Fate of the Furious begins at a Havana car show, a sequence that concludes with Dom driving a clunker like a torpedo and rocketing towards the end of a (Cuban) mile. It ends in the team diverting nuclear war by stopping a Cold War submarine from escaping a Siberian dry dock. The middle, of course, is the journey of how they got there.
If you heard about the accident on set, a horse getting killed by a “fake iceberg flying into a paddock” and thought, after a quick moment of silence for said murdered horse, “Oh man, I can’t wait to see what they did to cause a flying iceberg,” then you already know this movie is for you. The Fast and the Furious franchise isn’t smart or really all that clever, but what it has been succeeding at are bombastic car sequences that are all about spectacle.
The plot, threaded by the mildest of contrivances, is that a bunch of street toughs are now saving the world from nuclear war using (Cuban) NOS and a bright orange Lambo. With the Fast and the Furious, the core group is made up of characters from each of the previous films, including a few of the series antagonists (which is how the Rock and Jason Statham have now become adopted into the crew). In Fate of the Furious, the patriarch of this international crime family Dom has been taken in by obscenely talented hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron) and has turned against his morals and his crew.
This film is less about the tragedy of Dom betraying his family (the word family is said 17 times over the course of the film, with additional instances included in several variations on the theme in cousins, sons, mothers, and wives) and more about finding the moments between Dom’s constipated emotional face. As with most of series, Fate of the Furious has a handful of well thought out set pieces (a fleet of murderous self-driving cars, an airplane fight sequence, the submarine) and some good character moments that work best when seen alongside the rest of the series. Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese) bickering back and forth. Hobbs (the Rock) and Ian Shaw (Statham) going toe to toe in the one-liners that seem to be most of their spoken dialogue.
The weakest parts of the movie are when it tries for something a bit smarter. Charlize Theron and her techno-anarchist hacker who wants to “hold the world’s leaders accountable” is responsible for leading the series in body count and is the introduction of the crew to nuclear weapons. She also spouts off lines about choice theory and rambling speeches that go literally nowhere. In a series with some interesting protagonists (again, two of them are now on the team in spite of one of them having murdered a core team member in Fast and the Furious 6) Cipher is a dud. She’s got an engaging look, in spite of her Angelina-Jolie-in-Gone-in-60-Seconds white dreadlocks, and she’s played by Furiosa herself but she’s a complete misfire of a character. Her motivations are nonsensical and her story makes less sense the more you hear. Based on the ending, we’re bound to see more of her and I live in dread.
This is a series that has now begun to pride itself of the cartoonish levels of spectacle their superheroes can get up to. Nuclear weapons this time, but surely next time we’ll find the crew in space, Armageddon style. But what’s missing from Fate of the Furious is the cars. There’s some general car worship – Tyrese and his orange supercar or his Bentley. Dom getting excited about boat engines in a car at a Cuban car show. But aside from the opening Havana sequence, the on-screen time for the pornographic car shots that seemed to be a mainstay of the previous films is gone. It used to be a convenient pan across the butts of several attractive and scantily clad women, then riding the curves over some hot rods wheel well, but in Fate of the Furious the cars are less a sexualixed extension of the drivers and more the way they get from Point A to Point B. This franchise takes place in a universe where you can get a woman’s number by winning a race or doing a donut around her car, where everyone spouts out statistics about a cars horsepower like its common knowledge and Fate of the Furious is sterilized of that personality. Sure, Scott Eastwood drives and Jason Statham (whose character wasn’t known for being that into cars) drops a line about Dom’s horsepower in his souped up muscle car, but it really isn’t the same kind of thing. In Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift, you knew that these people were going to fuck in the car later and not just because it was convenient but because they were really into this car. In Fate of the Furious, they’re just shiny toys in an arsenal of vehicular combat.
Objectively this movie is not great. Its grasp on science is tentative at best, its name is probably one of the worst in a series known for terrible titles. But Fast and Furious movies are not ranked against other movies. They’re too bombastic and explosive, the kinds of movies that will fade out as we leave behind big projection movie theaters. They’re best seen with a group, where afterwards you can go out into the hallway and talk about that one cool moment or the impracticality of cold weather gear. Ranked against its own ilk, Fate of the Furious ranks below the series best (Furious 7, Fast Five) and above the worst (2 Fast 2 Furious, Fast and Furious 6). Slightly above average, and worth a viewing.
Oh and Ludacris is still a hacker for some reason.