Vin Diesel as Dom Torretto
Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs
Charlize Theron as Cipher
Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw
Michelle Rodriguez as Letty
Tyrese Gibson as Roman
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as Tej Parker
Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey
Elsa Pataky as Elena
Scott Eastwood as Little Nobody
Kristofer Hivju as Rhodes
Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody
Helen Mirren as Magdalene Shaw
So the franchise that was once The Little Engine That Could has become a juggernaut of global record-smashing proportions, with fans who have been there from the very beginning, to more recent appreciators who have only joined since the Fast & Furious series became a massive action-adventure saga that spanned the globe like James Bond on steroids. Even critics have come along for the ride; the fifth, sixth, and seventh films are quite well regarded as delivering on entertainment and thrills without compromising what makes these movies so endearing since the first film in 2001. These movies have not forgotten where they have come from. I’m a fan.
Which is what makes The Fate of the Furious a bit of a letdown, but it was almost to be expected – the last three films have been the pinnacle of this saga, and it was, pardon the pun, fate that the eighth film in the series wouldn’t be able to hold up to the last three films. The tires are starting to show their treads, and while the engine may not need an oil change quite yet, it couldn’t hurt to take the car to the wash. While there is still a lot to love in this series, especially for fans, The Fate of the Furious brings the franchise into more familiar territory, and any films that come after will have to up their game to sustain the fun of the previous films.
Consider this more tempering expectations than a negative review, though. There is still plenty to love about The Fate of the Furious, especially if you’ve become as invested in this silly, brave, loyal, kickass family as I have. Dwayne Johnson is still a blast as Hobbs, all testosterone and tank top, Tyrese is still the class clown, Ludacris is the techie, Michelle Rodriguez is the heart, and then there is Dominic Torretto, full of glower and honor, and Vin Diesel plays Dom as a man who has made peace with the world… that is, until Cipher (Charlize Theron) enters his life and drops a bombshell that causes Dom to turn his back on his beloved family and seemingly go rogue. Cipher’s goal is nothing less than world domination, and Dom is her key to making it happen. Dom actually has a pretty compelling reason to go “bad,” best revealed in the movie, but this isn’t so much a shift in loyalty as it is a shift in priorities. Mr. Nobody recognizes the danger Cipher represents, and brings along Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to help the team stop Dom and Cipher’s plans. Hobbs and Deckard are probably a folding chair short of a cage match brawl throughout most of the movie, and it’s a blast watching Johnson and Statham rage at each other through the film.
So what’s the problem? Well, it’s not one big thing, but a few disconcerting minor issues that eventually add up. First, while F. Gary Gray is capable in his direction, one fight sequence in a prison has so much shaky camerawork that it’s almost impossible to see what’s going on, which is a shame because it puts the physical presences of both Johnson and Statham on the sidelines for a bit of fake intensity. These movies also have a hilarious habit of making all the tech almost to the level of Star Trek: The Next Generation technobabble. Watching Cipher and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) have what amounts to a hack-off is gloriously, apologetically dumb. The first half of The Fate of the Furious is waiting for all the pieces to come together, and while it’s not exactly a slog, it takes a while for the movie to find its pace.
In fact, much of this franchise’s spectacular action doesn’t really kick in until the middle, during a terrific sequence in New York City involving the team, Dom, and about a thousand automated cars. From that point in the movie, the action is top-notch, but until then, The Fate of the Furious is on unsteady ground. The final climax on an Iceland glacier is just as strong as any of the others, and Gray intercuts various action pieces with all the impact of the best endings in the Fast & Furious series.
Also on unsteady ground – Vin Diesel’s work as Dom this time around, although to be fair he’s the antagonist, and Diesel’s taking Dom into unfamiliar territory. This time, everyone else but Diesel gets to have more fun, while all Diesel gets to do is be sidelined as Cipher’s lackey. Diesel does get a nice moment when the reason for his betrayal is revealed – and I’ll be honest, it surprised me when I saw it in the theater, although I should have seen it coming a million miles away, since it’s practically the central thesis of this franchise – but for the most part, Vin Diesel doesn’t get to play as much as his co-stars.
Another, sadder issue – I really missed Paul Walker in The Fate of the Furious. His earnest, aw shucks heart is sorely needed at times, and in his absence, we can see just how important Walker was to these movies, and not just as Dom’s best friend, either. Without Brian, Dom comes across as somewhat lost, with only Rodriguez’s Letty to anchor him, and while the film tries to give us something of a surrogate character in Scott Eastwood’s Little Nobody, he just doesn’t have the same kind of impact Paul Walker had. It’s not Eastwood’s fault, either – Little Nobody is something of a thankless role, and if the character returns in subsequent films, he’ll probably have more to do. It is, of course, always fun to see Kurt Russell again, and I hope he stays with this series, because he gives all this ridiculous bombast some class and, dare I say, legitimacy.
As a piece of the larger franchise, there are some interesting plot twists in The Fate of the Furious, not least of which is the use of Statham’s Deckard and a very Hard Boiled-inspired action sequence involving him at the climax of the movie. We also learn more about Deckard and his goals, and I’m certain that will come into play in later films (at least, I hope it does). These movies have always been about watching enemies become friends, ever since the very first film. There’s something a little forced about how Deckard becomes a part of that theme (Deckard did, after all, kill Han, one of the most beloved characters of the series), but there’s no denying that family is what these movies are all about. It’s obvious, it’s corny, and it works. That’s what makes this series so satisfying, even at its silliest – when the movie talks about family, it means it. It’s an ensemble, it’s a shared joy, and diverse, and it feels like coming home. Even through the weaker aspects of The Fate of the Furious, that sense of love shines through, and it’s why we keep coming back to this family time and time again.
If Vin Diesel is to be believed, there’s two films left in this saga, and the pieces are there to finish off this franchise in grand style. Think of The Fate of the Furious as the breather before the plunge. It’s good, but it’s not as great as 5, 6, or 7… but really, few franchises can sustain this kind of energy and entertainment for this long, so we were due for a film that can’t keep up. But that’s fine – for those of us who have been there since the beginning, these movies are still thrilling, heartfelt, and wildly entertaining.