The Fate of the Furious (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
The increasingly over-the-top, car-smashing, bone-crunching action franchise continues to entertain, but it is apparent that “The Fate of the Furious,” directed by F. Gary Gray, is a step down from its direct—and quite excellent—predecessor. This time, the central villain, played by Charlize Theron, is a brainy hacker who prefers to fight from a distance and behind a computer. It would have been a great opportunity for the series to change it up either by turning its focus on the more techno-savvy members of the “Fast” family (Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel) or a different way to defeat an enemy who is capable of flipping the board with a mere touch of button. Instead, we get more of the same action scenarios—satisfying superficially but one cannot help but consider the possibilities had the studio been willing to take a real risk on their billion-dollar series.
There are two-and-a-half central action sequences in this two-and-a-half-hour adrenaline run. Clearly, the showdown in the busy streets of New York City is best—not because it is the most drawn out, loudest, or most expensive-looking, but because it shows the venom of this installment’s antagonist. Cipher (Theron) can control just about any technology as long as a computer can hack into it; the sequence shows how increasingly reliant we are when it comes to automated technologies and it also shows how all of it can go horribly wrong in an instant when such technologies are accessed by the wrong hands. This action scene would not have been as effective had it been released back in the early 2000s or even five years ago. It is a statement of our current times and where we might be heading.
The chemistry among the cast is there, as always. Dom (Vin Diesel) “betraying” his chosen family is a forced plot point but it provides an opportunity to show how the family members function when their leader is AWOL. However, the script is lacking in wit, intelligence, and creativity when it comes to specific exchanges between the family members. Look closely and take notice of how too often the material relies on Roman the funny guy, played by Tyrese Gibson, to make ill-timed and hilarious remarks without first building the necessary tension—and emotions—behind the possibility of fighting a great former ally.
Action sequences are capably executed and edited but unlike the superior three films that came directly before, this one is more reliant on shaking the camera to induce a sense of realism—particularly during hand-to-hand combat. The prison fight scene is an example that quickly comes to mind. While infectious energy and sense of momentum are established so that we pay attention through every beat, make no mistake: these are not refreshing action scenes. They are expected and standard, offering an overall experience that we can encounter in any action flick sans head-spinningly fast, ludicrously expensive cars.
I am not tired of “The Fast and the Furious” series because it has proven that it is capable of changing, adapting, and evolving. They may be ridiculously over-the-top, but they are also entertaining to see unfold. The cast it has amassed is charming—every one of them commands attention when he or she speaks. And who doesn’t enjoy the gleeful sounds the engines make prior to sudden acceleration? But in order for the series to move forward and reach another peak as it did during “Furious 7,” not only do the stunts need to get bigger, the filmmakers must come up with fresh ways to deliver messages it wishes to communicate. A tinge of complacency can be detected here.