Despite the ever-increasing size of its entertainment engine, the Fast and Furious franchise still doesn’t have much substance under the hood. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise you that Fate of the Furious, the series’ latest fast-paced, petrol-fueled romp, is no more intelligent or sensible than the past seven movies that came before it. By the eighth movie however, the Fast and Furious franchise has become quite skillful at defying honest criticism. These are all movies made in good fun, and I suppose that it would be mighty uptight of reviewers like myself to pick apart the lack of credibility in a franchise that has gradually concerned itself less and less with being grounded or realistic.
Thus, we’re merely left to judge Fate of the Furious against its seven predecessors, and fortunately, by that scale, this is another of the better installments in Universal’s long-running series of action movie blockbusters. It doesn’t quite reach the lofty series high point of 2011’s Fast Five, but Fate of the Furious nonetheless provides another welcome batch of action-packed insanity, now with even more outlandish and ambitious stunt work that one couldn’t possibly be disappointed with. What you see is what you get, as usual, so you have to be actively in the mood for a whole lot of thrills and a whole lack of brains, but if you happen to derive enjoyment from wanton property destruction and the totaling of expensive vehicles, Fate of the Furious keeps this franchise’s gas tank running pretty strong, even eight movies in.
The surviving lead ensemble mostly returns for Fate of the Furious, with the late Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner obviously now being absent, due to Walker’s tragic death in 2013. As a result of Walker’s character being gracefully retired at the end of Furious 7, Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto has now fully assumed leadership of this movie series with its eighth installment, while Jordana Brewster’s Mia Toretto also appears to have exited the franchise with the end of Furious 7. This makes for ample opportunity to create a scenario where Dom is forced to turn on his team of hardcore racing action heroes, with this story turn serving as the springboard of the character arcs, however small they are, in Fate of the Furious.
The Fast and Furious franchise has never been huge on character development, at least over the past several movies, where the series has been re-tooled more and more blatantly to provide brainless action blockbusters. The characters of Letty, Roman, Tej, Ramsey, Hobbs and their enigmatic handler, Mr. Nobody haven’t budged an inch since the point they left off in Furious 7. That’s fair enough, since Diesel is clearly at the center of Fate of the Furious’ ensemble, and to be fair, he delivers a standout performance here, at least by this franchise’s standards. Everyone is clearly having a great time throughout filming the movie, but it’s Diesel that often gives Fate of the Furious whatever story gravitas it can muster, since Dom is the only character dealing with something resembling serious drama during the movie. Even Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty gets surprisingly little character substance, despite Dom’s supposed betrayal, since her faith in Dom never wavers, which doesn’t make for much character uncertainty to distract from the flashy vehicles.
The other side of this dramatic coin comes from this sequel’s other standout performer, Charlize Theron, a brand new addition to the franchise, who portrays the main villain of Fate of the Furious. Theron’s baddie, Cipher, is an amoral super-hacker who puts even Ramsey to shame, and has manipulated events to coerce Dom into working to steal valuable WMD’s for her. Theron fits very well into this franchise, particularly given her history with director, F. Gary Gray in another car-themed action flick, namely the 2003 remake of The Italian Job. She plays a completely ludicrous character, with such superhuman technology manipulation that she might as well be a mutant super-villain, but Theron’s steely performance manages to provide a surprisingly effective air of genuine menace. It really speaks to Theron’s impeccable acting talents when she can cut through so many unrealistic elements behind her character to nonetheless make Cipher feel truly, believably dangerous, and she stands alongside Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw from Furious 7 (Statham, ironically, being another alum of the Italian Job remake from 2003 that Gray directed), as one of the best antagonists that this franchise has seen to date!
Actually, speaking of Statham’s Deckard Shaw, he’s back in Fate of the Furious, when he’s forcibly recruited by Mr. Nobody and his new protegee, Little Nobody, played by Scott Eastwood, and is turned into an ally for Dom’s crew. Statham was a great villain in the previous movie, but he also makes for a surprisingly potent ally in this follow-up, especially since Statham works so well with this ensemble, in particular Dwayne Johnson, where the macho ersatz homosexual subtext is laid on so thick between their comical distaste for one another that you can’t help but chuckle at it. The banter between all of the heroes is enjoyable as ever, in fact, with everyone continuing to operate like a genuinely lovable dysfunctional family. That huge heart, still strong and beating in Fate of the Furious, is probably a big part of the reason why these movies can consistently get away with being so objectively idiotic.
If ever there was a fool’s errand in the cinematic medium, it’s trying to break down the storyline of a Fast and Furious movie to any serious degree. Since the fourth installment or so, these movies have consistently constructed themselves around a series of loose excuses to string together the large-scale action scenes, and little else. Again, the amusing and genuine character moments are also peppered where necessary to prevent this latest installment in the franchise from feeling wholly disposable, but as much as Fate of the Furious musters its straightforward themes of family even now, most viewers know by now that it’s all about the cars and mayhem in the end.
There are some genuinely clever references to previous movies in Fate of the Furious, continuing to build on this franchise’s surprisingly intricate minor continuity, but you’re still not getting a terribly complex storyline in this latest offering. After hacker villain, Cipher forces Dom to betray the team, the team has to work to try and stop Dom and Cipher from stealing WMD’s that could wreak havoc across the globe, while Dom struggles with the leverage being held over him. That’s it. That’s the whole storyline. It’s barely more than a premise, and that’s about par for the course in a Fast and Furious movie.
What’s pleasantly surprising about Fate of the Furious though is that its surprising emotional weight, which the previous Furious 7 managed particularly well after the fresh passing of Paul Walker, isn’t completely abandoned with the retiring of Brian and Mia. Instead, there’s a very shocking reason for why Cipher is able to control Dom so ruthlessly, and this is something that’s bound to affect the already-confirmed ninth and tenth movies in the franchise. Ultimately though, the plot of Fate of the Furious is very straightforward, proudly moronic, and won’t often hold your interest nearly as effectively whenever cars aren’t on the screen. Like I said, par for the course for a Fast and Furious movie.
This franchise has yet again swapped directors in its latest installment, with F. Gary Gray being the latest helmer to direct the new Fast and Furious movie. Gray hasn’t done much directing in recent years, but he did make quite a fantastic comeback with 2015’s exceptional N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton. Gray also manages to follow up that effort by directing a very worthy Fast and Furious movie here as well, fully embracing the outstanding stunts and innate absurdity that has fueled this franchise well since at least Fast Five.
As much as these movies are always big on scale and chaos, Gray particularly embraces destruction and over-the-top carnage, leading to an especially hair-raising Fast and Furious movie that sports no shortage of property damage. Like I said, there isn’t much logic to the action scenes, whether it’s a New York chase where Cipher has simultaneously hacked hundreds of auto-driving cars to send after targets and Dom’s crew alike, or a climax in the icy Russian tundra that has the heroes trying to outrun a deadly nuclear submarine. Despite the lack of realism though, Gray makes the scenes come alive with a fantastic attention to authentic, well-realized stunt work, with a minimum of intrusive CGI. As usual, almost all of the destruction, car wrecks and car stunts in Fate of the Furious are done with a real stunt crew, and the results continue to impress, with these movies continuing to stand as some of the most ambitious and coolest-looking action blockbusters out of Hollywood at this point!
Fate of the Furious also sports an IMAX cut, and was even released in 3D in international regions, though the 3D and IMAX 3D cuts of the movie are unavailable here in North America. Instead, only a 2D IMAX release is offered in domestic territories as a premium option for Fate of the Furious, and if you want to crank even more noise and muscle out of the high-powered cars and truly incredible wrecks, you might as well spring for the IMAX cut, which at least gives you that extra audio power. It’s certainly not essential, since you’ll function just as well with a regular digital screening, with only a small downgrade in audio and a slight downgrade in screen real estate for regular theatres, but either way, Gray’s direction continues to ensure that Fate of the Furious is polished, well-produced, and worthy of these movies’ highly impressive stunt credibility.
What else can be said about Fate of the Furious? Like most of its predecessors, trying to extensively evaluate it almost feels redundant. If you enjoy the Fast and Furious movies, or simply enjoy cool-looking action blockbusters that don’t have to be realistic or believable, then you will continue to enjoy Fate of the Furious, which stands as another of this series’ especially enjoyable entries. If you are hung up on realism, logic, common sense and other party-pooping considerations, then you will hate the proudly empty-headed Fate of the Furious, and should steer clear of it, though that should really be apparent by the eighth go-around for this franchise.
As far as good popcorn flicks go though, the Fast and Furious franchise continues to defy expectation. Somehow, the ridiculous creative spark of this series hasn’t gone out by its eighth movie, even with the tragic loss of Paul Walker, and just when you think there’s no way that the previous movie could be topped, you’re always proven wrong by the next sequel. Sometimes, it’s not so bad to just turn your brain off and have a good time at the movies, and Fate of the Furious will certainly deliver that to anyone who is just in it for the good-natured silliness, as they should be.
- Solid concept made better by Theron's standout villain
- Exceptionally fun dialogue, especially between Johnson and Statham
- The stunt work is still universally over-the-top and fantastic
- Still highly unrealistic and stupid, if that matters to you
- A few scenes that drag without cars involved