There are three great sequences in F Gary Gray's “The Fate of the Furious,” (the eight installment of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise) a couple of which are strong set ups for movies in their own right.
The first is the movie’s opening sequence, set in the streets of Havana, Cuba, wherein Dom (Vin Diesel) challenges a random heavy Raldo (Celestino Cornielle) to a street race to defend his cousin’s and new wife Letty’s (Michelle Rodriguez) honor. It’s simple and well choreographed, and it even involves Dom driving an old beat up car that eventually catches on fire. The second sequence involves sometime government agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and mercenary Deckard (Jason Statham) in a German prison, who make trading insults into an art form. Seriously, I could watch these tough guys bicker back and fourth for hours. The sequence eventually culminates in an outrageous prison riot/melee fight. And the third sequence involves Deckard, his brother Owen (Luke Evans) and a third person who will remain unnamed so as not to spoil the fun or the plot. Lets just say a very famous British actress makes a delightful cameo. All three of these sequences are intimate and character driven, while also providing giddy action movie thrills.
I wish I could say these sequences were enough to make a good movie but that’s not the case. “The Fate of the Furious” can be awfully fun, thanks mostly to its lovable, vibrant band of silly characters. However, it can also feel excruciatingly dull and redundant. A lot of this has to do with the way the franchise has evolved. At around the fifth installment (“Fast Five”) these movies slowly turned from straightforward action flicks about illegal drag racing, gangsters and heists, into big dumb action cartoons involving physics defying action set pieces and global espionage. Dom, Letty and Hobbs, along with fellow crewmembers Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) became super spies, saving the world from terrorists and having fun doing it.
While the global espionage angle felt fresh in the sixth film and was tolerable in the seventh it now feels stale and uninspired. Super hacker/terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron, elegantly cunning and soft spoken) has stolen the launch codes for Russian nukes that she plans to set off, thereby plunging the world into chaos. That’s it. That’s her motivation. I know... bland, right? How many more movies involving nuclear weapons theft and the threat of world annihilation are we going to have to endure? On top of that, we get scene after scene of characters in high tech control rooms rapidly typing on computers, spouting technical mumbo jumbo that makes your mind wander and lots of hacking into various GPS/surveillance systems. Between the “Bourne” franchise and the countless other cyber action movies that have come out of late, this stuff is beyond played out.
Even the big finale, wherein the Fast crew infiltrates a Russian military base, can’t help but feel overwrought and disingenuous. These guys are ex criminals, car experts and government spies but now they can also take over a heavily armed, well-guarded military base like Seal Team 6? The sequence is preposterous even for this franchise. Worse, it feels desperate, as if the filmmakers are saying: “we know this espionage plot is super generic but watch the crew get chased by a giant nuclear submarine across the ice!”
The other major problem with “Fate of the Furious” has to do with the franchises focus on the importance of family. As outlandish as these movies have become, the theme of family and loyalty is the one element that’s taken very seriously, that grounds these flicks in reality. Over the course of the last four films this crew has gradually developed into a tightknit and ever-growing family-- a family that gets together for potluck dinners after they save the world. This aspect can be cheesy at times but it can also be endearing. Outside of the ridiculous action, the genuine bond that has developed between these characters (and the witty chemistry between the cast) is the main reason why we keep watching.
The global espionage plot in “Fate” is set into motion when Cipher turns Dom against “the family.” This is an intriguing hook but ultimately the reasoning behind his betrayal is lazy and contrived, pushing the other established family members to the sidelines and introducing a new character that we’re supposed to be automatically attached to. The emotional stakes are low and Dom’s familial dilemma is undercooked.
Additionally, Dom doesn’t get to have much fun this time around—the majority of his scenes being extremely morose and static. In these moments, “Fate” is a full-fledged drama, a mediocre drama at that. The film’s attempts at serious philosophical discourse between Dom and Cipher are simply idiotic and done without a shred of irony. These scenes might have worked if a better actor played Dom but Diesel simply doesn’t have the dramatic chops to go toe to toe with the great Theron. He recites his lines in a low affected grumble, talking slowly, savoring each word and phrase with zero awareness of how melodramatic he is.
In the end, the combination of a generic convoluted espionage plot and half-baked family drama sinks “The Fate of the Furious,” overshadowing the strength of the cast and those three sequences.