'The Fate Of The Furious' Review: The Family Is Running On Fumes

The Fate of the Furious, like one of its heroes, wants to live life a quarter mile at a time. On a moment-to-moment basis, the eighth entry in the Fast and the Furious franchise offers visceral thrills that come close to rivaling some of the series' standout chases. But as the film rides its way to an ice-bound conclusion that requires our heroes to literally stop World War III from happening, it becomes all-but-impossible to accept some of the leaps of logic Fate takes in how its characters treat each other and the fabled family. This is the first entry in a while that talks a bigger game than it walks (or drives).

The story opens in Havana, where Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are celebrating their honeymoon. Said celebration is cut short when Dom is approached by the mysterious, unfortunately/appropriately named hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron) to do some dirty work for her. Cipher is instantly able to sway Dom to her side for initially unknown reasons, which leads him to betray the crew in pilfering an electromagnetic pulse device.

And so, Letty, DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), and fellow hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are brought together by the government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his protege (Scott Eastwood) to find Dom and take down Cipher. Since finding Dom seems to be impossible, Mr. Nobody surprises our heroes by bringing in some new blood: specifically, the villain from the last film, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).

Herein lies one of the bigger problems of The Fate of the Furious. On one hand, Statham is clearly having the time of his life, even more than in Furious 7 – Deckard's constant bickering with Hobbs is one of the better running gags of the picture. What's more, Statham gets the spotlight in a memorable fight scene late in the film. However, anyone with a more-than-cursory knowledge of the Fast and the Furious series will remember why exactly Deckard was the bad guy of a previous entry, and why Dom and his family so despised him.

Unfortunately, screenwriter Chris Morgan and new director F. Gary Gray have either forgotten that Deckard murdered Dom's old buddy Han, or hope that the audience has forgotten. It's a risky gambit, and one that doesn't work. Within an hour of Deckard being brought on board, they're distraught at the very possibility of him being hurt, which is oddly more ridiculous than the climax of this film, where the family has to band together to stop Cipher from maintaining control of a hacked Russian submarine and its nuclear missiles.

Oh yes: our heroes are now fighting off submarines and nuclear weapons. Maybe it's the logical extension of a series where the action keeps getting crazier and crazier. To the film's credit, there are a couple of novel ideas embedded within the setpieces, like when Cipher hacks into hundreds of cars' computer systems in New York City to enable her plan and withstand an assault from Hobbs, Letty, and the rest of the crew. But Cipher's endgame is as dull as the character herself.

If the biggest problem of The Fate of the Furious is how the family forgets one of their own, the second is this: how do you cast Charlize Theron in a car-centric action film, just after her incredible work in Mad Max: Fury Road, and thoroughly misuse her? Aside from two brief scenes (including one in which she shares a kiss with Diesel, teased so often in the ads), Theron is stuck in the control room of a private airplane barking out threats and orders from a headset. She's one of our finest actresses, and has acquitted herself fabulously in other genre films, so this is a case of maddeningly wasted potential.

The revelation of why Dom would betray his friends and family is also a bit of a letdown; there's only so many possibilities, and the truth is foreshadowed in the early going. Dom's choice isn't entirely illogical, but it comes at the expense of the core group in ways that simply feel untrue. In the moment, it might make sense for, say, Dom to make out with Cipher. It creates a soap-opera-esque shock to Letty, the family, and fans, as well as allowing him to maintain his cover. But on a larger scale, actions like that are less shocking and more inexplicable.

Some parts of The Fate of the Furious work very well, to be sure. (Johnson and Statham, even if their relationship falsely turns into something warmer by the end, are a lot of fun together, especially during an early prison-break fight.) The large-scale action is pulled off fairly well, though a better director, like Chad Stahelski or David Leitch, might stage the hand-to-hand combat in a smoother fashion. And it's pleasant enough to see Diesel and the crew back in action...on a moment-to-moment basis. No doubt, if there's a ninth Fast and the Furious (The Fine and the Furious?), the action will have to top things like The Rock using his body to change the trajectory of a missile. But it's equally important for the core family to stay true to themselves, which The Fate of the Furious fails to understand.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10