I should get one thing out of the way before I dive into my review of The Fate of the Furious. There was no way this eighth installment was going to match Furious 7 on a creative level. The previous installment, while a fun action film, had a bit more emotional resonance because it had to deal with the death of Paul Walker, who passed away in the middle of filming the seventh film. What had been viewed as “mindless” action films actually took a few moments to pay tribute to its fallen star and the end result was a surprisingly poignant endeavor that had the heart to go along with its logic-defying stunts.
Going into The Fate of the Furious, I knew that my expectations needed to be more in line with the sixth film rather than its predecessor. As long as the film gave me what I have come to expect from the franchise, I’d be pleased. While the film goes on a little long, I must say that it was another fun ride at the movies. These are films that know exactly what they are and they embrace it wholeheartedly. Some of the action is very over the top and the characters are essentially superheroes now but who cares? The amount of fun the actors seem to be having is rather infectious and I’m always down for a good popcorn flick. Movies like The Fate of the Furious are made to check your brain at the door and just enjoy the eye candy and even though we are eight films deep, there is still enough visceral action eye candy on display that you can tell the franchise is nowhere near to slowing down.
The action begins on a more sedate note with Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) in Cuba following their wedding. After winning a street race, Dom is “recruited” by the mysterious Cipher (Charlize Theron) to work for her – and she has an offer he can’t refuse. Soon after, while on a mission with Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the rest of the team, Dom appears to go rogue. His betrayal stings everyone and lands Hobbs in prison, where he is reunited with old enemy Deckard (Jason Statham). Eventually, the two sides sort themselves out, with Cipher and Dom going up against everyone else, and we learn what Cipher’s trump card is – the one thing that gets Dom to betray his friends and colleagues and put the safety of the world at risk.
Much has been made about what would make Dom turn his back on family and I have to say the one thing about the film that disappoints is this reveal. I won’t give it away here but I guess I was expecting more. For the sake of the story, it works well enough but there are some definite issues with timing (I’m honestly still trying to figure out the timeline and how many years have passed between Fast Five and this film). It feels like there is a bit of a plot issue with the revelation and even though people aren’t seeing these films for their great scripts and continuity, I would still like some of these plot holes to make sense.
The franchise has always been known for its action and the set pieces have only gotten bigger and slightly more absurd with each outing but here is how I view the action on display here: you either go with the flow or you don’t go at all. The action is insanely over the top but if you accept that going in, you’ll have fun with the fact that they were able to pull some of it off. The movie is self-aware and never tries to play it straight – whether it’s in the quasi-comedic banter among some of the characters or the cheekily choreographed shootout in which Statham juggles a baby bassinet and his guns (this moment had my friend shaking his head and I was right there with him but despite how ludicrous it was I couldn’t help but smile and accept it). The film cost a reported $250 million to make and it appears all that money is on display. The climax, which features a group of tricked out cars, a monstrous snow plow, and a tank being chased across a frozen section of the arctic by a submarine under the control of a “ghost plane,” is visually arresting and a lot of fun. Again, it’s ridiculous but director F. Gary Gray shoots sequences like this with utter confidence and makes us buy it.
Part of the reason we accept the cartoonish action is because it features characters we have come to know and love over the years. Vin Diesel is a bit of a mixed bag here. It’s always refreshing to see Dom do his thing and he has moments that are signature to his portrayal but at times he feels a bit “off.” I honestly think that this one being his first since Paul Walker’s passing actually affected his performance a bit. You can tell he was missing someone to bounce off of. The rest of the cast fares much better with Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Kurt Russell and Nathalie Emmanuel putting in solid work. Faring the best is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham whose uneasy alliance is by far the best thing about the film. If there was ever a case for a spin-off, this would be it. Charlize Theron handles her villainous role of Cipher very well and while she doesn’t match Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw, she is still a credible villain and looks like she’s having a lot of fun doing it. Also having fun in a bit of an extended cameo is Helen Mirren, who makes a case that she should definitely come back and be given a lot more to do.
The Fate of the Furious is apparently the start of a new trilogy that will conclude with films released in 2019 and 2021. That will bring us to ten movies and the fact that the franchise has come this far is a testament to what it does right. I can appreciate a film that is unapologetic about what it is and clearly knows its audience. It may not reach the heights of Furious 7, but it’s still a fun time at the movies that doesn’t disappoint.