that. The last two Fast & Furious movies finally gave us interesting villains, something the series had been sorely lacking for so long, and it’s a pity a great actor like Theron got handed such a massive step down from recent antagonists in the series.

With Vin Diesel playing the bad guy for this movie, that means our protagonists are the rest of Dom’s “family”, who comprise an unexceptional bunch. Dominic Toretto’s sincere enthusiasm for his family and the rapport he had with them that stemmed from Vin Diesel’s one-of-a-kind stage presence (you may chuckle at that, but seriously, name one other actor with the same kind of aura as Vin Diesel) promised that the dialogue-oriented interactions between car chases in past movies may not always be the stuff of acting legends but it would rarely be boring. With Diesel gone from the picture, that means we’re stuck with a bunch of one-note caricatures who don’t quite bounce off each other well.

Michaelle Rodriguez’s Letty doesn’t have much to her character beyond “She just KNOWS Dominic couldn’t be bad!”, Ludacris and Nathalie Emmanuel play disposable techies while Tyrese Gibson does the comedic relief part to varying degrees of success. Dwayne Johnson, of course, is also around but he lacks the personality found in his two films roles last year (in Central Intelligence and Moana) and basically plays himself here. Since Dwayne Johnson seems like a charismatic and charming enough guy in his media persona, this isn’t a bad thing but he doesn’t have anyone fun or interesting to bounce off of for much of the movie. Lackluster lead characters and a boring baddie means The Fate Of The Furious really comes up short whenever it leans heavily on the supposed “familial bond” linking the lead characters.

The action sequences have varying degrees of success. The two best in the movie, a jailbreak scene involving characters played by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham (the latter of whom has some particularly fun moments bouncing off the good guys) and one where Cipher takes remote control of hundreds of cars in New York City, are fun because of their constant unpredictable absurdity. Just the visual alone of this pack of cars swerving around the corner at high speeds like they’re a horde of rats had me cackling, it’s such a crazy visual. Similarly, the jailbreak sequence just has all kinds of hand-to-hand combat that, despite some choppy editing, manages to delight just due to its sheer gusto drive in depicting Dwayne Johnson laying the smackdown on some rival prisoners and guards.

Unfortunately, the rest of the action, including an icy climax, gets too repetitive too quickly. The shallow nature of the characters in this installment can explain some of that but director F. Gary Gray films much of the action in a standard way that lacks personality. Dialogue-heavy sequences are executed in a similarly flat way that truly allows the subpar quality of the lines being spoken sink in. The direction lacks a vital amount of ebullience that made the past three Fast & Furious movies so much fun and replaces that vigor with hackneyed plot turns and frequently unremarkable action. Charlize Theron (and a bizarrely underused Helen Mirren for that matter) deserved better when it comes to appearing in this franchise than debuting in the middle-of-the-road The Fate Of The Furious.