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‘Fate Of The Furious’ Is A Good Action Flick, But Doesn’t Match Up To Its Predecessors


Spoilers below.

It’s not every movie series that can still command multimillion-dollar returns after seven films. As this eighth installment proves, the “Fast and Furious” series has fully metamorphosed from an exploration of outlaw car culture into a string of globetrotting spy epics. This saga’s willingness to double down on its own craziness makes “The Fate of the Furious” a pretty enjoyable throwaway action flick—even if it’s a little creakier than its immediate predecessors.

Swapping “Furious 7” director James Wan for F. Gary Gray (last seen helming rap drama “Straight Outta Compton”), “Fate” starts off with a bang: Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), while honeymooning in Havana with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is accosted by international criminal Cipher (Charlize Theron). Turns out Cipher needs Dom’s criminal skills to steal some dangerous weapons—and she’s quite willing to blackmail him to bring him on board.

From that point on, most of “Fate” hinges on the novelty of pitting Dom against his former allies—an ensemble cast featuring Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Jason Statham, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, and so forth. The story, for the most part, relies on familiar plot beats: “Citizen Kane” this ain’t, but you knew that already.

‘Fate’ Lacks Is Predecessors’ Momentum

There’s a lot to like in “Fate,” particularly its crackling dialogue (Johnson looks like he’s enjoying himself more here than he ever has) and chemistry between its core protagonists. Gray also throws in plenty of eye-popping action flourishes (an early prison riot, pitting Johnson against Statham, is particularly memorable), and smartly weighs in on current technological debates.

Midway through the movie, Theron’s cyberterrorist hacks into driverless cars all across New York City and simultaneously seizes control of them all, sending a swarm of unmanned vehicles against our heroes. In an inspired moment vaguely reminiscent of “The Walking Dead,” the Furious crew desperately sprays machine-gun bullets into a mass of oncoming “zombified” cars, filling the screen with explosions. It’s the kind of plausible techno-horror—and utterly over-the-top vehicular carnage—that this saga does so well.

By and large, Gray taps into two core elements of the “Fast and Furious” series—rapid-fire banter and insane automotive action—and tries to construct the rest of the film around those moments. Unfortunately, this means larger-scale plot elements fade into the background (yes, I realize this is a “Fast and Furious” movie, but I still have standards).

High-stakes premise notwithstanding, “Fate” largely lacks the propulsive momentum of its immediate predecessors. Despite characters’ constant talk of impending doom, there’s not much narrative urgency here: even amid life-or-death confrontations, these characters find time to throw off quips. As a result, the film’s attempts at “darker” moments (including a particularly cold-blooded murder) feel tonally inconsistent.

The Film’s Lost Opportunity For Character Development

Moreover, the film’s much-hyped “good guy goes bad” premise—a la “Captain America: Civil War” and “Batman v Superman” simply isn’t executed as smoothly as it needs to be, and one can’t help thinking that Dom’s onscreen incentive to go rogue (and seriously endanger his “family”) is a little undercooked.

That’s a real shame, because this thematic problem was entirely avoidable. Early on, Cipher taunts Dom by exposing a key tension in his character: if his commitment to family clashes with his love of reckless, death-defying racing, which impulse will ultimately win out? That’s a potent insight, particularly given how the series has evolved over time: the Dom Toretto of 2001 was a very different character than the Dom of 2017, and today’s Dom has far more to lose from engaging in self-destructive behavior. Frustratingly, this lurking question never materializes into an actual plot point, even though it’s a lot more inventive than “the bad guy kidnapped someone Dom cares about.”

This Film Loses Sight Of the Franchise’s Core Emphasis

And while the saga’s clearly willing to blow its massive budget on impressive action set pieces, the most heart-pounding moments in “Fate” actually arrive in the throwback opening sequence, as Dom faces off with a Cuban gangster in a classic street race. Frankly, I wish there’d been more scenes like that.

The film’s final showdown—set in a Russian military base and featuring a gigantic attacking submarine—feels more like a “Call of Duty” mission than a “Fast and Furious” climax, and I couldn’t help thinking it would’ve fit just as well in a modern James Bond or “Mission: Impossible” movie. The sine qua non of this franchise is its focus on muscle cars and the drivers who master them, and “Fate” sometimes loses track of that core emphasis.

(Also, this is a minor quibble, but the soundtrack for “Fate” isn’t quite up to snuff. 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa’s “We Own It”—the theme for the sixth installment—is still one of my favorite rap songs, and Juicy J’s “Payback” was almost as good last time around. There’s nothing quite so rousing here.)

All that said, none of these criticisms are particularly damning. As a fan of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, I don’t expect high art, and it’s perfectly natural that this beloved series is showing its age the eighth time around. Where it counts, “Fate” largely checks the right boxes: crazy action, exotic scenery, camaraderie, explosions, and just the right amount of snark.

Even if “Fate” doesn’t quite match up to its recent forerunners (“Fast Five,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “Furious 7”), it’s still a fine way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Hollywood can keep cranking out these movies, and I’ll keep watching them. I only hope they don’t forget the saga’s roots in the process.