Like all of its more recent predecessors, Fate of the Furious takes place in that familiar world where family is everything, physics is loose, and there’s no problem that can’t be solved with enough fast cars and large, bald men. Need to destroy a nuclear submarine? Break into an armed military facility? Rob a heavily-guarded motorcade in the congested streets of New York City? Don’t worry. Yes, any of things can be done with the right combination of cars and smooth men that can barely cram themselves into them. And, naturally, Fate of the Furious spends more than two hours proving this.
Picking up where Furious 7 left off, the film sees the biggest and baldest of the now-core team stepping away from their role as vehicular secret agents (or whatever). Dom (Vin Diesel) is enjoying the dropped Cuba travel ban, honeymooning and giving Fate its lone actual street race in Havana. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is teaching his daughter’s soccer team Māori dances. Worry not: these briefly humanizing moments are soon to be replaced by more insane shit.
Charlize Theron, playing a dreadlocked hacker straight out of a Matrix sequel, is the series’ latest villain. By leveraging a threat that’s pointlessly hidden from the audience before its almost immediate reveal, she manages to turn Dom to her side, pitting him against his much-ballyhooed family. Subsequently, led by Kurt Russell’s returning Mr. Nobody—now with Scott Eastwood superfluously at his side—Dom’s betrayed friends fight fire with fire. They recruit their own shorn, muscular man with a driver license in former enemy Jason Statham.
Several genuinely-entertaining, predictably-ridiculous, car-heavy set-pieces follow. Those are the meat and bones of the series now, and veteran but new-to-the-franchise director F. Gary Gray handles them competently. They may have been done a bit better before, but they work. The cast turns in their usual, charismatic-enough performances, though particular note should be given to at least a couple actors. Statham really makes his scarcely-believable presence worthwhile; conversely, Diesel’s Dom is as thinly acted as he is written, throwing petulant, meaningless glares where he could easily communicate far more.
Where this new iteration really falters is in its computer usage rising alongside its joyful stupidity. The film involves THREE unusually fit and/or attractive hacker nerds (Theron’s Cipher, Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey, and Ludacris’s Tej)—and it’s set aside some computer time for Eastwood and Statham, too. This results in so, so many shots of key-tapping hands. And since hacking is not so gleeful in its abandon of logic as, say, car stunts, it’s both boring and, somehow, harder to suspend belief for than The Rock’s numerous expressions of positively insane showings of strength. It’s inane filler that belongs in a sub-Bourne action-thriller, not here.
In a way, Fate is the Age of Ultron to the Avengers that was the trilogy before it. Bloated with an ever-rising number of infighting (sometimes literally fighting) characters, pushed to almost meaninglessly large consequences, and focused on a tech-centric villain who tends toward monologue in explaining the questionably noble intentions of her potentially city-leveling plans, it feels like an off-key note in an otherwise fun-if-hollow pop track.
Fate of the Furious
Director: F. Gary Gray
Studio: Universal Pictures
Runtime: 136 minutes
Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Kurt Russell, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Helen Mirren