Directed by F. Gary Gray | Written by Chris Morgan, based on characters by Gary Scott Thompson | 136 min
We’ve been promised a final trilogy of movies to take us across this franchise’s finish line—and that we even got this far is kind of amazing. This whole shooting match started as a low-budget exploitation picture, a loose remake of Point Break in tuner-car culture, eventually mutating into a customized hotrod, the likes of which we haven’t seen before—loud and colourful international thrillers based around two bold conceits: a multi-ethnic group of motorheads can save the world better than 007 if given the right set of wheels, and loyalty to the patriarchal family unit is the reason for everything good in the world.
Fast Five was the best of them, but while they slipped a little in pure fun, numbers six and seven both kept up the tradition of outrageous machismo and even more outrageous automotive stunts.
The Fate Of The Furious arrives with two heavy debits: the key relationship in most of the previous films—between Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) has concluded, leaving Dom twisting in the wind. I’ve admired Diesel’s charisma in these films, but he needs a brother or a nemesis to fulfill the dynamic, and the last few allowed Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to step into that role to some degree. Unfortunately, the highly publicized spat between Diesel and Johnson manifests in this film as a weird void with the actors, and characters, barely interacting.
You may already know the gist this time out: Dom is recruited by American shadow-ops dude Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell, having fun) and his protege Little Nobody (the charisma-challenged Scott Who’s Your Daddy? Eastwood) to track down an EMP device. Dom gets his team on board—Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Nathalie Emmanuel—but none of them know he’s also been recruited by a badass hacker with major resources dubiously named Cipher (Charlize Theron) who has something on him. Dom betrays his buddies, especially Hobbs who gets thrown in jail, sharing a cell block with Deckard (Jason Statham), who he also threatens to beat “like a Cherokee drum”.
And so it goes with too much posturing and CGI action and too little real engagement. Much of the fun of the movies past was fuelled by the terrific supporting cast—the leads didn’t have to do so much heavy lifting. Walker, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, and Gal Gadot are especially missed here, as are Tego Calderon and Don Omar, who barely cameo.
Instead we get a very long and flabby midsection as the crew sits around discussing high end apps (I shit you not) for two or three scenes while the whole movie grinds to a halt. Say what you will about former director Justin Lin, he kept stuff moving at a good clip so his audience didn’t sit around thinking about how absurd it all is until after the credits rolled. There’s plenty of running time for absurd-spotting here.
For instance, how is it that Statham’s Deckard gets roped in to be a kind-of chum, despite the fact we all know he’s a murderer? Everyone seems to have forgotten he killed Han (Kang).
And the mooted face-off between Hobbs and Deckard, it never happens. And you’d think Dom’s “betrayal” would have an impact on Hobbs—it sent him to jail after all—and hopefully lead to some third-act resolution between the two perspiring bulletheads. But no. And let’s not even get into Cipher’s total absence of reasonable motivation for her world-conquering plan.
So, given these problems, what does The Fate Of The Furious have to recommend it?
High end vehicular mayhem: Check. Arm butter: Check. Jason Statham in the best baby-related action sequence since Hard Boiled: Check. The Rock coaching a team of tween girls soccer and performing a Maori war dance: Check. An appearance by British acting royalty sporting a thick, cockney accent: Check. Our heroes pursued at high speed across a frozen bay by a nuclear submarine: Check.
That might be enough for some, but the eighth model of this particular machine is still a whole lot less fun than it should be.