During one of The Fate of the Furious’ biggest action sequences, the new villain Cipher (Charlize Theron) simply pushes a button and proclaims, “It’s zombie time.” This action allows Cipher to hack into hundreds of cars, barreling them through New York City, smashing willy-nilly and raining from skyscrapers. For the first time in quite awhile, the Fast & Furious franchise is as lifeless and hollow as Cipher’s cyphers. Instead of the near-perfect action bliss the series honed with Fast Five, The Fate of the Furious skids into mediocrity once more, with disappointing CGI-laden action sequences, bland villains, and a completely nonsense story that even pushes the limits of believability in this series where Dwayne Johnson once flexed out of a cast.
In The Fate of the Furious, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are enjoying their Cuban honeymoon when the mysterious Cipher appears, threatening Dom to join her team utilizing unknown blackmail material. With Dom working for Cipher, he turns his back on family, stealing increasingly dangerous weapons for his new leader, all while his family attempts to stop this new alliance. Dom wants out, the “family” wants answers and to stop World War III from happening at the hands of Cipher.
Story is always secondary in the Fast & Furious world, but The Fate of the Furious has screenwriter Chris Morgan spinning his wheels. Morgan borrows liberally from the past few installments, from the airplane runway chases of Fast & Furious 6, to the tanks and the familiar “member of The Family turning their back on the group” of amnesiac Letty in Fast Five. In many ways, The Fate of the Furious is basically Fast Five, but with Letty and Dom swapped.
The series’ lack of awareness with its own past has now becomes a problem with this eighth installment. There’s an unbelievably thin line between enemy and family, to the point that Dom could conceivably work with Cipher in Fine Nine (despite him wanting to murder her). Or whatever the hell the next installment is called. The film starts with an example of this, as Dom’s never-before-seen cousin is getting ready to lose his car to an unnamed enemy. Dom challenges the man to a race, one in which Dom drives a car backwards while on fire and still wins. By the end, both men have mutual respect for each other, and within minutes of almost knocking each other out, they are now bonded as family. All it takes for Dom and his “family” to change their mind is one challenging race.
The Fate of the Furious takes this to a whole new level that is ridiculous, even for this series. Considering the ever-expanding cast, these films now have to stretch in order to keep this crew together. With Dom now on the opposing team, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and the rest of the crew must now trust Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in order to get their leader back. All it takes is for Hobbs to conveniently find a military award given to Deckard, and for Deckard to essentially say “well, what if I’m not as bad as I sound,” for the entire team to accept him as one of their own. Forget that in the last film, Deckard had killed Han – who is never mentioned, naturally – or that Deckard’s brother Owen once brainwashed Letty, then ran over innocent commuters with a tank. The most basic evidence that a person might not be just a bloodthirsty maniac makes these characters alright to our heroes.
Yet even the most banal of stories within this series have been saved by the consistent commitment to fantastic stunts and over-the-top action sequences. But literally every gigantic action moment, from the aforementioned “zombie time” to a chase on ice away from a nuke-capable submarine, exist thanks to special effects, rather than actual stunts, and this lack of reality can be felt in each sequence. Director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton) directs these sequences with a confusion that the other films have somehow avoided, turning brilliantly choreographed cacophonies of car races and wrecks, into just a mishmash of cars flying all over the place. Gray becomes a child smashing his CGIed cars into each other, lacking the elegance of action that helped this series once thrive.
This series also phenomenally saved this series by taking the best characters and elements from this series, and mixed them together in Fast Five. Since then, this series has been a carefully curated mixture of the series’ down points into a captivating series. As previously mentioned, The Fate of the Furious completely swaps character dynamics whenever it is necessary for the story. But for a series that is all about the idea of family, none of these characters seem to inhabit the same film. Yes, this group is often in the same room or chase together, but they each feel completely scattered from each other. There are about four or five different threads going on, and yet none of them coalesce in any meaningful way.
But despite all of these shattered expectations after the recent solid entries, it’s The Fate of the Furious’ complete squandering of Charlize Theron that might be its most egregious error. Her character Cipher is relegated to war rooms, controlling chases through computers and henchmen. This series has always given villains that don’t mind getting a little grease under their nails, having them get behind the wheel and engage with our characters. Even with Theron having proved herself a formidable action star in Mad Max: Fury Road and her upcoming Atomic Blonde, Theron is given nothing to warrant her casting. This role would’ve made more sense going to someone from Silicon Valley than Imperator Furiosa herself.
In a series that has thrived in its ridiculousness, it’s simple character missteps, weak scripting and action averageness that brings down this behemoth. The Fate of the Furious is the worst film since this series got “good” with Fast Five, because it doesn’t seem to know what made the previous films good in the first place. The Fate of the Furious at times does show the series running on fumes, yet its been down and out in the past, and still comes out on top in the end. But this is the furthest behind we’ve seen the family in quite some time, and just a little polish and tightening could’ve made this another great entry in a series that has defied so many expectations to become a truly exciting franchise, one that has the potential for genuine surprise.