Fate of the Furious is the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of the Fast and Furious franchise – in that Crystal Skull, in and of itself, is a reasonably entertaining and well made romp, but makes choices in story and aesthetics that completely clash with what made the original trilogy so special, putting it even below what some even consider an “objectively worse” film like Temple of Doom (which I think is bullshit, but that seems to be the consensus, so whatever – this is just an example). Fate of the Furious is an entertaining and well made enough action film, but it makes choices that completely go against what has made this bizarre franchise so endearing to so many people.
If you are someone who only watches the Fast and the Furious films for over-the-top car action, I don’t see why you wouldn’t come out reasonable satisfied. F. Gary Gray clearly knows how to handle action, and while none of the sequences would be among my favorites in the franchise, they are still filled with more fun and creativity than most standard Hollywood fare. And of course, everyone is really good in their roles, both returning and newcomers alike. On the surface, nothing is really “wrong” with Fate of the Furious. It’s really underneath, the heart, the core, which doesn’t seem right.
So, while a certain subset of this franchise’s fandom may settle for just the action and reduce the throughline of surrogate families to an ironic chuckle, and a “he said it, he said the thing, everybody take a shot,” moment, I don’t. And that’s where this latest film falls short. It loses sight of family, which makes it extra disappointing since it wrapped up Furious 7 beautifully in the same regard. And I mean this in the most unironic way possible.
It’s a shame because some of the setup seems like it would allow that theme to flourish more, especially when it comes to exploring the motivation behind Dom’s (Vin Diesel) heel turn, but it only becomes muddled as it goes on. It culminates into a finale in which I was staring at the screen, trying my best to have fun with the action, but my head is constantly screaming “why is this character here, why is he doing this, why is any of this happening?”
The first big mistake was the complete lack of the family dynamic we’re so used to, but while the change could theoretically make things more interesting, the film never goes into it deeper. In the trailer, we see that Deckard Shaw is forced to work with Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) in order to track down Dom, who is now working with cyber terrorist, Cipher (Charlize Theron). And remember, this is the same Deckard that killed fan favorite, Han, and basically set off the whole plot of Furious 7. Han is never mentioned by name in the entirety of Fate and the Furious, and if you watch this film knowing nothing, you might as well think Deckard cut Dom in line at the DMV once because that’s the level of animosity they show toward one another. It becomes so egregious by the final moments of the film when they somehow turned a character that was designed for you to love to hate into being just another one of the guys, I can’t help but wonder if Chris Morgan had his memory wiped before writing the script. I can forgive that Charlize Theron doesn’t even get to drive a car, or that Helen Mirren only appears for like five total minutes, but I’m finding it incredibly hard to see past the fact that a character that I and a lot of people genuinely enjoyed has been treated like a footnote for reasons that are just beyond me. That is not how you treat family.
By changing some of the dynamic that’s been established, it just goes to show how much of a delicate balance some of the recent films have truly been. Everything about it feels oddly disjointed, with some characters acting like they’re in completely different films from one another. Dom is in a dark and gritty crime drama, Hobbs and Deckard have a bizarre buddy comedy thing going on, and then the rest of the crew are in a James Bond film. And there really isn’t much in terms of connective tissue to make all these pieces fit together in a cohesive whole, it just moves on and on without ever finding some kind of groove. While it was easy to forgive Furious 7 to have some messy plotting due to the unfortunate loss of Paul Walker mid-production, it seems like even after all this time, it hasn’t fully been thought out how the franchise should move on.
Yes, the Fast and the Furious franchise is no stranger to bad movies, but there was such a strange satisfaction in seeing how this series found itself and grew into one of the most fascinating works of uniquely modern, progressive, and unabashedly melodramatic pop-art filmmaking. It may seem like I’m just overreacting to the lack of connection to Han, but to touch on that is exactly the kind of move that this film should’ve made in the first place because this is exactly the franchise where they would actually do explore that. The repetition of “family” might be laughable to some, but Dom always mumbled it with total sincerity. That’s why it’s such a bummer to see it totally miss the mark this far into the series, in its eighth installment after a solid run of great movies since Fast Five. Fate of the Furious isn’t a bad movie by any stretch, but it’s a bad Fast and Furious movie.