A genuine global phenomenon, The Fast and Furious dynasty is now so untethered from identifiable reality that its roots as a simple car-focused Point Break ripoff are fading in the rear view mirror. Endless action stimulates in the face of franchise fatigue (it’s the 8th one!) but The Fate of The Furious still manages to get pulses racing. But with the previous outing serving as Paul Walker’s send-off and a potential stopping point for the series as a whole, Dom and crew need to ask themselves: what’s next?
This 16-year-old series has always had a knack for re-invention. After a 4th installment brought back Vin Diesel and his original crew, director Justin Lin essentially refashioned the Fast and Furious universe as a globe-trotting action-heist extravaganza, peppered with self-aware, over-the-top action (generally involving cars), cheesy yet endearing characters, and above all a commitment to “family” as Diesel’s Toretto gravely intones. Fate doesn’t rewrite the playbook by any means, but it modifies the formula to fit an ever-changing cast of characters as it searches for the kind of chemistry that Dom and Paul Walker’s Brian shared – the series’ heart that now needs replacing.
That spark’s certainly not found between Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the movie’s central romantic pairing now that Brian’s been written out. The actors are well-suited to their tough-guy and –girl characters, but when they kiss it has all the heat of a wet paper bag. Fate finds them in Cuba on their two honeymoon and, in an extended nod to the series’ street racing roots, features a simple car chase through downtown Havana replete with lascivious butt shots of the bikini-clad locals. Granted, a car bursts into flames and explodes while careening into the ocean, but for Dom that’s just a regular Tuesday afternoon.
As the ads have promised, Fate’s big selling point is that Dom turns on his beloved crew, betraying his family for reasons known only to him and the new big bad Cipher (Oscar-winner Charlize Theron). I won’t spoil the plot machinations here, but suffice it to say that it may or may not involve that which Dom so cherishes – family. And of course there’s some world-ending tech that the bad guys are after and Dom’s crew has to stop – which this time includes going up against Dom himself.
Sporting dreadlocks and an icy demeanour, Theron’s Cipher is another in a long-line of Fast villains. And though she’s an ample yet reserved foe, the series has a tendency to turn enemies into frenemies and frenemies into friends as the screenwriters endlessly rearrange character motivations to suit their whims. Ultimately everyone ends up at Dom’s frequent barbeques drinking a Corona – except for the characters that die, although they often return too.
Take Dwayne Johnson’s character Luke Hobbs; initially introduced as an eternally sweaty agent in pursuit of Dom’s crew in Fast Five, he’s now firmly ensconced as one of its beloved members. And Fate has the good instinct to pair him with Jason Statham’s Deckard (Furious 7’s villain), first during a prison breakout and later as reluctant partners despite their initial reticence. It’s here that the movie finds humour and chemistry, as Dom’s stony speechifying aboard Cipher’s plane can’t hold a candle to Johnson and Statham’s one-liners and stare-downs.
The movie is jam-packed with other characters as well, including wise-cracking Roman and Tej (Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris), computer hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), shadowy agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his hapless protégé Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), and even a cameo from a well-respected, Oscar-winning English actress. That means that some characters are better served than others, and as usual Vin Diesel gets the lion’s share of screen time despite being less dynamic and more one-sided than nearly everyone else.
Diesel’s gravelly growls and physical presence are best-suited to the action sequences, and Fate doesn’t skimp on those. Besides the opening race there’s a Berlin heist that begins mid-way through, an exemplary prison riot staged by Johnson and Statham’s characters, and – yes really – a zombie car apocalypse in downtown New York that plays on the fears of autonomous cars being hacked. Like all latter-day Fast movies, Fate demands that you suspend disbelief for most if not all of its runtime, with eye-popping action being the reward for doing so.
The climactic finale ups the ante considerably as it switches between gun-and-fisticuffs aboard Cipher’s plane and a bonafide submarine versus car chase amid a Russian nuclear base. Turn off your logic – you won’t need it here. As per Fast and Furious house style, it’s mostly fun if a little overblown and needlessly loud. Director F. Gary Gray, new to the series after installments by James Wan and Justin Lin, is an accomplished hand behind the wheel even if some of the action lacks the kineticism and clarity of its immediate predecessors (with 5 and 7 being the high water marks overall).
With the 9th and 10th Fast movies already pencilled in over the next four years it’s clear that we’re not escaping Dom and his crew’s antics anytime soon. And with a casually multicultural cast and globe-spanning locales, Fast and the Furious is an international sensation primed to appeal to people from, well, everywhere. Even when the series takes a slight dip in quality (as it does here) there’s still much to enjoy provided you know what kind of movie you’re walking into. The real question looming over Fate is whether Diesel will relinquish enough control to let new stars like Johnson and Statham properly take the wheel.
The Fate of the Furious (2017)
Directed by F. Gary Gray
Runtime: 136 minutes