The Fate of the Furious: An Underwhelming Ride for Fans

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Vin Diesel returns as Dominic Toretto in The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in The Fast and the Furious franchise (Courtesy of Flickr).

By Greg Mysogland

Vin Diesel returns as Dominic Toretto in The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in The Fast and the Furious franchise (Courtesy of Flickr).

“You don’t turn your back on family. Even when they do.” Although not uttered by Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto until its sixth film, that line could serve as the motto for the entire The Fast and Furious film franchise. The hugely popular action series has juggled more complex themes than it is often given credit for in its 16-year history (including honor and justice among others), but it is this core idea of what family is and just how powerful it can be that, even more than the deliciously ridiculous car stunts and fight scenes, that makes the films so darn loveable. Hollywood’s most diverse blockbuster ensemble immaculately portrays a surrogate family made of Robin Hood style outlaws and federal agents that depicts a more genuine, unconditional love than most blood relatives ever show one another. Coming off an installment that was universally praised for its honoring of a fallen cast member, which also tied up many long running narrative threads, a reinvention was necessary if the saga was to continue. A reinvention is the best way to describe The Fate of the Furious, the series’ flawed yet still highly endearing eighth film.

Beginning with leads Dom (Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) on a long-delayed honeymoon in Cuba, Fate quickly moves to an extended street race between Dom and a local bully, reminding audiences why they fell in love with these movies in the first place. Soon after the race, Dom encounters Cipher (Charlize Theron) a cyber-terrorist who blackmails him into working for her and turning against his family. This is where Fate marks a dramatic departure with the rest of the series. Dom has a checkered past, and while recent films have emphasized his more fatherly qualities, Diesel’s performances always remind the viewers that he still has a dark side. That being said, the character has long since redeemed himself for most if not all of his past sins, becoming genuinely heroic. A relapse into darkness could reasonably be seen as character regression by some. Personally, I believe it’s an interesting take on the character. One of the script’s high points is how it calls back to some of Dom’s philosophies from the edgier first film to question whether he truly is a devoted family man and a hero or a criminal adrenaline junkie who simply has a soft spot for his friends. These are daring questions to ask of a character so ingrained in modern pop culture canon.

One of the main problems with Fate is that aside from some interesting observations about Dom, its character work is not nearly as strong as other recent Fast films. Rodriguez does a lot with a little, but Letty’s absolute refusal to believe Dom could have anything other than good reasons for his actions leaves the character feeling somewhat static. Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs makes a surprising decision at the end of the film, but aside from one earlier scene, the necessary motivations for doing so were never developed. Kurt Russell and Ludacris simply don’t get enough to do. Perhaps most problematic of all is the redemption of Furious 7 villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Statham is highly charismatic, as he always is, and his big action moment is one of the film’s best, but his inclusion puts an emotional elephant in the room. The fact is that Shaw killed one of the family memberd in the last film, and this is never addressed adequately. The concept of Letty and company being forced to work with their greatest enemy works, but the execution is all wrong, with Deckard’s sins being forgiven far too easily. Amongst this confused use of the ensemble, however, is the shining light of Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pierce. Roman is one of the greatest comic relief movie characters of all time, and here his hilarity is cranked up to 11, with Gibson delivering some truly hysterical lines and reactions in spectacular fashion.

Ultimately, The Fate of the Furious is a bit of a drop in quality for the Fast and Furious saga. The character work is not articulated as well as the older films, and aside from sequences in New York and Cuba, the action doesn’t reach franchise heights, even if the comedy is better than ever. However, Fate does seem to serve a purpose as part of a larger whole. Diesel has announced that the next two films will be the last (with the possible exception of spinoffs) and by Fate’s end the characters (particularly Dom) seem positioned for what will hopefully be a spectacular end to a wonderful ride, even if getting them there was a bit bumpy.