Of all the movie franchises in cinema, the Fast and the Furious films have undergone the most absurd evolution. What was once a Point Break rip-off involving streetcar racing has exploded in to a juggernaut staple of “dumb fun” action films. With each over-the- top vehicle set piece, fight scene, booty shot and overemphasis of the word “family,” you’d have expect the series to eventually run out of steam. And, while the eighth entry does suffer from a few tonal inconsistencies, it still manages to entertain with its character interactions and over the top car chases. The Fate of the Furious is not on par with Fast Five or Furious 7, as it is occasionally forced to drop the action in order to spin a rather vague narrative, one that attempts to tie together past storylines and characters that only long-time fans will recognize. Nevertheless, the film still showcases its ability to walk a fine line between moments of adrenaline, ridiculousness and fun in all of its cartoonish action glory, as Dominic Toretto and co. discover new ways to flip off the laws of physics and film logic.
Taking place at some undefined time after the events of Furious 7, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Oritz (Michelle Rodriguez) have settled down for their honeymoon in Cuba, hoping to enjoy the sun and some downtown street racing in peace. Unfortunately, this moment of happiness is ruined as Dom is approached by a cyber-terrorist by the name of Cipher (Charlize Theron), a woman with a seemingly endless supply of weapons and technology at her disposal, as well as the ability to hack almost anything electronic. Blackmailing him into carrying out her demands, Dom is forced to turn on his team members – Letty, Roman, Tej and Ramsay- as well as DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in order to secure a device Cipher needs to enact her Bond villain-like plan. With one of their own now gone rogue, the team is recruited once again by the mysterious government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) in order to stop Cipher’s plan for good. And yes, there are plenty of references about the importance of family here too.
The Fast and the Furious plots tend to work best when you don’t think about them too hard, otherwise the narrative inconsistencies become obvious. After all, why would the U.S. government constantly have to rely on the assistance of a group of thieves and mercenaries with driving skills so insane, they can jump their cars through anything and still survive the wreckage? And yet, despite each entry pushing their level of absurdity to greater heights of action wackiness, there’s something oddly compelling to these stories. Perhaps that’s because no matter how stupid and ridiculous the plots may get, they are still about something worth fighting for: the bonds and relationships shared between the main characters. Action in an action film holds little meaning if it is done purely for the sake of spectacle; there needs to be something worth investing in if we as an audience are going to care about the protagonist’s journey. And as clichéd as it can get to hear the “nothing’s more important than family” speech once per film, you can’t deny that the actors make that bond seem believable.
Of course, considering how this theme of family re-emerges periodically, it does beg the question of what could be so great that it would cause Dom to betray his family. To the film’s credit, the explanation it provides is indeed a serious one, one that plays upon Dom’s greatest strength as a character: a desire to protect those whom he loves. At the same time, The Fate of the Furious tries to have its cake and eat it too, using this serious narrative device as part of a villain scheme straight out of the Saturday morning cartoon handbook. Oddly enough, despite making a valid attempt at tying this film back into previous entries of the franchise, albeit in a manner that made sense by the film’s strange logic, Fate ends up emerging with a narrative that can seem rather shallow. Perhaps this is due to the fact that, while Cipher provides a deviation from the norm by testing Dom as a psychological adversary, we never see her do much else in this role. No time is dedicated to testing her skills as a fighter or behind the wheel of a vehicle, two things that Charlize Theron proved herself quite formidable at in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Yet like I mentioned above, despite narrative remaining Fast and the Furious’ weakest aspect, I still find it one worth caring about because of the characters behind the wheel of each car. Every actor and actress in this film display the same great chemistry that has existed since 2001, and with every new addition to cast, it feels as if that “family” continues to grow. I still felt myself caring about Dom and Letty’s relationship, despite predicting exactly what kind of direction the film would take it. I found myself laughing at every interaction shared between Hobbs and previous film villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who traded barbs and insults at one another like something out of a 90’s action film. I enjoyed the interactions between Team Dom regardless of the weird contradictions in tones, making jokes at one another in spite of being betrayed by the team leader. It’s undoubtedly a rocky tone, but one that still tries its damnedest to be fun.
And at the end of the day, this is what every Fast and the Furious fan expects to see: balls to the wall action scenes that are push the limits regarding how zany they can get. They are completely ridiculous and have no shame at admitting it to the audience, with vehicles and character alike shrugging off numerous crashes as if they they somehow unlocked the invulnerability cheat code. From Hobbes and Shaw’s hardcore prison escape, to the climactic chase scene in which our heroes have to outrace a giant Soviet submarine on ice, to a literal car wars battle in the streets of New York City (without any standard NYC traffic- easily the most illogical detail of them all), none of these sequence make any sense. But the film embraces this irrational absurdity wholeheartedly and knows that the more “fuck you” moments it gives the laws of reality, the more viewers will love it even more. This level of cartoonish absurdity is the spectrum upon which moviegoers have based their enjoyment of previous Fast and the Furious films on, and The Fate of the Furious is no exception.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
There’s no way around this: The Fate of the Furious is a dumb action movie. But like the franchise as a whole, it is a really smart dumb action movie that knows exactly what the audience wants to see. And, after witnessing this franchise use cars to pull off a safe heist, take down a moving airplane, and airdrop/parachute themselves from the stratosphere, seeing this cast of badass, diverse action heroes use their cars to take down a submarine no longer fazes me. For all the absurd and insane things that this film pulls off, it still succeeds on the one thing I expected it to do: entertain me.