Back in December when the first trailer for Fate of the Furious trailer released, I wrote that the Fast and Furious franchise had mastered the art of mindless entertainment. In a formula born out of a newfound self-awareness for its target audience and the product it had in hand, the series shifted from a Point Break rip-off with a side of street racing to the no holds barred action film that continually pushes it to the next extreme while simultaneously throwing out all sense of logic. The latest entry in the franchise: The Fate of the Furious continues this trend but is far more reserved and cautionary than its predecessors which for a franchise built on continually pushing the needle marks a disappointing installment, to say the least.
By fully committing to action mayhem while disregarding most forms of plot convention, logic and character development as the last few Fast & Furious movies have you are polarizing a film to one element. Thus when these action scenes are executed well they deliver the intense adrenaline pumping feeling that the audience is looking for but the flip side to that is, in order to continually deliver on that feeling you must push the limits to new heights each time out to illicit the same response. F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) does his best behind the camera to maintain this mandate but struggles to keep the energy flowing across the 136-minute runtime.
Part of this is because Fate of the Furious has a paper thin plot, this time featuring Charlize Theron as new villain Cipher in a James Bond esque scheme that involves turning patriarch Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) against his “family”. The basic premise shows some promise but this potential is quickly dashed as the film fails to build any suspense marginalizing Dom from being any real threat to the family. Moreover, in a case of the screenwriters not trusting in the intelligence of the audience, expositional details are ham-fisted throughout rather than allowing it to be developed gradually for a more satisfying reveal. Theron is sorely underused relegated to mostly barking orders and playing off the robotic Vin Diesel – a shame given her pedigree especially coming off the insanity that is Mad Max: Fury Road which you’d think would make her an ideal fit in the equally ridiculous world of Fast & Furious.
Separating Diesel from the rest of the cast for large portions of the film also proves to be detrimental as the rest of the family doesn’t have much to do and though Michelle Rodriguez gives it her best effort, there is just not enough there for them to work with. In an effort to overcome the loss of Diesel, Jason Statham (AKA the villain from Furious 7 Deckard Shaw) gets added to the mix but he fails to add much to the group dynamic beyond a rather shallow rivalry with Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs. Here the absence of Paul Walker is felt the most as the interplay between him and Diesel have been some of the high points of the series, without him Diesel’s performance is even more disjointed and uninspired.
Of course, the counterargument is that Fast and Furious has never been about acting talent or intricate plot, people come for action so how’s the action? Well… outside of a race across the streets of Cuba that harkens back to the series’ roots and one decently executed prison scene featuring Johnson the rest of the scenes are pretty bland. Statham gets one scene reminiscent of Chow Yun Fat in Hardboiled complete with infant and all but F. Gary Gray does not have John Woo’s expertise in creating a bullet opera. As a result, his scene comes off as choppy and a victim of excessive editing in comparison to the free flowing nature of the scene it is paying homage to.
After watching the crew jump cars out of a plane onto a side of a mountain and jump from building to building in said cars, watching them out run a submarine is pretty underwhelming. Ultimately when choosing to commit to the formula that the last few movies have set, everything becomes second to the magnitude of the action and we’ve reached a point now where a poorly realized scene such as the one in the climax fails to match the heights set by its predecessors. This is the downside to putting all your eggs on one element. As much as doing so can protect the film from critics (“critics don’t understand what the Fast and Furious are truly about”) it also places immense pressure on the action to meet the ever-increasing expectations of its ever-expanding fanbase. It won’t stop the upward trajectory of the series as a massive box office draw, the fanbase has simply grown too large for that but that doesn’t make the film any less disappointing.
When tackling these types of films that often bring forth the “turn off your brain and watch” crowds I am often at a crossroads. I think that if you are a fan of the franchise, nothing here will dissuade you from enjoying this one or even actively anticipating the next one but even as a “just for fun” movie I think that there are better options out there this week including Power Rangers and the recently released Free Fire. Awarding ambition is the key criteria here as I would much rather sit through a film that tries something out of the box and fails than something that plays it safe and coasts to the finish line. The best movies in the franchise (for me) have been Tokyo Drift, Fast Five and Furious 7 because despite the wooden acting, ridiculous plot and cringe-worthy one-liners that is rampant throughout the series, these three took more risks, attempted to do something different or in the case of Furious 7 showed genuine heart. Fate of the Furious is passive and fails to be anything other than a generic sequel that squanders the momentum it has slowly built up over the last few installments. As the franchise heads towards its endpoint with the tenth film reportedly being its last, you have to question whether it will make it to that point racing at full speed or will it drag itself across the final stretch?
DIRECTED BY: F. GARY GRAY
STARRING: VIN DIESEL, DWAYNE JOHNSON, CHARLIZE THERON
SCREENPLAY BY: CHRIS MORGAN