Are some movies critic-proof? Sure. Given the increasingly large box-office returns for the Fast and Furious films, for example, it probably doesn’t matter if critics think the film is good or not. But this series is an interesting one to watch, because they’ve actually grown into being a critically-approved franchise. Fast Five is the turning point: when the series became less about car chases and more about heists and impossible stunt work involving cars (and getting the charisma bomb that is Dwayne Johnson), the critics came on board, and the box office shot up. With Furious 7, though, the franchise had to deal with the unexpected and tragic loss of original series star Paul Walker midway through production. Furious 7 managed to do a great job of giving Walker a proper sendoff while also giving plenty of the things that fans have come to expect from the series: incredible car stunts and lots of talk about family. Furious 7 worked so well, in fact, it could have served as a finale for the series.
Not that that was going to happen.
The Fate of the Furious (get it? Fate, as in F8?) finds the series looking for a new direction forward. It has an intriguing premise, and it gives series star Vin Diesel some unexpected room to delve deeper into a character who’s pretty much always been pure surface. It also brings back some fan-favorite characters, brings in some talented new actors to the franchise, and sets up what’s expected to be a trilogy of films within the franchise. But it also brings back a character who, while thoroughly enjoyable in this film, doesn’t work if you remember his impact in previous films, and introduces new characters who aren’t memorable in any way that’s good.
Following the end of Furious 7, Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are in Puerto Rico for their honeymoon. One day, Dom is approached by a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron), who blackmails Dom into working for her on a series of heists that will have Dom turning his back on his “family.” When the turn happens, Letty and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), along with Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), are tasked with tracking down Dom and Cipher. And they’re forced to work with someone from their past: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).
Let’s talk about the most complicated issue with The Fate of the Furious: the return of Deckard Shaw. As revealed in Fast & Furious 6, Shaw is responsible for the death of Han back in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. With Shaw serving as the main villain in Furious 7, he was a legitimate adversary for Dom and his “family,” because of his involvement in Han’s death. Here, though, while there’s some initial posturing between Hobbs and Shaw, he’s ultimately brought into the “family.”
On the one hand, I get why the filmmakers wanted to do that. Lest we forget, Hobbs was originally introduced as an adversary in Fast Five, and look where we are now. Getting Statham onboard for Furious 7 (and that tag scene a film earlier) was another big “get” for the franchise, and especially with his performance in Spy, he’s shown some dimensions to his acting that aren’t solely focused on his ability to kick ass. On that level, it makes sense for the series to want to use him again.
But Shaw isn’t Hobbs, where he was just an adversary. Shaw did some really horrible things to this group, and the fact that they’re not only willing to forgive him, or work with him, but invite him to the now-required family meal at the end of the film? WHY?
Speaking of villains and flaws, let’s talk about Cipher. Now, Charlize Theron does what she can with the role. She’s fun to watch. But she’s also a “hacker,” and she’s frequently shown doing “hacker” things. She’s not driving a car or getting in on the action. Considering how the series is bringing back adversaries these days, could she be back in a later installment? Probably. But what she’s given here is disappointing, especially considering what she brought to another film with impressive chases involving vehicles.
Those are the two biggest issues the film has. Beyond that, it’s more of the same. Depending on what you like, that may be a good or bad thing. The action scenes are impressive; one scene involving Cipher hacking into an army of cars is particularly effective. The cast is as solid as ever overall. And at this point, we know we’re going to get ninth and tenth (and possibly more) films in this series. Considering the improvement the series has found itself in over the last few features, though, it shows how important the little details are. Because “family” is one of the more identifiable elements of this particular series, and seeing Dom challenged to forsake his family – and seeing what pushes him there – is a good way to test that element. Bringing back the guy who killed a member isn’t.