The Fate of the Furious is the first film I’ve seen in this improbable franchise which started oh so long ago as a Point Break rip-off, and I can definitely see where a good version of one of these movies, perhaps one with a slightly better plot and more inventive, less monotonous actions scenes, would be insanely entertaining. As it is, though, The Fate of the Furious is kind of just there, making its way through a workmanlike hero vs. hero storyline (not as bad as BvS, but nowhere near as good as Captain America: Civil War), offering up a not-insignificant amount of car porn and jumping from one insane stunt scene to another, all of which are contingent upon the heroes and villains mostly agreeing to stay in their cars. It’s refreshingly friendly (i.e., exposition-lite) to a franchise newbie like myself, but likely pales in comparison to franchise highlights, offering but a mild sampler of the riches which await those action movie-loving folk who have yet to drop in on the ongoing adventures of a man named Dom and his “family.”
And, really, it’s fine. The Fate of the Furious is the definition of a review-proof blockbuster movie. No criticism you can lodge at it will stick because apart from a scene or two where Vin Diesel actually tries his hand at this new-fangled thing called acting (oh to be the assistant placing the fake tears on his cheeks) the film never takes itself too seriously. In new-to-the-franchise-director F. Gary Gray’s hands, Fate is the type of an intentionally corny movie the MST3K crew, new or old, would struggle to mock because it’s always easier to mock something which earnestly strives for greatness instead of simply leaning into its own silliness and inherent campiness. How, really, do you criticize a movie which put “Fate” in the title simply because “fate” sounds like “eight” (this being the 8th installment in the franchise and all)?
The answer is you don’t. You simply turn off your brain and offer up the requisite oohs and aahs when you’re supposed to once shit starts blowin’ up and geopolitical crises are solved by car racing Avengers who seem to be constantly threatening to combine their cars into one giant car monster ala Power Rangers or Transformers.
All you need to know about the plot is in the trailer:
Thus, Fate of the Furious opens with a street race in Cuba attended by women who don’t mind that intrusive cameraman on the ground staring up at their stripper booty shorts and ends with a stolen Russian submarine chasing after a motley crew of product placement cars speeding over a frozen river. In-between, there’s an oddly bloodless prison escape, “let’s ambush a visiting foreign diplomat’s police convoy in a big city” sequence involving an army of driverless cars dropping down from high-rise parking garages and…wait. I’ve lost my train of thought.
I feel like other things happen, but seriously did you not see the part about the cars raining down from the heavens? So, so stupid. So fake-looking. The villain (an underused Charlize Theron as an ice queen cyber-terrorist shouting hacking nonsense at TV screens like a 90s villain) could have achieved her goals any number of other ways, but wow is it ever cool to look at. It at least checks off the “well, I’ve never seen that before” box on the scorecard.
And that’s where I think I get the appeal of these movies. A good Fast and the Furious movie that has a non-stop parade of “holy shit!” moments probably makes up for any and all storytelling sins. Plus, if you’ve spent some actual time with these characters watching Vin Diesel wrap everything up by half-assedly mumbling his way through some bullshit speech about family obviously packs more of an emotional punch.
However, I can’t really claim to know if Fate of the Furious qualifies as a good Fast and the Furious movie, now can I? I can simply judge it as a modern day action movie, and by those language-neutral, China-pandering standards it registers as perfectly passable entertainment, with several moderately well-executed twists, genuine laughs from The Rock and Jason Statham and a whole lot of car chase scenes. I guess now it’s time to circle back around and check out Fast Five, the franchise high water mark, or so I’m told.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I now see why the Fast and the Furious movies appeal to millions around the world, but heavily suspect what I just watched was a franchise somewhat treading water. That’s okay, though, because underneath that water is a Russian submarine chasing after the good guys in a “holy shit!” action scene, and all is right in the Fast and Furious world.