Review: The Fate of the Furious

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying wedded bliss but trouble comes in the form of the mysterious cyber-terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) who basically coerces Dom into working for her…and against Letty and the rest of his old crew who are currently helping out Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Dom’s seemingly open betrayal of his comrades puts Hobbs in the slammer…with an old foe waiting for him in Deckard (Jason Statham). Whilst working for shadowy government man ‘Mr. Nobody’ (Kurt Russell) and his stuffed-shirt cohort (Scott Eastwood), Letty and the gang are perplexed, angry, and shocked that their former comrade is now running with their current nemesis. Meanwhile, Hobbs and Deckard want to punch each other in the face at every opportunity, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) won’t stop whining, and we even meet the mother of Owen (Luke Evans) and Deckard Shaw, played by Oscar-winner Helen Mirren. Kristofer Hivju plays Cipher’s muscle, Nathalie Emmanuel and Ludacris reprise their roles from previous films, and Elsa Pataky briefly turns up as Elena who is basically used as blackmail along with her and Dom’s son.

I know series fans probably hold the opposite view, but for me this franchise didn’t even start to get off the bottom of the barrel until around the time of parts 4 and 5, with the introduction of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s character in “Fast 5” particularly sending the series into a better direction. Less “Point Break” rip-off and more “Ocean’s 11” with cars and more entertainment value, I slowly started to embrace the series’ overblown ricockulousness. This was especially true with the previous “Furious 7”, the first wholly enjoyable entry in the series as far as I’m concerned. This 2017 film from director F. Gary Gray (the highly underrated “The Negotiator”, the dreadful “Law Abiding Citizen”) and screenwriter Chris Morgan (The nifty thriller “Celluar” and “Fast 5, 6, & 7”) is a step backwards, but still vastly superior to the disastrous depths of John Singleton’s neon-lit, bubble-headed “2 Fast 2 Furious”. In fact, if you’re more invested in these characters than I am, especially those played by Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez, you’ll probably like this one better than I did. That’s because this one’s very much centred on Vin Diesel’s character Dom, and his supposed betrayal of his crew, not to mention lady love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). I don’t have much of a connection with either character (though it was nice to see them happy together in the early going), and frankly I think Rodriguez proves the far stronger actor than Diesel. She gets a lot more to do here than in the last few films and does it better than ever. Diesel…is the opposite of ‘better than ever’. Instead of Dom being a reluctant traitor, it comes across more like Vin Diesel is a reluctant participant in the film. He looks bored and is boring. Given that the character arc feels like an inversion of what happened in “Fast & Furious 6”, I wasn’t having a blast during their scenes, either.

I was much more interested in the characters played by Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, Tyrese Gibson (much as I think he’s a whiny tool for taking shots at Johnson online), and especially Charlize Theron in one of her best performances in years. She looks strangely like CGI at first to me, but she’s actually quite good as a cold-blooded villain. Get rid of the tedious Dom and somehow find a way to resurrect Tony Jaa’s character from “Furious 7” from the dead and there might’ve been more for me here. As is, this one’s just a little under a recommendation.

We open with a tedious drag race featuring Dom and a Tony Montana wannabe that takes the franchise back about 5 films. Apparently the drag race opener was a deliberate throwback to the first two films, but it’s not a reminder I especially cared for. I will say though, that I’ll pay the bit where Dom drives a car that’s on fire in reverse. That’s gloriously absurd. It’s also been nicely shot by Stephen F. Windon (“Fast 5”, “Star Trek Beyond”), with really lovely scenery. Johnson’s first comedic scene I think would’ve been funnier if he hadn’t already starred in a bunch of kids movies. However, his uber-macho competitiveness with Jason Statham here is amusing (Statham being a nice addition to the team, actually), and even in that first scene the Samoan war dance bit is admittedly cute. I can understand where some of the frustration might be for Diesel and Tyrese in regards to the direction of this franchise somewhat changing once Johnson came on board. However, Johnson’s character especially in this one (superhuman in strength as he seems to be at times) doesn’t really impede on anyone else’s screen time, and I think being relegated to a side character is genuinely to Tyrese’s advantage. He was unbearable as one of the leads in “2 Fast 2 Furious” (a pathetic film from a director who should’ve known better), but playing the whiny complainer of a larger team? He’s perfectly utilised, just look at the scene where Tyrese chooses a slick-looking but impractical Lamborghini (orange, no less) and soon regrets it when he realises the mission involves driving on ice. Ludacris drives a tank, which actually proves the better choice. If there’s any returnee from previous films who gets short shrift here it’s “Game of Thrones” interpreter Nathalie Emmanuel, now relegated to being Ludacris’ passenger. Fellow “Game of Thrones” actor Kristofer Hivju gets even less to do unfortunately, as Theron’s chief lackey. Scott Eastwood proves yet again that he’s no Clint, and is stiff as a board here. I also didn’t like how one returning character turns up before it’s actually shown on screen how they got involved in things. That seems bass ackwards to me. On the upside, Kurt Russell is as always, a pro and as fun as ever even if he gets dwarfed by the bulked-up Johnson. His best scene also happens to by Tyrese’s best scene, where Russell informs the gang that they’ve made Interpol’s Top 10 Most Wanted List…except Tyrese, who made #11. Priceless. Dame Helen Mirren’s strong suit isn’t cockney accents, but good on her for not looking down on something like this. Hers is just a cameo, but if The Queen wants a day off to have a laugh every now and then, I’m cool with that.

The film isn’t bad, but I kinda wish you could take Russell, Theron, Johnson, and Statham and just go and make a movie of its own with those guys. It’d be killer. The prison movie Statham and Johnson spend most of their scenes in here is certainly kick-arse, uber-macho fun. Statham has tenuously joined the ‘good guys’ here in a neat twist, with he and Johnson still hating the fuck out of each other. Are we supposed to forget that Statham killed the Asian dude a couple of films back, though? I guess so, but that’s a helluva thing to sweep under the carpet.

For the most part I was amused by the film, but not as invested as I was in the previous film. This one might appeal more to series fans than perhaps the previous film. I liked that one, whereas this one depends a lot on your connection to Vin Diesel’s Dom. Admittedly a more interesting character and actor than Paul Walker’s Brian, I’ve still always felt Diesel’s best asset is his muscular swagger. This outing doesn’t allow that quality to come to the fore, and conflicted, brooding Diesel is boring Diesel. The action, stunts, and humour all work, and Charlize Theron is a genuinely evil villain in her best work since “Monster”. Still, it’s a film of mere moments, rather than an overall enjoyable whole. It doesn’t help that the plot feels like “Fast & Furious 7.5” with a character arc repurposed from “Fast & Furious 6” as well. So much rests on audience investment in a character I couldn’t care less about (particularly since Diesel is hamstrung by the role this time). Watchable, but I felt this one was just slightly under a recommendation. That still makes it the second-best film in the franchise so far, though. 

Rating: C+


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