The long and winding road that the Fast & Furious franchise has found itself on has come with many unexpected turns. Now in its eighth film, the series once again finds itself having to figure out how to move forward without one of its main stars. Unlike 2 Fast 2 Furious, which simply tried to recreate the same brotherly dynamic of its predecessor, The Fate of the Furious often feels like it is auditioning characters to see who the new main power duo will be. The first full film since Paul Walker’s death, F. Gray Gary’s entry into the franchise lets Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) take the driver’s seat while leaving the bromance to the unexpected pairing of once bitter rivals Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard (Jason Statham).
While the dynamics have changed slightly, the plot continues to take the franchise further into the James Bond territory that the previous two films have established. In the latest globe-trotting edition, Dom and Letty’s honeymoon is cut short when a mysterious hacker known as Cipher (Charlize Theron) convinces Dom to betray those closest to him. With Dom going rouge, by stealing an EMP, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) assembles the old team to track down their former leader. Realizing that this will be a difficult mission, Mr. Nobody also enlists the help of the only other individual who has been able to find Dom in the past, their old foe Deckard who has his own score to settle with Cipher.
Building on the ever-changing lore, The Fate of the Furious succeeds in the areas where Furious 7 stumbles. The plot is a little more structured, though still gloriously ludicrous, and the chemistry amongst the characters goes back to fun levels that fans have come to expect. Also Gray and crew finally figure out how to better navigate the James Bond style narrative the series has now committed itself to.
This is not to say it the film is not without its problems though. One noticeable issue is that, outside of Letty, the women in the film are left out of most of the action. For a series that has promoted equality since the first film, this seems like a giant step backwards not to have the rest of the women driving cars or engaging in the fisticuffs. This is especially noticeable for Theron who, after starring in both Mad Max: Fury Road and Gray’s own The Italian Job, is stuck behind a computer for the majority of the film.
Furthermore, it is telling that Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsay is relegated to the passenger seat while newcomer Scott Eastwood’s Little Nobody gets to fumble around in several shiny sports cars until he gets the hang of things.
While the women get short changed in regards to action, Theron is easily the most compelling villain this franchise has ever had. Setting the stage to become the Lex Luther of the series, she brings a believable brain versus brawn dynamic to her scenes with Diesel. Though her character’s motivations are pretty thin, her everyone is expendable mentally is effective in raising the stakes.
The area where the film feels most at odds with itself is the action sequences. While the opening and closing set pieces effectively capture the outlandish fun the series has become known for, the last 30 minutes are especially great, Gray does not seem to understand that less is more when it comes to the CGI heavy action sequences. The idea of hacking into cars remotely is timely and interesting at first. However, the sequence quickly devolves into an orgy of lifeless special effects as cars mobilize like “zombies” and even rain down from above. It is in moments like these where the series feels most in danger of jumping the shark, or in this case the Sharknado.
Thankfully there are enough action sequences that work – the Deckard sequence on the plane had the audience eating out of the film’s hand, as did the one where Roman magically avoids hypothermia in Russia after falling into frigid water – and a good dose of humour to make for a very fun, though not quite remarkable, entry in the series.
Though The Fate of the Furious delivers an entertaining time, future installments need to bring women back to a level of prominence.