“The Fate of the Furious” still driving toward enjoyable absurdity

For nearly 20 years, the “Fast and Furious” franchise has landed one of the biggest cash-cows in Hollywood- pumping out new sequels every other year since 2004. Each sequel has managed to not only  up the ante, but does so with a level of quality most would not expect from a ludicrous series about driving cars.

Now, we’re at number eight with the cleverly titled “The Fate of the Furious,” which aims to shake-up the franchise, and  find its footing after the untimely death of the former star of the film, Paul Walker. While the film mostly comes out on top, it’s hard to not feel like we’re just spinning our wheels at this point.

Picking up a few months after “Furious 7,” “Fate” finds Dom and Letty on their honeymoon enjoying some R&R. On the trip, Dom is blackmailed by a cyber terrorist named Cipher who wants him to turn on his much-celebrated family. After an initial betrayal, the crew now need to find out how to stop Dom, as he tries to figure out how to beat a villain with the odds stacked in her favor.

At this point in the franchise, it’s difficult to criticize “The Fate of the Furious.” Ever since the fifth installment, the series has hit a stride of self-awareness and an understanding of what its audience wants: fast cars being put in more ridiculous situations and a plot so melodramatic it’s consistently comical in its attempts to raise the stakes. In that sense, “Fate” is another great entry in the series.

As with previous films, “Fate” does not innovate its plot or characters, instead focusing on how to destroy fast, beautiful cars in creative ways. One of the film’s most interesting examples involves cars being hacked so they become a horde of “zombie” cars, resembling scenes from “World War Z.”

This style of ridiculous action is present in every sequence, presenting new and implausible ways to put sports cars in interesting scenarios. This refound focus on the crew’s cars resembles the franchise’s origins, which seems to be what the film is going for, as Cipher constantly asks Dom to return to his former, criminal life.

While “Fate” turns the camera on these absurd car stunts, there’s less time spent with the characters or on hand-to-hand action scenes. The previous film, “Furious 7,” was able to mix both fairly well, showcasing badass cars and the impressive hand-to-hand skills in the same sequences.

Because of this irreverence towards its cast, they feel even more one-dimensional then before. Everyone seems to just fill their roles, reacting with snarky comments to everything while occasionally spouting lines about the importance of “family.”

Even Dom’s turn as a villain isn’t given enough weight to be meaningful. The audience knows within the first fifteen minutes not only how he was captured and by whom, but why he would even allow this to happen.

Yet, there are still some standout performances from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham, both of whom have larger roles than in previous films. With Dom away from the team, The Rock’s character has to become the new leader, commanding the screen with his patented charisma.

The filmmakers also decided to take the scene from “Furious 7” where he flexes his arm to heal his bones and make it his defining character trait. The Rock is quite literally an immovable force, able to break high-security handcuffs and throw missiles with a single hand.

Statham, on the other hand, becomes a good guy in this film and has one of the best action sequences in the film, which expertly displays his own charm and one-on-one fight skills.

“Fate” also continues the trend of superhero-esque plotlines, but this time around it’s a little too melodramatic and implausible. While there were certain stunts and leaps of logic I could forgive, there were certain plot holes and complete disregards for how our universe works that were too out there.

Despite that, “Fate of the Furious” is still an enjoyable, if familiar summer blockbuster. It manages to place fast cars in even more ridiculous situations, but it’s all starting to feel a little stale at this point. I can’t say I didn’t spend most of the film with a grin on my face and a laugh in my throat, but I’m not sure that’ll maintain through another entry of “Vin Diesel’s Family Circus.”

Rating: At this point, you’re either a fan or you’re not. The eighth film in this franchise is not going to change your mind.

Sam Goodrich | goodrichs@commonwealthtimes.org

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