Throughout Universal’s engine-revving Fast And Furious franchise, Dominic Toretto’s crew has preached constant themes – family, respect and buckets of iced Coronas. So why does F. Gary Gray’s The Fate Of The Furious shift gears so jerkily? Chris Morgan’s latest script abandons fist-pounding #brotendancies for a bumpier, more handcuffed adventure that’s too reminiscent of blockbuster generics. It’s less fast, and not as furious – albeit outrageous and fan-friendly. Entire scenes seem lifted from Vin Diesel’s xXx: Return Of Xander Cage (like, the whole opening), except without tongue-in-cheek awareness. This is the dark(ish), consequence-first mission the detours into metallic blandness and automobile product placement (drink every time a different company logo enters frame). Torreto’s team goes from grease-monkey Robin Hoods to pistol-gripping anybodies – Dom oh Dom, what have you done?
Fate Of The Furious is one big fan-service buffet that begins with the exotic flavors of Cuba. Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying their honeymoon until a blonde woman blackmails Dom with information. Fast-forward to Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) coaching his daughter’s soccer team to victory, but his celebration is cut short when another job arises. A military EMP exists in Berlin that could devastate city-wide power grids. Hobbs connects with Dom, they snatch it and with the EMP secured, all seems clear – until Dom flips Hobbs’ truck, steals the EMP and delivers it to his new boss. Who is this seductress? Cipher (Charlize Theron) – who turns out to be a single woman – and she’s about to tear your favorite thrill-seeking family apart.
Unfortunately, in doing so, emphasis switches from typical fast and furiousness into something like a generic Bond ripoff. More than any other franchise title, characters babble references to past films or – even further – witness the resurrection of old faces. Fate Of The Furious just can’t let sleeping dogs lie, but over-complicates story in the process with a grimmer subplots. This used to be a franchise about high-tailing and whip-drifting – now it’s gunning henchmen down in cold blood and murdering without remorse? Fate is such a jarring diversion from usual franchise antics, never steadying itself like a Lambo skidding across ice. I mean, who would take a Lambo to Russia – wait, it happens in the movie? Right.
This is as good a segue as any to touch on Fate of The Furious and its RI-DIC-U-LOUS commitment to boasting the craziest sequences. Film by film, directors have one-upped each other with bigger, more massive spectacles. Driving tanks, skydiving cars – now baby fights, submarine chases and iced-over surfaces? Gray becomes a cartoonist as babysitter Statham bashes his way through a hostile airplane, taking time to make goo-goo faces before breaking another neck – WHILE STILL CLUTCHING THE INFANT’S CARRIER. Reality is injected with NOS and tossed out a speeding cruiser.
Hell, Johnson’s Luke Hobbs is more Herculean than Johnson’s own Hercules interpretation (remember Brett Ratner’s Hercules?)! Concrete prison benches are curled like dumbbells, or an ‘effing torpedo is guided by his burly grip. THERE’S EVEN A WWZ-INSPIRED HORDE OF CHIP-CONTROLLED CARS THAT FLOOD NYC STREETS (Skynet has become self aware, people). You can’t shade Morgan’s creativity, whether or not you agree with fire dynamics that suggest a circle of cars can prevent one lone man from roasting. It’s almost on levels of action parody – but I’m not sure that’s meant as a compliment.
Gray can direct exciting, high-octane action. He can kickstart a party. That’s all proven here. When we open on Havana, Pitbull’s hypeitude ushers in coastal waves, beautiful islanders and a race that Dom wins by driving a flaming junker backwards (this is a perfect tonal establishment). As Letty uses her secret booster to hurdle cracking ice chunks before a submarine drags her underwater, gasps are audible. Yet, Fate Of The Furious becomes more about hacking and tapping on fake keyboards than cat-and-mouse bumper cars.
Cipher flies high in the sky, controlling electronic devices like a nuclear-armed puppet master. Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) become her biggest adversaries, as Gray cuts between focused faces glued to computer screens. Hobbs, Letty and others get to beat some ass (and kill people Titanic propeller style) while protecting their cyber soldiers, but again, all this techno-focus burns less rubber than hoped for. The only thing separating xXx: Return Of Xander Cage and Fate Of The Furious is a heaping imbalance in character development (Cage’s crew wins out) and a seriousness that doesn’t play here. Where’s Ruby Rose when you need her?
Also, where’s the bro love? Vin abandons his team. Scott Eastwood (as Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody sidekick, Little Nobody) is no Paul Walker replacement. Jason Statham is too busy parkouring to care. Johnson is only in love with his sleeveless shirts and exposed biceps (fine, maybe his daughter too). We’re always going to miss how during any given scene, Dom and Brian could cast aside their female love interests and ride horseback into the sunset without shock – but you can still continue. The Fast franchise is about a brotherhood slathered in oil and melted rubber – not specific to just Dom and Brian – yet Fate Of The Furious opts for strange dick-swinging contests devoid of the bromantic chemistry promoted through each increasingly-muscly entry. Statham and Johnson build towards the only possible replacement, but their attempt is cut frustratingly short. It’s like there’s something amiss and everyone knows, and an increase in Roman’s snide egotism or Letty’s heartbreak can’t fill the cracks.
That’s not to say Fast And Furious is a boy’s club, but, eh, does that argument really hold here? The Furious females – SPECIFICALLY THERON – aren’t much more than emotional tokens or figureheads.
There’s a way to move the Fast And Furious franchise forward, but abandoning all it stands for is not it. I mean, in Furious 7, Vin Diesel says – and I quote – “I’m more of a Corona man.” when asked by Mr. Nobody about monk-brewed beers (a hilarious joke because Dom and Brian drink SO MANY BOTTLES OF CORONA). So what does Fate Of The Furious do? Accept an Anheuser-Busch sponsorship, and accent another Dom barbecue with unfriendly reds, whites and blues. Betrayal, thy name is the “king” of beers. Turn your back on family because of one bitchin’ and devious hacker? Fine. But Corona too?! Am I even watching a Fast And Furious movie?!
In no way is The Fate Of The Furious a “bad” movie. It’s a set of tires spinning in place, as the high-schooler behind the wheel vies for attention. Family comes into question, Dom’s motto of living a “quarter-mile at a time” get shattered and bonkers s#&t happens – but anybody could have gone on such an adventure. This is just the sweeps-week Fast And Furious that jumps the shark, ready to right itself come next season – and it better. Dominic Toretto’s team deserves to go out in a blaze of glory, not a slippery skid that can’t be controlled.
The Fate Of The Furious is never as charming, high-octane or finely-tuned as the franchise's best efforts, as it slips and slides while trying to regain the traction it once had.