Yes, a Bond villain is exactly what the Fast and the Furious franchise needs at this moment. For the eights film in the series, The Fate of the Furious, Dom, Hobbs, Letty and the rest are ushered into overdrive, director F. Gary Gary and writer Chris Morgan bring in Mad Max‘s Furiousa to spice things up and actress Charlize Theron kills it as a Blofeld wannabe, just as deadly, minus one cat. The film is as over-the-top as would be expected with Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs evolving into a cartoon version of the character introduced in Fast Five, he’s just this side of being a superhero. In many ways, the entire cast is set up as an Avengers-On-Wheels variation to the spirit and pacing of the Marvel films. Jason Statham returns as Deckard, the villain of Furious 7, in a spectacular variation that becomes the franchise’s Loki in many ways. Kurt Russell appears in the film just long enough to be the film’s Nick Fury. While the film leans heavily on the “that’s not Dom” twist of Dom going rogue, The Fate of the Furious still accelerates the action with amazing, beautifully shot set pieces of high-octane action. For those who are fans of the franchise and the family vibe of the series, the film delivers and satisfies.
The story behind The Fate of the Furious pits Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) against his team – his family – under control of the villainous Cipher (Charlize Theron). She holds something dear over Dom’s head, forcing him to do her bidding – even if that means turning against Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Natalie Emmanuel). Cipher ignores Dom’s warning about “holding a foot on the neck of a tiger” pushing him deeper and deeper into opposing his former teammates. When Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) gets involved, he forges a new dynamic by adding past villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) into the mix, a volatile but entertaining blend. After a series of heists, Hobbs, Letty and their team must stop Dom and Cipher from stealing a Russian sub armed with a live nuke. Save Dom or save the world? Tough choice.
Somehow, Jason Statham steals The Fate of the Furious from Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. Is this pointing to a yet undetected disinterest in Dom and Hobbs and the crew? Or, it is simply elevating a creative addition to the team, providing Statham with a memorable, hilarious, and highly entertaining series of adventures and madcap mayhem? Sure, he killed a hospital – building and all – in the past film, there’s still room for redemption, right? Regardless of the answer, The Fate of the Furious benefits greatly by having Mr. Nobody force Statham’s Deckard on to the team once Dom goes rogue despite the impossible logic of that actually happening given what happens in the Furious 7. Brush that head-scratching conundrum aside and enjoy the ride because Deckard is set to blow your mind – in a good way. Not only does he play off Dwayne Johnson as Hobbs tremendously well, he is also afforded the opportunity to banter on his own side adventure that is silly, fun, and rewarding. They’ve been talking about a Hobbs spin-off film for some time, now they begin hinting at a Deckard solo film as well. Statham feels at home within the Fast and the Furious group, he’s relaxed, funny, and kicks ass in a major way. Now, he only has to atone for taking Han away from all the fans. Maybe, one day – he is destined to return.
While the films have always belonged to Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), the series has always been able to explore characters outside of these two, sometimes willingly, sometimes forcedly. With the Fast Five, the series introduced Hobbs to the storyline, rejuvenating the series, propelling it to another category of film altogether. So much so, it is easy to recommend nubes to just start with the fifth film. Dwayne Johnson is a beast in The Fate of the Furious, he is this close to being a superhero. The jailbreak scene alone has Hobbs doing things that most men could never do. Later, the film has him stand outside a speeding truck, feet planted and skating on ice, as he man-handles a live torpedo skirting alongside his ride, redirecting it into the path of the oncoming hoard of speeding bad guys. Physics be damned, this is amazing. While most of the action is centered around automobiles, at least tangentially, with Johnson in the cast, it is easy to sideswipe into a scene completely void of fumes and exhaust without losing the center of the film. However, with Dom rogue and away from the core group, Dobbs – along with Letty – steps in to take lead, illustrating how important Dom is to the group as they are far less engaging without Vin Diesel. The film sizzles, however, whenever Johnson’s Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard are facing off. Throw in some Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody to stir the pot and the result is hilarious joyous fun.
Vin Diesel gets more solo screen time in The Fate of the Furious than usual due to his separation from his family. Struggling with the demands of the villainous Cipher, Dom loses his cool from time to time and deals with emotions he’s rarely encountered in the films. It provides Diesel with some strong moments that cement his character as the lead of the series, even if he allows the others to shine brighter than before. While, especially for fans of the series, it is to no surprise that Dom sticks to the concept of family while incarcerated by Cipher into doing things against his will, the script plays with that notion in both his actions, the reactions of the other cast, and the surprise elements of why Dom allows himself to remain in this particular predicament. Diesel does well with the tortured Dom and seems to enjoy the moments where he gets to go full rogue slicing through an armored limousine with an enormous metal cutter or facing his team as they trap him in a New York City intersection.
The rest of the crew are all very comfortable in their roles, very much like old friends represented in the film. Michelle Rodriguez is far better with Dom at her side – as illustrated by the raucous introduction scene and race – than she is pining for his return. But the scenes where she faces the rogue Dom pay off. Ludacris and Nathalie Emmanuel as Tej Parker and Ramsey are an interesting pair that could use more screen time and further character development. They handle the roles with charisma but are shortchanged with their full involvement in the story. Tyrese Gibson as Roman, however, continues to grow into the comedic relief of the film with ease and hilarious results. Giving him Scott Eastwood as Little Nobody as a straight man to play off of works wonders. It does far more for Gibson that it does for Eastwood, however. Kurt Russell owns the screen anytime he walks onto the set. He seems to be having a great time in the Nobody role and livens up the party every time.
But, with Deckard Shaw essentially converted to the light side, the film needs a new villain – one bigger and worse than all the rest. The film gives us a villain straight out of a James Bond film with Cipher played by Charlize Theron. While Theron has proven she can handle fisticuffs alongside the best of them with Mad Max: Fury Road and the upcoming Atomic Blonde (just check out those trailers), she is far more cerebral with her villainy in The Fate of the Furious. She is the series’ Blofeld striving for world domination of some sort, she’s a ghost no one can locate or defeat. She is always one step ahead of Dom, Hobbs, and Nobody. She dives into the cursory and expository dialog with flair and style, giving her character an evil bite to her tongue. She is alway goading Dom into obedience but is always ready to back it up. It is a disappointment we don’t get to see her kick ass in hand-to-hand combat ala her other featured roles but, as with all Fast and the Furious films, there may be an opportunity to do so in the future.
F. Gary Gary, hot off his successful Straight Outta Compton film, takes over the directing chair from Justin Lin (4-6) and James Wan (7) without missing a beat from the previous Fast and the Furious films. He handles the face-to-face confrontations and comedic elements with far more focus than the action pieces – not to slight the action scene, however, they are also spectacular. He seems to relish the opportunity to get Johnson and Statham as uncomfortably close as possible like a cobra and a mongoose arched and ready to strike. These scenes, be they in the prison, in Nobody’s secret hideout, or in the body shop, are each electric and vibrant. He gets a similar opportunity with scenes featuring Vin Diesel and Charlize Theron. He does excel, however, with handling the film’s climax on a frozen lake and a submarine in hot pursuit even if the segment features the longest 10 miles in cinematic history.
The Fate of the Furious is another successful and entertaining entry in the Fast and the Furious franchise as it explores the boundaries of its own cinematic universe. The film often goes full superhero mode in characters, action, structure, and pacing. Yet, it firmly holds onto its mantra, the strong sense of family, even when it tries to suggest the characters are facing their darkest time with Dom going rogue, seemingly throwing family aside. The film is able to one-up the previous entries – although the car jumping from building to building scene in Furious 7 may still rule supreme – as it throws exploding jalopies, wrecking balls, and submarines at the characters and the audience with glee and style. Writer Chris Morgan creatively handles the series wonky history, needed recons, and additional characters giving the film a bit of a fresh edge. Bringing back Statham as Deckard Shaw – and everything that comes with him – is a mad genius decision as well. The film rides on its story beats, the strength of family, the charisma of the actors, and the amazing action scenes. The Fate of the Furious goes full-on James Bond mixed with a healthy dose of The Avengers. There may be no stopping this franchise now. Bring on more Dom, Letty, Roman, Tej, Ramsey, Hobbs, and especially Deckard. The film leaves its audience craving more, and that is a good thing.
The Fate of the Furious (2017) (4 / 5)