It’s hard not to watch The Fate of the Furious and think about the void left by Paul Walker, who played one of the two main characters in the Fast & Furious franchise until his tragic death in 2013. Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner, was given a proper sendoff in Furious 7, which paid great tribute to the beloved actor and his place in the NOS-infused series. After seeing Furious 7, I figured this was not only a near-perfect way to end the story of Walker’s character, but also to end the franchise with the remaining characters in play. But being that the franchise continues to make money, another sequel was inevitable. Fast forward three years from Furious 7 and we now have The Fate of the Furious. While the latest entry offers a number of impressive, physics-defying action sequences and some good laughs, as a whole, none of it pushes the franchise either forward or in reverse, making The Fate of the Furious just “okay.”
Now that Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon, Brian and Mia have retired from the game, and the rest of the crew has been exonerated, the globetrotting team has found a semblance of a normal life. But when a mysterious woman seduces Dom back into a world of crime that he can’t seem to escape, the crew will face trials that will test them as never before.
The Fast & Furious franchise used to be about the races and what was at stake beyond the finish line. But in the last four entries, the franchise has morphed into a cross between James Bond and Mission: Impossible. Dominic Toretto’s team goes on a globetrotting expedition that results in an insane amount of property damage in order to save something. In The Fate of the Furious, Toretto goes rogue and Toretto’s team tries to track him down and figure out why he turned against them. Once the reason is revealed, you don’t necessarily feel what’s at stake for him and everyone involved. In fact, you’re left wondering when Toretto will flip the switch and rejoin his friends. That’s not to say it’s bad storytelling because you don’t sense much danger; it’s just not surprising or particularly interesting in a franchise centered around muscled-out cars.
Contributing to the feeling that nothing is at stake in The Fate of the Furious is Charlize Theron’s antagonist, Cipher, a cyber-terrorist bent on getting what she wants. If you had told me before I entered the theater that a character played by Charlize Theron would be the worst thing about a Fast & Furious movie, I would have called you crazy. But in The Fate of the Furious, Theron’s character is so cardboard and boring she never feels like a threat in any of scenes in which she appears. Charlize Theron is one of the best actresses in the business, but it’s unfortunate how screenwriter Chris Morgan gave her, by far, the franchise’s weakest antagonist.
Thankfully, however, the return of Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw in expanded roles help make up for the shortcomings of villainy in The Fate of the Furious. My big complaint with Furious 7 is how Johnson, who took the franchise to the next level beginning with Fast Five, was in the previous entry for only a couple of scenes. But here, Johnson’s Hobbs takes over Toretto’s team and it makes for some good chemistry between the returning ensemble cast who all play their parts well. Throw in Statham’s return, this time helping out Toretto’s team, and everything mixes together nicely. Being how Statham is one of the biggest action stars in the world, it’s not surprising that he delivers the movie’s most memorable action sequence, which doesn’t even involve a car, but I won’t spoil it here. Whenever The Fate of the Furious feels like it’s starting to turn into a bore, Hobbs and Shaw seem to pop up at the right time to give the movie juice when it needs it.
The Fate of the Furious features a handful of good, choreographed action sequences both in car chases and in hand-to-hand combat. We’ve seen the franchise seemingly go to every corner of the globe and handle driving in any weather condition. But this time, the sequence shown heavily in marketing the movie features a car-chase involving a submarine, which takes the franchise to a whole new level of ridiculous. Not only is it fun to watch the ensemble cast try to outrun a submarine on ice, it makes you wonder if the franchise will ever think of something more far-fetched than Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage from the xXx franchise; even he would be impressed if he were a part of this franchise. And, of course, let’s not forget about all the new cars–the real stars of these movies–that make us yearn to get behind the wheel and drive (especially Toretto’s Dodge Ice Charger).
If you’ve been with the Fast & Furious franchise since the beginning, you’re sure to get a kick out of many things in The Fate of the Furious. Two more sequels are planned in this franchise, but what more is there to do with these characters that we haven’t already seen since? Maybe I’m wrong and the franchise will wrap up nicely in the final two installments (before Universal reboots the franchise, which is all but guaranteed). But as it stands, The Fate of the Furious shifts the franchise into neutral and puts into question just how much more fuel does this franchise have.