OnScreen Review: 'The Fate of the Furious'

Ken Jones

  • OnScreen Chief Film Critic

It’s perhaps ironic that the show 24 returned to TV the same year that Fate of the Furious released in theaters.  Back during its initial 8-season run, 24 had a certain formula it would always follow.  Viewers always knew that at some time around the midpoint of the season, CTU agent Jack Bauer would be compromised and have to work for the villains for at least one episode, sometimes two or three.  Invariably, this was because they were threatening to kill his daughter, his love interest, the President, or someone close to Jack.  Jack would go along with it, switching sides and fighting against the people he had been working alongside up to that point.  As it so happens, this is the narrative thrust of the eighth entry in the Fast & Furious franchise.

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying their honeymoon in Cuba when Dom is approached by a mysterious woman named Cypher (Charlize Theron) about using his skills to help her criminal plans.  What she has that convinces Dom to do this is not made immediately clear.  When Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is asked to infiltrate a European facility and retrieve an EMP, he brings Dom, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emanuel) along as his team.  Dom’s double cross leaves Hobbs locked up in a maximum security black site and the rest of them as wanted international fugitives.  Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new trainee (Scott Eastwood) help Hobbs escape, along with recruiting the villain of Fast 7, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to help them track down Dom and Cypher before she can execute whatever plans she has.

For the crowd that just enjoys pure, mindless action, there is plenty here to enjoy.  Every car looks pristine, of course.  There is an obligatory street race to open the movie, paying service to the car culture so central to the first few entries in this series before it transitioned to being about a squad of gearheads who used their skills to take down international criminal organizations.  With the opening set in Cuba, the screen is littered with classic cars.  The locales shift from Cuba to Germany, New York, and Russia with each sequence in a new locations being bigger and more absurd than the previous one.  The movie opens with Dom racing a car backwards while it is on fire to win a race, and it culminates with him and the others racing across a frozen lake while a submarine breaks through the ice attempting to take them out.  In between, there is a massive car chase through New York City where unmanned cars literally fall out of the sky.

While I said things get bigger and more absurd, this is not necessarily a bad thing all the time.  A lot of the fighting and the car chases are expertly choreographed and beautifully filmed.  One positive quality of the Fast & Furious franchise has been its eye for action.  The people involved in the making of this film, from director F. Gary Gray on down, know how to make everything happening on screen look good, whether it is The Rock and Jason Statham navigating their way through a prison riot or Dom facing down his friends in their respective vehicles as they surround him and shoot cables into his car to try and keep him from moving.  Seeing The Rock, who looks the part of a superhuman, take rubber bullets from prison guards and just shrug them off and kick three guys through a door at once is completely over the top but also hilariously entertaining.  At its best, the action in the Fast & Furious franchise can be as enjoyable as that of John Wick or other action films that are thoroughly enjoyable.

Where The Fate of the Furious stumbles, though, is that it is unable to sustain that through the entirety of the film.  It’s a bi-polar movie experience.  One minute I’m laughing and shaking my head at the absurdity I am seeing on screen and then five minutes later I am groaning and shaking my head at the absurdity I am seeing on screen or the dialogue I am hearing, particularly from Tyrese.  I would not object to his character being killed off in the next movie.  It reminded me of the recent State Farm commercials where the voiceover says, “State Farm knows that for every one of these moments, there are moments like these.”  There is good action absurdity and bad action absurdity and no other franchise jumps back and forth between both quite like The Fast & the Furious franchise. 

Plot holes are another issue hampering the movie.  There are some that you could drive a car, or steer a submarine through.  It’s no big surprise that by the end of the film Dom will eventually turn the tables and manage to ultimately wind up fighting with the forces of good to save the day by the end, it’s just a matter of how the movie gets him there.  It has to go through so many strained contortions and suspensions of disbelief and wondering how he and others found the time when he was constantly under the watchful eye of Theron’s Cypher that he is able to orchestrate what he does to get free.  Hardly any of that is plausible, and they figure they can obfuscate that by throwing enough shiny objects and explosions.  It’s almost Trumpian; much in the same way Donald Trump throws so much out there that it’s hard to focus in on the big lies because of the sheer volume of it all, The Fate of the Furious throws so much at you that the holes in the story slip through the cracks because of the sheer volume of everything being thrown on the screen.

The film also has some serious internal continuity issues.  For all of its flaws, the franchise has had its own internal logic that always made sense to the franchise and everyone’s actions ultimately made sense in the context of the universe of the franchise.  That is tossed aside in some major ways, particularly in relation to Statham’s Deckard, who, it should be mentioned, blew up Dom’s house and murdered their friend Han.  The fact that halfway through the movie he is cracking jokes with The Rock and then things go a step further in the third act is completely bonkers. 

Regarding the addition of Theron, she is given practically zero action.  Her role is essentially the nefarious villain who is controlling events from a secure location for most of the film.  In fact, she spends most of her screen time in an airplane typing on a keyboard and reacting to the action she is seeing on monitors.  When given the chance, she gets to chew some scenery.  In addition to Theron, Dame Helen Mirren shows up in a small cameo, and, because the film is rated PG-13 and can only have one F-bomb, it’s entertaining that she gets to be the one to drop it.

Nobody goes to a film in this franchise expecting an Oscar-worthy viewing experience.  It’s purely mindless entertainment and I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a place for that in the movie landscape.  But The Fate of the Furious is fundamentally lacking in some important departments.  I love getting lost in a movie as much as anybody and am more than willing to suspend my disbelief most of the time.  But when the running theme of a franchise is the importance of family and some of the major story elements betray that theme, it’s problematic.  There’s a lot that can be overlooked because there is also a lot that can be enjoyed.  But there are some elements that just don’t fit.  At one point in the film, Charlize Theron’s Cypher says to Dom, “Why live only a quarter mile at a time when you can live your whole life that way?”  I have no doubt the screenwriter thought it was the cleverest line of the entire script, but it’s really makes zero sense if you really start to think about it.  And like that line, The Fate of the Furious doesn’t really make a lot sense if you think about it for more than 5 seconds.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars