'Fate of the Furious' is another chaotic, mayhem-filled installment of absurd action … and family values?
Posted April 16
“THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS” — 3 stars — Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez; PG-13 (prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content and language); in general release
How do you critique a movie that features a nuclear submarine chasing an orange Lamborghini across a frozen river in Siberia? A movie that features two Oscar-winning actresses alongside party scenes packed with gyrating models in bikinis? A franchise whose protagonist is a violent career criminal who always seems to wind up on the moral high ground?
When it comes to the “Fast and Furious” franchise, the usual rules feel like an afterthought.
When we last left our street racing international super-thief/government operative heroes, they were saying farewell to a beloved teammate as he drove off into the sunset. Some felt it was an appropriate end for the franchise, but "The Fate of the Furious" has other ideas.
It opens with an old one. Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is living in Cuba with his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), rocking white denim and somehow turning life-threatening street races into ponderous moral lessons for anyone who dares cross his family. He and Letty are thinking about expanding that family when he is contacted by a cyber-terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron) who needs him for a job.
Cipher wants to obtain some nefarious items for various nefarious purposes, and she needs Dom to steal them. Dom tells her to get lost, then Cipher provides him with motivation. The exact nature of Dom's motivation won't be mentioned here, but understand it is convincing enough to get him to betray Letty and the rest of the crew to join the bad guys.
Naturally, Cipher's plan is little more than an excuse for a series of elaborate set pieces that will maximize any fast and furious onscreen carnage. The best may be a sequence in Manhattan that sees Cipher take control of an army of self-driving cars in order to allow Dom to steal a suitcase full of nuclear launch codes from a visiting Russian envoy.
While Dom is doing the dirty work, his bewildered former crew is teaming up with Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his lackey (Scott Eastwood) to stop Cipher. Part of the strategy is to recruit Deckard (Jason Statham), the heavy from "Furious 7," to assist in the effort, and the antagonistic tension between him and estranged government operative Hobbes (Dwayne Johnson) is one of the highlights of the movie.
Johnson plays a bigger role this time around, which will be good news to those who felt his work was too limited in "Furious 7.” Even after the deaths of several characters, balancing screen time between the franchise's ever-expanding cast is an accomplishment.
Sadly, the series has slipped into that unfortunate mode where the person you thought was the bad guy was really just a pawn of a bigger bad guy. Theron does her best to make Cipher interesting, making bizarre crocodile metaphors and spouting filler dialogue like, "make it rain," "let's get this party started," and "it's zombie time!"
It takes a little while for "Fate of the Furious" to find its footing, and fans may have to admit that the absence of Paul Walker is a bigger hole than anticipated. (The script tries to offer a modest rationale for Walker's absence, since technically his character didn't die in "Furious 7.") But even if director F. Gary Gray’s film falls short of the franchise's best efforts — “Fast Five" still feels like the most cohesive movie front to back — “Fate of the Furious" still features enough creative insults, absurd stunts and preposterous action to entertain the faithful. For all of its stupidity, the franchise still lets you in on the joke, and that's what makes it so fun.
The strangest feat of all may be the franchise's insistence on tying its latest international super-caper to its street racing roots — hence the Lamborghini in Siberia, and a Dodge Charger for Dom that feels more and more like the Batmobile with every film. But its most impressive feat may be how, for all of its mayhem, "The Fate of the Furious" still manages to finish with a positive message about family. That’s one rule these movies never seem willing to break.
“The Fate of the Furious” is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content and language; running time: 136 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on <a href='https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh' target='_blank'>YouTube</a>.