What can you do with cars in an action scene that hasn’t been done before? The Fast and the Furious film franchise seems to always have the right answer, letting the imagination run wild with automotive stunts and destruction that make any other movie about cars seem timid by comparison. Now on its eighth installment, The Fate of the Furious still has some of that giddy insanity that keeps the blood pumping as much as the nitro in the cars, even if there’s much less in the tank than there was before.
The plot plays as a cross between a soap opera and a James Bond picture. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is considering being a father with his love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Thoughts of settling down are put on hold as Dominic and his familiar team of drivers, hackers and government agents are tasked with stealing an EMP weapon. The mission proceeds smoothly until Toretto shocks everyone by going rogue and handing over the weapon to the blonde-haired terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron). Her plans are rather simple as far as villain ambitions go: Steal some nukes and hold the world for ransom. Sure, other bad guys have tried and failed with this exact scheme, but she’s a little more confident having convinced the seemingly invisible Toretto to do her bidding for the hostages she is holding. While she will get the blood boiling for the desire to see Toretto exact revenge on her, she’s not exactly a memorable villain with her infrequent tones and noodle-like hair. Theron must not have got the memo about what movie she was starring in as she’s playing her role far too seriously for a woman that wants to nab some nukes.
It’s a little disappointing that the series’ central theme of family doesn’t feel as strong here as it should, especially with how lacking in chemistry the movie appears. Not only do the protagonists spend more time apart, but can do little more than crack a few jokes on their laser focus to stop a terrorist. The nuke plot is so standard and boring that the passing of character development for easy quips makes the film a disappointment of lost potential. The heated relationship of agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and rogue assassin Shaw (Jason Statham) could have been fun if they did more than just shout insults at each other. Chris Bridges and Nathalie Emmanuel have no time for an implied romance between hackers, Kurt Russell is mostly in the background with commentary and Tyrese Gibson can do little more than shout his way into the plot.
Where the film does try to make up for its average action script is another barrage of over-the-top action sequences. Cool looking cars are thrown into a variety of locations where they burst into flames, skid around ice, avoid missiles, shoot grappling hooks and topple into each other by the dozens. Sure, these are all fun scenes, but they don’t have that certain level of craziness and creativity that makes The Fast and the Furious franchise so unique. One can only smash so many cars before the audience is just watching a tornado of a junkyard explosion.
Newcomer director F. Gary Gray attempts to give Vin Diesel more emotion and make the story a little more personal, but only as well as he can through the filters of the Furious series’ requirement for quips and car chases. It felt more as though Gray was sticking to a formula rather than doing his own thing in how he shoots and direct scenes that feel derivative of both the franchise and other action films. Lines and scenes that should be fun come off more standard than unique, which is saying something for a movie where a flaming car speeds backwards towards a finish line and hundreds of cars reenact World War Z. This is a franchise that needs to be taken into the shop if it hopes to maintain any sense of charisma and energy before reaching the big one-zero as more than just another dumb blockbuster where cars go vroom and explode into pretty balls of fire.