The Fate of the Furious
Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron
US theatrical: 14 Apr 2017
UK theatrical: 12 Apr 2017
“Dominic Toretto just went rogue.”
When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson says you’ve gone rogue, things are about to get real.
More than fast cars, glorious violence, or hot babes, the Fast & Furious franchise has always been about family. Sure, this family is filled with borderline psychotics and fugitive criminals, but their bonds transcend our parochial ideas of love and commitment. At least, that’s what they tell themselves while they’re blowing crap up.
This heartfelt notion of family may seem contradictory in a world fueled by gasoline and testosterone, but it’s proven a surprisingly strong adhesive, even during the most outlandish moments. It was inevitable that the filmmakers would eventually sever those familial bonds just to see what happens.
Unfortunately, for about half of The Fate of the Furious, director F. Gary Gray forgets that he’s making a big action movie, which greatly reduces the ‘fun factor’ in the franchise’s eighth (!) installment. There are EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) weapons, Russian gangsters, nuclear launch codes, and international cyber-terrorists; none of which are synonymous with having a good time. It takes one firecracker of a third act on a Siberian ice shelf to finally restore balance to this ridiculous universe.
Vin Diesel continues to be both this franchise’s biggest virtue and most crippling flaw. He’s like the limiting factor in a chemical reaction; without him, none of the elements can react, but too much of him poisons the entire equation. The Fate of the Furious contains a metric boatload of Diesel, and his dour, semi-catatonic delivery grows old very quickly. After a terrific opening sequence, which finds Dom racing ‘The Cuban Mile’ through the streets of Havana, things get mired in an overly complicated plot that forces Diesel to rely upon his dramatic acting chops. Yeah, that doesn’t go well.
It doesn’t help that Dom is way out of his league going against Cipher (Charlize Theron), a brilliant cyber baddie who successfully coerces him over to the dark side. Decked in dreads and a ripped Metallica shirt, Theron is steely cool, humor-free, and entirely too smart to be slumming in a racecar movie.
Cipher (Charlize Theron) is always prepared
“I am the crocodile at the watering hole,” she coos into Dom’s ear. What might sound comical coming from lesser a villain sounds genuinely creepy coming from Theron’s Cipher. She’s the kind of smooth-talking villain you find in a good Bond film, inflicting psychological and physical torture with equal abandon. Simply put, there is no way that Dom and his crew could ever defeat an adversary this cunning and well-connected.
Gray (Straight Outta Compton 2015, The Italian Job, 2003) also struggles to incorporate Dom’s crew organically into the action. Johnson (as ‘Hobbs’) and Jason Statham (as ‘Deckard’) have a blast beating their opponents into submission with percussive fisticuffs, but the script is clearly clueless about how to handle everyone else. While The Rock and Statham further their hilariously homoerotic love affair, the remaining crew huddles around computer monitors tracking Cipher, occasionally cracking wise and mugging for the camera. Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, and Ludacris are all capable actors, but it’s painfully evident that their stock characters need action to remain relevant.
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When it finally takes a break from its recycled plot about EMP devices and nuclear launch codes, The Fate of the Furious delivers some terrific action. Whether it’s driving their cars out of airplanes or skipping across skyscrapers, this is a franchise that delights in making a fool out of Newton. Here, Cipher cleverly hacks the remote starters in a fleet of luxury cars, resulting in a mad procession of “zombie cars” speeding through New York City. There’s also a bravura sequence in which Deckard and Hobbs punch their way through a gauntlet of guards in a maximum security prison.
Mostly, Gray builds toward a monumental showdown at a Siberian submarine port. Comprising the entire third act, this is the kind of outrageous set piece we’ve come to expect from the franchise. Racecars, tanks, helicopters, and nuclear submarines converge in an orgy of fire and sound. Gray’s camera zooms inside, outside, and above the action at lightning speeds, suitably obscuring the line between practical effects and computer trickery. The stock characters, so horribly misused in the film’s first half, definitely earn their paychecks in the finalé. It’s the kind of glorious stupidity that reminds you how much fun this franchise can be when it doesn’t take things too seriously.
It’s unlikely that devotees will consider The Fate of the Furious one of the stronger entries in the series. Still, the filmmakers and actors are clearly dedicated to making a quality product, avoiding the complacency that often plagues action sequels. The attempts to make this a darker chapter in the Dominic Toretto saga detract from the fun, but there’s still enough macho mischief to inspire a quick drag race around the strip mall.