I feel like I’m going to be unfair to The Fate of the Furious and that’s coming from the fact that it is now the 8th film in the Fast and the Furious series, a franchise where I am head-over-heels in love with the last three movies in despite a lot of the same flaws Fate indulges in. For one, it’s too long and that’s not something new or unexpected. Since Fast Five came out in 2011, producer/star Vin Diesel has happily indulged in bloated runtimes upwards of 2 hours to give the films an epic quality and that’s been something I’ve had no problem with, even if those movies were starting to drag during the home stretch. The other thing is that the writing is beaten to death with profundities about family and life lessons, usually espoused by Diesel’s tank top sporting Superman Dom Toretto to his motley crew he assembles during his adventures of distinct personalities and ethnicities (The Fast and the Furious‘ status as one of the highest-grossing franchises and one of the most culturally diverse is one I am very happy with). It’s no secret at this point how in love with himself Diesel truly is and yet when it comes to recognizing how Toretto looks out for his crew, it’s never any less than sincere and genuine.
I don’t want to claim the Fast and the Furious movies are poorly acted, but it’s absolutely not the stuff of Oscars. And yet every actor for the past few films have shown themselves to be comfortable in their roles, whether or not they’re effective in it. Most importantly, the villain of the previous entry, 2015’s Furious 7, is suddenly recruited as a member of Toretto’s family – not team, outright “family” as we discover by the end of it – and this despite spending the last movie murdering a member of said family and attempting to massacre the others (including blowing up Toretto’s home with his sister, brother-in-law, and nephew in the proximity). But hey, if they can roll with it…
For the last three movies, I could roll with it just alongside them, but this time around… I’m not sure I could, although I tried. Not as much as I feel the plot provided by Chris Morgan’s script wanted to destroy all the relationship dynamics by having the big hook of Toretto turning rogue on his family. Obviously, Toretto is not evil at this point, he’s just being blackmailed into performing cyberterrorist actions by hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron), a character who looks and sounds left over from the Matrix and is a significantly more boring than her henchman Rhodes (Kristofer Hivju). Cipher’s dialogue is itself overlong pseudo-intellectual attempts at being the opposite perspective from Toretto’s community attitude and that Morgan and Diesel don’t seem to believe this lends them to be braindead and boring. And my man… there is a lot of those moments, namely in a dark cramped aerial space while Diesel tries to mug his way to an Oscar. Sure, the previous three Fast and Furious movies are overlong, but this is the first one since… I guess since The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift to be outright boring.
Anyway, Toretto’s absence from the main crew means that somebody out of the remnants – Tyrese Gibson’s Class Clown shtick (and only in a movie this dour can his performance somehow be a relief), Kurt Russell’s out-of-the-action Mr. Nobody, Michelle Rodriguez’s tomboyish Mrs. Letty Toretto, Ludacris and Nathalie Emmanuel’s duel younger modern hackers – has to take the lead and none of them ARE lead material. The Rock absolutely is but even ignoring the backstage drama between Rock and Diesel that promises less and less screentime for the former, it’s pretty clear Rock’s DSS Agent Luke Hobbs is too busy getting ready to have some hot and steamy shit-talking contests with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw (the aforementioned homicidal villain turned good guy) to try and take over the team. Not to mention nobody in this cast seems to be as into it as Statham, Diesel, Rodriguez, and Hivju and only Diesel is the one that gives a performance I’d gladly give 137 minutes to watch.
If I sound like I’m getting into the idea that The Fate of the Furious is simply not fun, that IS my point. I spent more time looking at my phone for the time than any other movie this year thus far. And yet all I’ve talked about is the plot to Fate rather than the actual action setpieces, the REAL reason anybody would bother to walk into a theater for these films. My friends… I’m afraid director F. Gary Gray (recruited, I feel, from the Awards hype of Straight Outta Compton from the awards-hungry Diesel) is a bad addition to the franchise. Whereas Justin Lin and James Wan both had an absolute disdain for real-world physics and embraced the ridiculousness of cars jumping out of planes and boxes destroying the police, Gray seems to take the action way too grounded to the service of choppy editing and geometry, not to mention this is the most CGI-ey of a franchise that obviously used CGI to jump cars between buildings, but also had a love for the cars physically in frame. If there’s one action element salvaged, it’s Statham and the Rock’s hand to hand combat scenes exuding their stage presence better than any words out of their mouths could. Otherwise, Gray has one good setpiece in his arsenal and it’s ironically the only time the franchise returns to the street racing roots it came from: a gorgeous photographic map of Havana as two cars intense parallel each other down an urban mile. So if Gray’s here to stay, maybe he ought to bring F&F back to Race Wars.
I dunno, maybe in later years, I’ll warm up to this as the natural narrative progression to the series since Paul Walker’s death, but it’s so self-serious and underwhelming in a way that I can’t see myself looking forward to that rewatch.