In Havana, Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) cousin (Janmarco Santiago) gets his car towed by the man with the fastest car in Cuba. Toretto challenges the man to a race for the cousin’s car. What comes from this is a race of the fastest car against the slowest car. It is a race predicated on family and honor, and, of course, Dom wins.
Those unfamiliar to the The Fast and The Furious franchise may find this cold open to The Fate of the Furious, this eighth installment to the series, silly, both in theme and in how it plays out. But it is also exactly what people have come to expect with these films. Dom always wins. And it is always about family.
It is fitting, then, when Dom gets roped into the criminal masterplan of Cipher (Charlize Theron), the most powerful hacker in the world. Their relationship is entirely about honor and family, and it is this tension that sets the stage for Dom’s ultimate betrayal of his team.
This team is assembled by Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs, a DSS agent whose introduction in the film may be the best introduction of a Rock character in history. When an EMP is discovered in Berlin, Hobbs assembles Dom, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) to steal it before it is used by the wrong people.
When Dom turns on the team, they end up in jail, and are quickly sprung out by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his protege (Scott Eastwood) in order to track down Cipher.
Confused yet? Good, because this whole setup is part of the smoke and mirrors game that the Fast & Furious films play with its audience. Throw a bunch of plot points at the fan until it resembles a coherent film.
What it actually is is a series of increasingly elaborate set pieces strewn together with people quipping and saying ominous things to each other as they bounce around the globe in a cat-and-mouse game. It’s pretty much the same in every movie.
The best means of judging these films, then, is to put more weight on the action than the scripting.
The first explosive set piece is a large prison riot involving The Rock and Jason Statham (did I not mention that Statham is back in this one, ’cause he is). It is a fantastically-choreographed, frenetic hand-to-hand combat sequence. The camera may bob and weave a tad too much, but overall it is an exhilarating sequence that gets the audience ready for the film ahead.
Unfortunately, the film ahead only rarely lives up to this bar. The energy and direction, by and large, is pretty great. The pacing of the action sequences, helped along by incredible editing, is high octane and engaging. Shot choices like collision shots from car-mounted cameras are similarly engaging, if not messy. F. Gary Gray’s direction is strong.
But the film is a downward trajectory. It is an experiment in the law of diminishing returns. Each set piece lacks the drive of the last one, even though the urgency of the narrative rises appropriately.
It is a consistent phenomenon that the Fast & Furious films, even at their most enjoyable, are 15-20 minutes too long. In the case of The Fate of the Furious, is is about 40 minutes too long.
By the final act of the film, the energy of the prison riot sequence is gone, replaced by a bigger-is-better mentality. This bigger and better (it is another convention of Fast & Furious that the climax involves the team in their cars facing off against a vehicle that is larger than a car) is not really better. In fact, the climax involves some of the strangest, most disorienting camera work in the film.
There are some fun, if not foreseeable, twists and turns in the climax. But the whole thing is elongated to a cumbersome degree.
Not cohesive and non-sensical, The Fate of the Furious is par for the course of The Fast and the Furious franchise. Still, the flashy direction and snappy editing does not make up for the lack of engrossing action in the long-term.
While not receding back to the early days of the franchise before it found its formulaic footing, The Fate of the Furious nevertheless fails to function as the proper beginning for a new “trilogy” of Fast films.
The Fate of the Furious: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)