3.5 out of 5 stars.
By the time a franchise reaches its eighth movie—if it even continues for that long—it usually is beginning to show signs of slowing down. “The Fast and the Furious,” however, seems to be doing the opposite. In fact, the eighth film in that series, titled “The Fate of the Furious” (or “F8,” if you’re into cutesy abbreviations), marks the start of what could be a new chapter of the franchise. But while it’s still B-movie fun with an A-movie budget, there’s something oddly dissatisfying about “Fate,” which veers the series further into spy movie territory.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, the film opens in Havana, where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his long-time girlfriend, now wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon. For a while, everything is blissful; the first scenes involve an intense street race between Dom and Fernando (Janmarco Santiago), a local racer who is owed some money for a car from Dom’s cousin, but even that conflict ends happily. But then Dom runs across Cipher (Charlize Theron), an elusive and highly skilled, highly dangerous hacker/terrorist who shows Dom something on a phone that convinces him to betray his team and come work for her. They travel the globe, stealing nuclear devices and technology like the God’s Eye (which was introduced in the previous film) that will help Cipher start a nuclear war and become the most powerful person on the planet. All the while, Dom’s old team is in pursuit, not knowing the reason why Dom suddenly betrayed them.
“The Fate of the Furious” is the first film in the series outside of the weird one-off “Tokyo Drift” to not feature Paul Walker as Dom’s best friend and brother-in-law Brian (Walker was killed in a car accident in 2013, and his character was retired at the end of “Fast 7”). This film also has a story that takes a different approach from the previous films. The running theme of the series is family, and this is the first story that separates Dom from that family he declares is so important to him for much of the movie. That, along with the absence of Walker, creates a slightly different dynamic, but not different enough to reflect the conflict the characters go through in this film. Just think about all that these characters—most of which have been present for the majority of all eight films—have been through together, from street racing to heists to crazy spy jobs for mysterious government agencies. Their reactions to Dom’s betrayal should have been extreme, but they aren’t. Sure, they’re upset, Letty most importantly, but not on any sort of believable level. There’s still a lot of wisecracking and petty shenanigans between Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Parker (Ludacris), as well as Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), sworn enemies who are forced by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to work together to figure all this out. They don’t appear to take the situation any more seriously than they would with anything else, and when Dom eventually comes back to them as suddenly as he left, they don’t stop to question it for a second. Yes, this is supposed to be a fun action movie, but there were a lot of missed opportunities to play up the more dramatic aspects. A couple times Cipher presses Dom by saying that family isn’t actually the most important thing to him, it’s racing, and those moments where he doesn’t feel like he has any obligations to anything or anyone. But that conflict within Dom isn’t pushed any further than that.
Of course, it’s probably also too much to ask for a movie in the “Fast and Furious” franchise to be believable. This film is filled with the sort of crazy, unbelievable, over-the-top action sequences that the series has come to be known for, and continues to top itself in that regard. In the middle of the film, there’s a sequence in which Cipher pursues the Russian Minister of Defense through the streets of New York City by remotely hacking cars and having them pursue him. A swarm of driverless cars all move in unison, while at one point cars in a display room start to dive out of a window, and the visual is quite jaw-dropping. But the film’s crowning achievement is saved for the climax. Just when the movie begins to feel too tired, the gang engages in a high speed chase on the ice in Russia, pursued by a gigantic submarine. Say what you will about the rest of the film’s merit; it’s the sort of good time that people look for in this series, and it delivers.
The cast from the previous films are back and doing their usual thing (Johnson and Statham seem to particularly relish their roles, with Statham getting some of the best scenes in the movie during the climax), with the addition of a few newcomers who don’t really contribute much. Scott Eastwood joins the cast as Eric Reisner, the straight-laced new associate of Mr. Nobody whose sole purpose seems to be to give Roman someone to crack jokes about. Theron’s villain isn’t all that interesting, but it isn’t her fault. Cipher appears to be all talk and no action; she hires Dom to do her dirty work, and even has hacker minions who she commands to do simple things like pull up camera footage, all from the safety of her secret plane. But there are some cameos from players who are both new and old from the “Fast and Furious” franchise; I won’t mention them here and ruin the surprises, but fans of the previous films will likely be happy to see so many familiar faces pop up. I won’t say exactly who so as not to spoil the surprises, but there are some fun cameos from people who both have and have not appeared in the franchise before.
The ending of “Furious 7” would have made a perfect conclusion to the series, but even the ending of “Fate” is more than adequate, paying tribute to Brian/Paul Walker in perfect fashion and giving Dom a reason to get out of the business and be with family like Brian. However, it also leaves things open for an inevitable ninth installment. As fun as this movie is overall, it’s easy to see that the series has already peaked, and hard to see how far this spy thriller element (which already feels tired) can go. But with as many changes as the “Fast and Furious” franchise has seen over the years, it could just as easily kick into another gear and bring these characters into situations that even eight movies haven’t touched yet.
Runtime: 136 minutes. Rated PG-13.