The Fate of the Furious *** / *****
Directed by: F. Gary Gray.
Written by: Chris Morgan based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson.
Starring: Vin Diesel (Dom), Jason Statham (Deckard), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej Parker), Charlize Theron (Cipher), Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Luke Evans (Owen), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes), Scott Eastwood (Little Nobody)..
A few years ago, some critic on Twitter (I’ve long forgotten which) asked to summarize the Fast and Furious movies with one word. A lot (most) said the word “Family”, which if you were going to run an algorithm through the films to find which word is spoken the most, then Family just may come in first. The first word that came to my mind though was VROOOOOMMMMMMM! It admittedly took me a while to start liking these movies – I didn’t even see the first or third installments in theaters (both made during a time when me not seeing a wide release was much more rare then me seeing one), and kind of rolled my eyes through at least the first four. But somewhere along the way, the series wore me done – I think it was just the realization that every time they set out to make a new one of these, they decide to try and top themselves with how much ridiculous crap they can throw at the screen in terms of action sequences – the sillier they get, the more fun they are. I also did appreciate however how seriously the films took their chronology – and even when they doubled backed three films later to change what happened, they had a very good explanation as to why that happened. Sooner or later however, there is only so many times the series can double back on itself, and change our perspective on characters before it gets too silly, too far out – and The Fate of the Furious may just do that. It’s still goofy fun, but it’s not quite up to the height of the past three installments.
The bare bones plot of the movie has to do with Dom (Vin Diesel), living the high life in Cuba, until Cipher (Charlize Theron) comes calling. She has a job for him, he’s not interested – but then she shows him something on her cell phone, and he no longer feels he has a choice. He cannot even bring his team into whatever this job is – not only that, but he has to betray them. He does, and goes to work for Cipher, while the mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) brings the rest of the team together to try and stop them. The word family is used A LOT – even by Fast and Furious standards.
This is the first installment of the series directed by F. Gary Gray – taking over for James Wan, who made one film, who took over from Justin Lin, who made four. Gray is a veteran director, coming off his biggest hit to date – Straight Outta Compton – which wasn’t an action movie, although his resume includes films like Set It Off, The Negotiator and perhaps most relevant to this series, The Italian Job. He’s more of a journeyman craftsman than anything else – and I don’t think he necessarily brings anything new to the table. Yet, he is good at pulling off what the series is famous for – large scale, ridiculous action sequences, particularly car chases. There is a great one in New York, and the climax, on the ice in Russia, that also involves a submarine, is so ridiculous stupid, that you cannot help but smile through it.
The movie does, I think, try too hard to bring back Jason Statham’s Deckard – and change the way we see him – which doesn’t really work, since there really is no way around the fact that he cold bloodedly murder Han – in one of the previous double backs the series had to bring Han back, after he died in Tokyo Drift.
The biggest disappoint in the cast has to be Charlize Theron’s Cipher though. Coming off of Mad Max: Fury Road, you would think that they would give her an action sequence – particularly a driving sequence – for her to shine. They don’t do that though, instead giving her reams of exposition dialogue to deliver, and not much else. Theron is a terrific actress, but I’m not sure she’s particularly good at slumming it in a film like this – compare her to the famous actress who plays Deckard’s mother in a few scenes, and you see the difference between a terrific actress, who knows she’s in trash and is having a blast doing it, and a terrific actress, who doesn’t quite know what to do with trash.
The Fate of the Furious is fine, I guess. It isn’t in the league of the last few movies in this series in terms of being a guilty pleasure – and, obviously, it doesn’t have the emotional impact that Paul Walker’s final appearance in the last film does. Still, this franchise doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. If this really does become the new James Bond – a franchise that stretches on for 30 films – you’re going to have a few Moonraker’s along the way (and this, at least, is better than Moonraker).