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Vin Diesel
Vin Diesel
Warner Brothers
 136 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson
Fate of the Furious

For those old enough to remember the days when the thought of a new James Bond movie made the filmgoing public giddy with anticipation, 1979’s Moonraker marked a turning point in the series. Throughout the previous several films, the plots became less and less tethered to reality and more totally preposterous, the goal of each one being to have Bond destroy a ridiculously ornate (and expensive to design) villain’s lair at the end of each movie. In Moonraker, the villain didn’t merely want to rule the world, he wanted to destroy all human life on the planet from his orbiting space station (which gave Roger Moore’s Bond the most out-of-this-world set of all to blow up). The film made money, but many, myself included, thought it marked the series creative and dramatic low point. Fortunately, the producers thought so too, and Moore’s next picture, For Your Eyes Only, was considerably grittier and far more realistic, at least by the standards of the Bond series.


The 21st century version of the James Bond franchise is the aptly named Fast and Furious, a series that grew from the original movie, a well-made, exciting, yet low key, exercise in action film making, centered around street races and spectacular heists of moving convoys. Not surprisingly, the film generated a sequel, then another with a completely different cast, and then seemed on its way to fading out when it found its formula in the fifth movie, aptly called Fast Five. No longer was the action tethered to reality but, instead became an exercise in imagining what anything with four wheels might conceivably be able to do. And the cast, centered on the offbeat but surprisingly credible friendship between leads Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, got a major testosterone boost with the addition of Dwayne Johnson as FBI agent Hobbs. Ticket sales took off like some of the juiced up street racers in the series, and the action kept getting more outlandish, while, surprisingly, the films improved in quality. But now, eight films in, the franchise has hit its Moonraker moment, in an effort titled The Fate of the Furious.


Plot has seldom been important in Fast and Furious movies, and it’s even less so in Fate. Dominick Toretto (Diesel), the closest thing the series has to a leading man, is on his honeymoon in Havana with his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), when he is approached by a gorgeous and mysterious stranger who makes him an offer he can’t refuse. It seems that there’s a little Dom floating around, the result of a short-term relationship Dom had when Letty appeared to be dead in an earlier film (bringing supposedly deceased characters back to life is a hallmark of the franchise). The mystery woman, who turns out to be a superhacker appropriately named Cipher (Charlize Theron), forces Dom to help her pull off an increasingly elaborate set of robberies whose ultimate goal is to acquire and launch a nuclear missile or two (some things haven’t changed since Moonraker). Letty and the rest of Dom’s crew, once they realize what he’s done, try to stop him.


The crew I just referred to are Dom’s extended family, which, in addition to Letty, includes virtually everyone who has helped Dom out over the course of the previous eight movies. These include fellow daredevil drivers Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Taj (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), as well as the group’s own hacker extraordinaire Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). They also include the last film’s villain, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who, in the Fast series’ usual tradition of playing fast and loose with its backstory, has somehow agreed to help them out, all past sins seemingly being forgiven.


The presence of all these extended members of Dom’s family allows every virtually every character in the film to wax eloquently at one time or another on the importance of family, the franchise’s overarching mantra. While that family theme has frankly been one of the elements that has given the series its peculiar charm, by repeating it every five minutes or so, the film stretches the concept well past the breaking point and turns it into a mere gimmick. Dom’s “betrayal” of his family is supposed to have an impact on an audience schooled through seven movies in the importance these characters place on that concept. It might have had such an effect, if anyone actually believed that this betrayal was anything more than a gimmick designed to produce a few new wrinkles in the various set pieces in Fate of the Furious, much the same as the various betrayals and re-alliances that occur on a weekly basis in professional wrestling accomplish.


Two actors are noteworthy in Furious, albeit for different reasons. Kurt Russell returns as Mr. Nobody, the shadowy government agent who has Hobbs and the rest of Dom’s crew do his being. He is sly, witty, and obviously enjoying every single line he delivers. Almost all the film’s humor comes from his comments and asides, many delivered to his overly earnest, by-the-book sidekick (a thankless role for Scott Eastwood). Surprisingly, what would seem to be a surefire sensational addition to the cast falls short. Charlize Theron never really is able to bring either her sexuality or physicality to bear in a role that seems tailor made for her. Instead, she becomes little more than a second rate Bond villain. At the end, she is reduced to flailing away at her keyboard in her secret lair and shouting out empty lines like, “No, no, this can’t be happening.”


While almost every character from the past seven films puts in an appearance in Fate, it’s the one member who is unavoidably absent whose loss is most acutely felt. Paul Walker died during the filming of the last movie, resulting in some reshoots and re-edits, but no amont of reshooting could bring him back here. So, the script of Fate chooses to ignore Walker’s death, merely noting that they don’t want to involve his character, but Fate is missing what he provided, a human element and a genuine camaraderie with Vin Diesel. The finale of the last movie, Furious 7, in which he drives side-by-side for a minute with Diesel before literally going off into the sunset, is genuinely moving, and nothing in the present film, not even the presence of as adorable a baby as you can imagine, comes close to capturing that emotion.


Although having family and emotion in a film are nice, what people really want in a Fast and Furious movie is fast and furious action, and Fate delivers. The movie begins with a street race between Dom and a local tough guy through downtown Havana in broad daylight (see the clip below), followed by a completely audacious set piece in which Cipher hacks the control systems of dozens of cars in downtown. The finale is even more spectacular, with a chase over a frozen bay involving some 20 cars, a tank, and a submarine that seems able to race at about 50 miles per hour (the series has never been big on following the laws of physics). True, much of the chase relies heavily on CGI effects, but director F. Gary Gray edits the action well.


Fate of the Furious isn’t a bad movie, and it’s never a boring one. It’s not, however, a particularly memorable film or a really exciting one either. At the end of the film, the only action bit most people are likely to remember doesn’t include a single motor vehicle. Instead, it involves Jason Statham carrying Dom’s baby while engaging in a shootout with several gunmen. The scene shows just how underrated and often underutilized Statham is in most of his vehicles. It does not, however, add to the mystique of the Fast and Furious franchise. Of course, this franchise is simply too big of a cash cow for Universal Pictures or Vin Diesel to walk away from. But let’s at least hope the series gets its bearings back and pray that Diesel, Johnson, and company don’t wind up in outer space. 

In this scene, Vin Diesel takes part in a Havana street race.

Read other reviews of The Fate of the Furious:


The Fate of the Furious (2017) on IMDb