The Fate of the Furious is a solid addition to the franchise, but falls short of the bar set by recent Fast & Furious installments.
Dominic (Vin Diesel) and Letty Toretto (Michelle Rodriguez) are finally enjoying their honeymoon in Cuba and even giving thought to their future together, now that their lives have settled down (as much as Dom’s life ever settles down, anyway). Everything changes one day when, without warning, Dom is approached by a mysterious woman who calls herself Cipher (Charlize Theron) and is forced into carrying out her criminal bidding, for reasons that he cannot reveal to his trusted team and family – without suffering terrible consequences, in the process.
Upon betraying his team, including Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), during an off-the-books mission that involves a dangerous device that Cipher wants to get her hands on, Dom finds himself a fugitive from justice yet again – with those closest to him, Letty included, left to wonder why Dom has turned his back on them and “gone rogue”. It soon becomes clear that Hobbs and the others will need all the help they can get, in order to stop whatever this terrible plan is that the “high-tech terrorist” Cipher has set in motion… even if that means working alongside someone like their sworn enemy, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).
The eighth installment overall in the Fast & Furious franchise, The Fate of the Furious is the first Fast & Furious movie released since Paul Walker’s passing during production on Furious 7. With respected genre filmmaker F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton) at the helm, Fate of the Furious ultimately manages to transition the larger Fast & Furious franchise into the post-Walker era and pave the way for a new trilogy-in-development… though not without encountering some bumps in the road along the way. The Fate of the Furious is a solid addition to the franchise, but falls short of the bar set by recent Fast & Furious installments.
Fate of the Furious and longtime Fast & Furious movie series writer, Chris Morgan is given an admittedly daunting task here: to fully transition this franchise into James Bond-style globetrotting action (building on elements, such as the Mr. Nobody character, that were introduced in Furious 7), while at the same time picking up loose story threads from previous installments – Fast Five and Furious 6, to be specific – and laying the foundation for the next trilogy of Fast & Furious adventures. Morgan and his collaborators here are most successful at fulfilling the first and last of those three goals, but they do so by using narrative contrivances that strain credibility… even by the standards of the Fast & Furious property. Moreover, Fate of the Furious includes plot points that work in the context of the film, yet arguably do a disservice to key characters from previous installments and somewhat conflict with the themes of family that have long been championed by this franchise.
After being mostly sidelined during Furious 7 (due to The Rock’s packed work schedule), Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs serves as co-protagonist in Fate of the Furious opposite Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto – to the degree that the rest of the core Fast & Furious ensemble wind up being partly sidelined. Even as Fate of the Furious struggles to give its two biggest stars equal time in the spotlight, Johnson settles nicely into his evolving role here as the Fast & Furious movie franchise’s “co-hero” here. At the same time, Diesel delivers his most dramatic and emotionally-rich performance in a Fast & Furious movie to date; even as the actual “Evil Dom” storyline falls short of revealing more layers to his character. It remains to be seen if the franchise can continue to accommodate Johnson and Diesel hereon forward (giving Hobbs a spinoff seems like the obvious solution), but the real standout action star in Fate of the Furious is Jason Statham – not only during his fight scenes, but also his playful banter with Johnson as Hobbs and other important characters in the film.
The core Fast & Furious acting crew (see: Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges and Furious 7 addition Nathalie Emmanuel) are comfortable as ever in their respective roles in Fate of the Furious, though the new franchise additions get more attention here. Kristofer Hivju brings the same sense of menacing, if offbeat, presence to his role here as Cipher’s henchman Rhodes, as he does to his fan-favorite role as Tormund Giantsbane on Game of Thrones. Scott Eastwood, unfortunately, has less success playing a semi-literal replacement for Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody (whose reduced role here may be the result of Russell working on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 around the same time that Fate of the Furious was filming), outside of the scenes where he’s being physically and/or verbally tormented by the more seasoned, recurring Fast & Furious cast members.
Oscar-winner Charlize Theron brings a nice air of malice and ice-cold villainy to the character of Cipher, as her one-on-one scenes with Diesel are the most tense and suspenseful moments in Fate of the Furious (playing to director F. Gary Gray’s proven strength at crafting terse, character-driven drama). Fellow Oscar-winner Helen Mirren is fun in her small role here, though Fate of the Furious struggles to hide that Mirren’s character was a late addition to the project. There is potential for Mirren to play a more substantial role worthy of her talents in future Fast & Furious installments – but here her screen time mostly amounts to a glorified “special guest star” appearance.
From a directorial perspective, Gray and his production team succeed at delivering slickly-constructed action sequences (including, a major vehicle-based set piece for each narrative act) throughout The Fate of the Furious; at the same time, smoothly melding together those action scenes with equally over the top soap opera drama and cyber-warfare sequences. However, while the action in Fate of the Furious scales new heights of ridiculousness for even the Fast & Furious franchise, it lacks the distinct technical flourishes that directors James Wan and Justin Lin brought to the proceedings in previous installments. Fate of the Furious is thus another example that shows how being “bigger” in multiple respects (stunts, drama and the global scale of the plot) doesn’t necessarily result in a better spin on a familiar property; nor one that puts a fresh spin on the franchise’s tried-and-true cinematography/editing style, either.
As mentioned before, The Fate of the Furious juggles several balls in the air at once and isn’t lacking for ambition, from a franchise-progressing perspective. Because of that, the elements that have earned the Fast & Furious franchise a loyal fan following over the years (once that has rapidly grown since the release of Fast Five in 2011) aren’t handled as carefully, in what amounts to an overstuffed installment. Fate of the Furious nonetheless delivers enough in the way of enjoyable character interactions and delightfully silly action to make for a solid addition to the series – and now that the heavy lifting is out of the way, the stage has been set for the next (final?) two planned chapters to conclude the Fast & Furious saga on a stronger note.
The Fate of the Furious begins playing in U.S. theaters tonight. It is 136 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language.
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