The Fast and Furious films are much like the cars they’re about. The series is a machine that’s had parts interchanged and souped up over the years. The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in the most improbable saga in blockbuster cinema, shows the first signs of wear and tear. Despite bigger-than-ever scope (prevent World War III!) and stunts (a nuclear submarine chase!), Fate shows the signs of the franchise foundation cracking under its own weight.
Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is honeymooning in Cuba with his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) when he’s approached by the Machiavellian hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron), revealed to be the mastermind behind the villains in the previous two movies, and blackmailed into helping her achieve nothing less than world domination. His betrayal forces Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Dom’s makeshift family (Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel) to enlist their former enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), with the help of government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new protege (Scott Eastwood), to stop him and Cipher. Vehicular antics ensue.
Eight films in, you’d be in the right to expect a little efficiency. The Fate of the Furious is yet another ridiculous blockbuster about cars and the indestructible men and women who drive them. The franchise, to its credit, has its strengths down to a science. But its reliance on its signature moves yields blind spots that rob this movie of impact. The film could never replicate the emotional resonance of Furious 7, but it drops the ball in a few key areas.
F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Italian Job) delivers another stylish entry, continuing a tradition of hiring people of color behind the camera, from John Singleton to Justin Lin to James Wan. Gray keeps the action zippy enough to sustain the 136-minute runtime, adding a James Bond flair to the globe-trotting adventure.
There’s plenty of gossip about what went on behind-the-scenes of this film, from the Rock’s firing off a cryptic Instagram decrying “Candy asses” and the news Diesel killed a post-credits tag showing stars Johnson and Statham, but not him. It’s here the loss of co-lead Paul Walker to a car accident in November 2013, halfway through filming Furious 7, is felt acutely. As Vulture explains, it’s tough to replace the brotherly bond at the center of his testosterone fest with one of mutual hatred, especially when it doesn’t even yield dividends on screen because Johnson and Diesel refuse to share the set and especially when they’re characters are supposed to not just friends, but family.
Speaking of family, I love that this is the franchise where Michelle Rodriguez is the female lead and Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris seem just happy to be along for the ride. Theron never leaves her trailer, it seems. They cast Furiosa herself but somehow didn’t put her behind the wheel. That’s not the kind of thing you save for the sequel. Russell, for all his charm, needs more to do. And Scott Eastwood is here basically as the new white guy, subbing in for Walker’s intended arc as Russell’s protege.
It was natural the first film in the post-Walker era would be Diesel-heavy, given the focus on his turn to the dark side. He’s fine, even good, but Dom’s betrayal, played up in the marketing material, has less impact than it should. For example, there’s no mistaking the editing and body doubles that neuters his on-screen relationship with Johnson’s Hobbs, rendering any hope that his and Diesel’s beef was a wrestling-esque rivalry stunt. This leads to Johnson growing chemistry with the series’ newest bald action star, Statham, and Diesel’s aforementioned squashing of the duo’s post-credits tag.
There’s always so much going on in these movies that it’s easy to overlook the flaws. The chases are filmed well and the action is sutibly extravagant. For all my criticism of the interchangeable nature of the series robbing it of what worked in the first place, the series is extraordinary for adding elements seamlessly. Helen Mirren mentioned off-handedly in an interview she’d love to be in a Fast & Furious movie and suddenly she pops up for a couple scenes as the Shaw matriarch, which dovetails nicely with Deckard’s redemption
It leads to problems, like with Statham’s character. Look, morality or anything like it doesn’t have much to do with the series; the “fah-muly” slogan is more of a libertarian honor-among-thieves bonding than anything else. But it is vacuous when a character kills an alleged main character (#JusticeforHan) and bygones-are-bygones a film later. There’s dramatic potential left hanging that is instead glossed over. Sure, it makes sense why the producers want to keep Statham’s ex-assassin around but does it make sense for our heroes? (I’m partly playing devil’s advocate here. Growing up on Dragon Ball Z taught me the trope of “villain’s defeat means friendship” young). Action movies are often indiscriminate with their body counts but there are levels and the audience can’t feel like there aren’t consequences to the characters’ actions.
The biggest takeaway from Fate may be that the series, without Walker, is missing an essential element. In the truest sense of “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone,” what I thought was the milquetoast boring Paul Walker turned out to be the emotional center of the franchise the whole time, without me realizing it. Now, with his farewell an emotional and financial highpoint of the series, what we’re left with is just shy of Bond-level camp. I’d like to avoid the lame pun that the series is “running out of gas,” but it certainly feels like Furious 9 needs to bring the family back together behind-the-scenes before we can get a truly satisfying Fast & Furious movie again.