Universal had the perfect opportunity to close the book on the Fast and Furious series after the seventh installment, which saw Paul Walker’s character driving off into the sunset in a moving tribute to the actor, who tragically perished during production. There was a sense of closure about those final moments, and longtime fans of the franchise knew things wouldn’t be the same.
But any reservations about continuing the series without Walker were put to rest when Furious 7 grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide. The studio forged ahead with plans not only for another film, but another trilogy, and the first entry into what promises to be a parade of diminishing returns has arrived with The Fate of the Furious, which finds Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew of precision wheelmen (and women) reuniting to assist Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in retrieving a stolen EMP device from a military base in Berlin.
That the mission is successful should come as no surprise – in fact, this is such a foregone conclusion that director F. Gary Gray doesn’t even bother to show us the heist itself, instead opting to join the crew during their getaway. Just when it looks like they’re in the clear, Dom runs Hobbs off the road and absconds with the EMP – turns out he’s been coerced into working for Cipher (Charlize Theron), a manipulative cyberterrorist with a mind-bogglingly elaborate scheme that earns points for originality – most villains of her ilk would be hell-bent on amassing wealth, but Cipher’s goals are far loftier.
In order to take down their former leader and his new boss, the crew will need all the help they can get, and Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) is more than happy to oblige. Of course, the assistance of a shadowy government agent comes with certain conditions, and this one’s a doozy: the crew will need to team up with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who spent the majority of the previous film trying to kill each and every one of them. No one is more infuriated about this proposal than Hobbs, who still harbors a personal vendetta against Shaw and would love nothing more than to drag him into a dark alley and “beat his ass like a Cherokee drum.”
Ridiculously convoluted plot elements aside, the biggest question is whether or not The Fate of the Furious can deliver on the high-octane action that has become the franchise’s calling card, and the answer is: mostly. The film has some truly great moments, but the majority of the sequences that would have elicited the biggest reactions from audience members have already been spoiled by the marketing campaign. Expensive cars zooming across a frozen lake with a submarine in hot pursuit is undeniably entertaining, but we’ve known about that scene since the Super Bowl – how much more spectacular would this moment have felt if we hadn’t already been expecting it?
The funny thing about spectacle is that it only works by contrast, and this is something The Fate of the Furious seems to forget. Whether it’s a parkour-infused prison riot or a standoff and pursuit in the busy streets of New York City, each action sequence is wildly over the top, but there’s so little downtime between these moments that it all begins to run together. It doesn’t help that Gray is far too reliant on CG over practical stunts, and if the quality of the digital effects is any indication, most of the film’s budget went toward paying the hefty salaries of its stars rather than crafting a reality was can become immersed in.
The Fate of the Furious coasts along thanks to its mostly endearing cast, especially Johnson and Statham as a pair of bitter rivals forced to trade insults rather than punches. Theron is obviously having fun as the blonde-tressed sociopath, but it’s disappointing that she spends most of the film isolated in her command center – after Mad Max: Fury Road, it would have been nice to see her take to the streets and meet the crew on their own turf. Diesel is every bit as gruff and wooden as usual, and Helen Mirren is mostly wasted in an all-too-brief supporting role as a foul-mouthed matriarch.
Overstuffed with over-the-top stunts and held together by a labyrinthine plot that strains the limits of credulity – even for this franchise – The Fate of the Furious isn’t quite bound for the junk heap, but it’s certainly the most disappointing entry in recent memory. After the near-perfect Fast Five and a pair of solid follow-ups, The Fate of the Furious provides a strong argument that the series is in dire need of a tune-up, lest it be dismantled and sold for scraps.
The first entry into what promises to be a parade of diminishing returns, this eighth installment lags behind previous installments thanks to an over-reliance on digital effects, an unnecessarily complicated plot, and too much focus on one-upping each previous action sequence.