Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ludaris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood, Kurt Russell, Helen Mirren
Hollywood’s most unlikely mega-franchise returns with the awkwardly titled The Fate of the Furious. Not having skipped a beat since the tragic death of Paul Walker, this eighth instalment in the Fast and Furious series has retooled with a new director and the addition of not one but two Academy Award winning actresses to the cast.
While honeymooning in Havana with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom (Vin Diesel) is approached by the cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) with a proposition. When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) calls in Dom and his team to help recover a stolen EMP device in Berlin, the unthinkable happens as Dom betrays them, stealing the weapon and driving off. With the team determined to discover what could lead Dom to turn his back on his family, and the government determined to work out Cipher’s endgame, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) insists that their best chance of catching up with Dom is for Hobbs and the gang to join forces with their once sworn enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).
Under new director F. Gary Gray, The Fate of the Furious attempts to follow the formula which has helped turn this franchise into one of the most lucrative in history, but it can’t help but feel slightly different. The Dom Toretto, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) relationship which has always been at the heart of the team and the series is absent. With Brian missing for obvious reasons (though he is still alive in the world of the story, so there is a line thrown in to explain his absence), and the narrative dictating that Dom spends most of the film separate from the group, the team is left without its usual leaders. Johnson and Statham (who enjoys a lot of screen time due to the significant retconning required to turn him from the villain who previously murdered one of the team members into an acceptable ally) take up that central mantle, allowing Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) to remain in supporting roles. While this changes the dynamic, it is somewhat of a blessing as both Johnson and Statham exude significantly more charisma than Diesel ever has.
Since reinventing itself with Fast Five – transitioning from being about street racing to being about a team of elite super spies – the key to the franchise’s success has been a very carefully managed tone. These films engage in a particular kind of ludicrous escapism. In a few key moments, however, The Fate of the Furious, misses that tone. At the beginning we have a scene in which Hobbs is coaching his daughter’s soccer team which is too silly, and then later in the film Cipher does something which is just too dark. Both instances are jarring, going beyond the limits from what we accept of this world.
The action sequences, however, are on point. Having previously directed the 2003 remake of The Italian Job, Gray is no stranger to car-based action sequences, if not quite on the scale of this franchise. If you are going to make a Fast and Furious movie you have to go big or go home, and go big he does, with the highlights being a mass chase through New York in which Cipher manages to hack and remotely control every car with an onboard computer, and a climactic sequence in which the team are being chased down an iced over lake in Russia by a nuclear submarine.
Declaring whether The Fate of the Furious is good or bad movie is a largely pointless exercise. It is almost too reductive. At their ridiculous best, the Fast and Furious films have always walked that finest of lines between being terrible and terrific. They are big, dumb fun, and The Fate of the Furious is no exception. Is the dialogue eye roll worthy? Yes. Is the plot nonsensical? Yes. Does any of that impact your ability to enjoy the film? Only a little bit. This franchise knows exactly what it is, and The Fate of the Furious does not stray far from the formula, but whether it is some tonal troubles or simply the law of diminishing returns, this eighth instalment doesn’t reach the level of the last three.
Review by Duncan McLean
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