The Fast and the Furious is one of the more inexplicable franchises out there. Who would have thought that we’d go from a 2001 car chase/heist movie built around portable DVD player thieves into a team of car based spies clearing their names by driving on a frozen ocean from a giant submarine? Yes, with The Fate of the Furious – the eighth entry in the surprising juggernaut action series – there’s plenty of wild stunts, elaborate cars and themes of “family” that we’re all familiar with. Going into it though, there’s a bit of doubt as to how this franchise can carry on. After director of installments 3-6 Justin Lin reinvited the property for its new elaborate action context (and perfected that concept with Fast Five), noted horror director James Wan took the reigns of Furious 7 to deliver another thrilling action ride that ended on a genuinely sweet note for deceased co-star Paul Walker. Now, how could F. Gary Gray (Friday, Straight Outta Compton) take this machismo soap opera action fantasy and give it a renewed purpose?
Well, F. Gary Gray at least tries to carry over elements from his earlier films into The Fate of the Furious. Mainly, a love for the back and forth between confident personalities. Some of this falls into more franchise old hat, particularly with the continued comedic relief of Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges having their typical banter over women. Through no real fault of Gray’s ability to shoot such interactions, these moments have just sort of become stale in the grand scheme of The Fast and the Furious chronology. The two of them continue to make Nathalie Emmanuel an object of desire, which to be fair is a lingering aspect from the original films I was never that big a fan of. The type of unconfident machismo that feels rather dated in a modern context. It’s the most guilty aspect in calling The Fast and the Furious franchise a “guilty pleasure.” Where most of the female characters are either plot devices or objects to be won.
The only real exception here being Michelle Rodriguez, who is attraction to Vin Diesel at least seems genuine and respectful towards both as individuals. This especially gets complicated during the more spoilery second act reveals of The Fate of the Furious. Where the continuity is brought back into the equation for the type of soap opera reveal that ultimately squanders a motivation for Vin Diesel to turn rogue. It’s not out of character, but at the same time it brings a cliche to the table that doesn’t push the stakes to over the top dramatic heights as much as rather middling ones that feel passe, even for the Fast franchise, Diesel overreactions aside.
Honestly, the best interaction really settles itself between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson. Both trade barbs so well that it really just makes me want to see them have a buddy picture outside of The Fate of the Furious. Here is where the machismo charisma actually has something to back it up. Statham and Johnson are just moments away from ripping their orange jumpsuits the moment they meet in prison, playing a volume pointed game of The Dozens that makes their action beats all the more fun to see. The two of them also have some of the best individual character moments. Johnson leads an entire girl’s soccer team in a war chant. Statham has an entire hallway action sequence down a plane protecting a rather key package to the plot.
Then again, respect towards individuals isn’t really that heavily a factor towards anyone – regardless of gender – with The Fate of the Furious or any of the franchise’s previous installments. They do mainly serve as action figures to pack into vehicle that break the laws of physics at any given time. F. Gary Gray’s competency here is fairly uneven. The best car specific stunt is the opening street race, which has just the right mixture of drifting through city scapes and crazy manic logic that produces the type of astonished laughs that make The Fast and the Furious… well, fast and furious. There’s another rather ridiculously massive sequence where cars basically turn into zombies and pile up on the streets. It’s maddening, but in a fashion that’s insanely fun to watch.
Still, there are massive pacing issues with some of these action scenes. Mainly, the over bloated climax. The cutting between multiple different set pieces and fights isn’t uncommon to The Fast and the Furious, particularly for the last few entries. Yet, The Fate of the Furious doesn’t really take advantage of much that’s set up for some of these action beats. There’s a clunkiness to the pacing between moments of pure volatile car explosions and the one-on-one fights. This isn’t just during the final climactic moments though, as there are several scenes that involve the puzzlingly dull back and forths of hacking and Jason Bourne-style looking at monitors that feel so unnecessary to the Fast franchise, grinding this franchise to an extreme hault in favor of the lamest visualized hacking scenes in recent cinematic history. There’s a real tonal fracturing as well, with Charlize Theron’s villain doing things far darker than any Fast villain followed by happy-go-lucky goofing from the cast.
It’s the type of start-and-stop I would have feared from Gray, a relatively inexperienced action director. Lots of slow mo pauses to show off the stunt work or effects, but not nearly enough focus on individual characters directly dealing with the consequences. Even at its most elaborately CG, the previous Fast films kept the cast’s reactions front and center during the chaos. Here, the moment that’s front and center is Tyrese doing his usual screaming schtick. This is especially frustrating with someone like Rodriguez, who is going through the bigger emotional stakes of The Fate of the Furious yet is mostly relegated to punching henchmen and driving.
Of course, all of this cuts deep into the major issue with The Fate of the Furious; a desire to have its cake and eat it too in a way that betrays a goofy yet core element of the franchise. Vin Diesel’s major catchphrase and the element that keeps these people together is the conceit of “family.” Cheap and familiar, but a decent emotional clothing line to string along these thin characters with entertaining actors behind them. The type of rapport that the actors have built over the course of several films and was so key in particular to the conclusion of Furious 7. So, with the added twist of Diesel going rogue with Charlize Theron to turn his back on family, one would figure that there would be a more consistent broken trend amongst everyone here. After all, they all care about family. They love the idea of having each other in their lives. Hell, most of these movies end with a big barbecue to signify their attachments to one another.
Yet, no one seems too broken up about the fracturing of family in The Fate of the Furious. Despite introducing an intriguing conceit that would genuinely shake up the series, things fall straight back into formula. For example, everyone clowning on Scott Eastwood‘s character, an underling of Kurt Russell‘s CIA badass Mr. Nobody who’s a rather flimsy stand in for the late Paul Walker. This is mere hours after Vin Diesel has completely turned his back on all of them and there’s no real remorse on anyone aside from Rodriguez. Even after Diesel has a passionate kiss with Theron in front of Rodriguez, there’s no follow up to it on the latter’s end. Hell, Statham straight up MURDERED their friend Han during the last film… and no one brings it up beyond a vague threat. No confrontation. No satisfaction. As simplistic as it sounds, The Fate of the Furious doesn’t even follow the most easy examples of set up and pay off correctly in a way that would satisfy its fanbase.
It may seem odd to be this genuine about the authenticity of the characters for The Fate of the Furious, but it’s something the series prides itself on. Even when the plots don’t make sense or the action is ridiculous, there’s a charm to seeing everyone come together and have a consistent warm glow to their interactions. Here, much of that is sacrificed and not even for something that truly changes the stakes in a way that drives us to somewhere new. We’re back at square one, making most of what’s happened before completely inconsequential… which is odd for a series so steeped in its convoluted continuity. That balance of absurdist storytelling and action are both essential to this franchise as it has stood for near a decades since its relaunch with 2009’s Fast and Furious. That entry is probably the best comparison point for The Fate of the Furious. Both took some risks and had a decent amount of thrills & character moments. Yet, both ultimately seem like forgettable stepping stones in the franchise. Hopefully, this means Fast and the Furious 9 will finally see the series reach the quality of Fast Five levels again. Only time will tell.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Exploding Engines
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