Kernel Rating (out of 5): (3.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This is all typical stuff for the “Fast and Furious” franchise: cursing, vulgar and sexually themed jokes; some varying nudity, skimpy outfits, and an implied sex scene; and a variety of action and violence, including car chases, shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, cars being crushed and crashed, and countless characters dying in a variety of ways. Per usual, this isn’t gory or bloody violence, but it is omnipresent, and overall the body count feels higher than any preceding movies in this franchise.
‘The Fate of the Furious’ gets expectedly over the top, as ‘Fast and Furious’ movies tend to do. But the enjoyably ridiculous antics can’t fix a fissured film that sags under the weight of its divided narrative.
By Roxana Hadadi
The loss of Paul Walker is undeniably felt in “The Fate of the Furious,” the eighth film in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. His character, Brian O’Conner, was the California cool that kept this ragtag group of one-time drag racers turned world savers together, and without Walker’s presence, Vin Diesel’s influence has expanded unchecked.
The result is a movie devoted almost entirely to Diesel’s character, Dominic Toretto, with little room for anyone else and with few opportunities at the kind of mindlessly invigorating entertainment that is synonymous with this franchise. “F8” is, most disappointingly, not nearly as fun as it could be, and a narrative that is split between Toretto’s character and his “family” trying to save him suffers from that division.
The film begins after the events of 2015’s “Furious 7” (the one where Diesel and Walker drive a car through two Abu Dhabi skyscrapers, the group fights mercenaries on helicopters, and Walker’s character is given a happy ending that removes him from the franchise), with Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, of “Smurfs: The Lost Village”) enjoying their honeymoon in Havana, Cuba. They talk about starting a family, but those plans are put on hold when Diesel disappears—betraying Letty and his friends at the behest of hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron, of “Kubo and the Two Strings”). “I choose to make my own fate,” Dom tells Cipher, but whatever video she shows him on a cell phone has him boarding her airplane and helping her crew steal nuclear launch codes, putting him at odds with his wife and his crew.
At this point, the movie divides its time: One narrative track follows Dom and Cipher as she manipulates him further, cooing at him that he’s a “genuine outlaw ... who lives by his own rules” and encouraging him to give up this “Robin Hood nonsense,” while the other concentrates on Letty and the crew, who are enlisted by their government contact Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, of “Furious 7”) to find Dom and prevent whatever Cipher is trying to do. To round out the team, Mr. Nobody brings in former crew adversary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, of “The Expendables 3”), who immediately clashes with Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, of “Moana”) but has his own grudge against Cipher.
What’s next is, per usual, increasingly outlandish action sequences, some of which are amazing—like when Cipher hacks into thousands of cars, turns on their auto-drive function, and controls them as a swarm of “zombie” vehicles through the streets of New York City—but most of which underserve any characters who aren’t Dominic Toretto. As Cipher, Theron spews a bunch of generic evil villain dialogue (“Have you heard of choice theory, Dom?” and “I am the crocodile at the watering hole” are a few of the most absurd), but she mostly stands around yelling at henchmen to hack faster. The same lack of activity extends to other female characters like computer genius Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, of "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials") and the once rowdy Letty, and a particularly terrible addition to the cast is Scott Eastwood (of "Suicide Squad") as a trainee of Mr. Nobody. Eastwood is clearly a Walker replacement who lacks any of the late actor’s easy-going charm, and his increased presence in the group diminishes other people’s screen time.
Putting those complaints aside, “The Fate of the Furious” still offers a lot for fans of the franchise. Statham’s increased role is an excellent move, and he has a shootout sequence that is the zaniest, most memorable thing to happen in the film. As the self-involved, sometimes cowardly Roman, Tyrese Gibson (of "Ride Along 2") provides the comic levity the script needs, especially when complaining about not making the list of Top 10 international criminals. And there are a few surprise cameos that call back to previous films, reaffirming how the “Fast and Furious” franchise is constantly expanding its own universe.
But it’s difficult to watch “The Fate of the Furious” and not think that perhaps Diesel has too much influence and has drawn too much of the film’s focus. Devoting the entirety of the movie to his character arc betrays the “family” vibe these movies are supposed to represent. With two more films confirmed in the franchise, these movies need to get back to that focus—and need to find the right balance between their inevitable absurdity and their ensemble storytelling.
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