The Fast and the Furious is the mega-franchise no one really saw coming. Yes, the first film which seems almost absurdly simple held up to everything that follows was a big hit, and the second and third installments made money, but did anyone think exceptionally highly of those pictures? When Vin Diesel returned for the fourth film the franchise took a hard turn into surprisingly rich and complex action territory. And through the cast and the stunts have become a process of one-upmanship with every successive film, the franchise has remarkably walked the line between the ludacris (pun and erroneous spelling absolutely intended) and the satisfying. The Fate of the Furious pushes the former to the absolute limit.
The stunts are bigger, the stakes are higher and the proverbial jumping shark is on the horizon. If we press on from here — and the possibility is left open — the franchise may finally go too far. But for now, for The Fate of the Furious, we’ll go right up to the edge, with a sufficiently entertaining outcome to keep us on board even as Dom wins races in reverse by turning his beat up old ride into a bomb. Yes, really, and that’s before the title even flashes on the screen. Buckle up, because it’s about to get a lot wackier.
Charlize Theron brings her immeasurable talents to the absurdity party as Cipher — the unseen architect of many of the Crew’s woes — a cyberterrorist who can hack *anything.* If that sounds to you like the premise of Watch Dogs, you’re not wrong. The Fate of the Furious is Watch Dogs on wheels with a spicy Bond-sequence villain to flip the script and pit Dom against his family.
As to plot, here’s all you really need to know: This script conspires to bring all of the players together to to put a stop to Cipher and her new favorite toy, Dom. This means you get absurd amounts of banter from Tej and Roman, ridiculous levels of smack exchange from Shaw and Hobbs and vast opportunity for Theron to mean mug and chew the scenery. Even if you’re not into the cars and the testosterone display, stick around to see her go to work on the insanity that is The Fate of the Furious.
The picture clocks in at an entirely unnecessary 2 hours and 16 minutes, and as has become the norm it follows our players through a number of metropolises and outlandish set-piece scenarios. Nearly everything that happens in this movie is baffling, but let’s take a minute to call out the biggest plot hole of all: Why did the crew stop drinking Corona? (I jest. Kind of. Thankfully, the intrepid Joanna Robinson already looked into this troubling development.) There’s a jailbreak montage that feels like a straight-up wink at Guardians of the Galaxy, but without the same kind of smart sophistication, it’s just The Rock ripping a concrete bench from a wall and doing curls with it before pursuing Statham through a riot and right out the front doors into Mr. Nobody’s (Kurt Russell) waiting arms. Contrivance after contrivance moves us forward.
But though the shiny paint job is starting to show some chips, this The Fate of the Furious isn’t yet a junker. It feels like a fun, if frivolous, last hurrah. It won’t be, of course, but it begs the question, where do you go from end-of-days stakes with a Theron-caliber talent to sell an easy premise?