There’s a Paul Walker-sized hole in the middle of The Fate of the Furious that the creative team and cast try to gloss over with bigger and more ridiculous stunts than ever before.
The addition of Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw as a member of the team, and Scott Eastwood as Mr. Nobody’s new aide help, but the loss of Walker – whose Brian O’Conner was the series’ real heart – cannot be completely overcome.
The Fate of the Furious opens with the family vacationing in Cuba – as Toretto and Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez) enjoy their honeymoon – and one of Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) cousins finds himself in a jam that can only be solved by a street raise. This leads to a terrific race that ends with Toretto driving backwards in a car that’s literally on fire.
It’s kind of the Bond formula of opening with an unrelated action scene before getting to the meat of the film. It also helps establish that family is the most important thing for Toretto – until a long, cool blonde in dark shades shows him something that causes him to turn on them.
Cipher (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road) is the world’s most wanted hacker and she’s got a shopping list of high tech items she needs for potentially nefarious purposes. She chooses to draft Toretto because he’s thwarted her plans a couple of times.
The first item she wants is an EMP device – which Toretto and his team save from some other bad guys at the behest of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new assistant (immediately called Training Wheels by Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs), Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Eastwood is comedy gold in the role.
Then Toretto steals it and leaves his family in the lurch and Hobbs winds up in jail – sacrificing himself to let the team get away.
There are a couple of other items Toretto has to fetch for Cipher, culminating in his winding up racing a heat-seeking missile to a submarine. Don’t worry, that makes as much sense as anything in this flick (after all, this is a movie who people like fast cars and watching stuff get blowed up real good).
The reason for Toretto’s leaving his family in the lurch is a good one, but while Cipher might be a super hacker, she’s not really got a handle on emotional ties – something that turns out to be her undoing.
Even so, Fate suffers from the lack of Walker’s grounding influence – despite the fun provided by the back and forth between Johnson and Statham; the physics defying stunts (and invisible CGI work), and the way the film occasionally mocks itself.
Worse, Cipher is just not that interesting a villain – and Theron seems to be sleepwalking her way through it. I realize that this role doesn’t require Imperator Furiosa levels of high octane intensity, but it should at least require some!
F. Gary Grey (Straight Outta Compton) stages the action well and definitely has the chops to make Fate’s more emotional beats land – most of the time – but even he can’t compensate for the loss of Walker entirely.
Don’t get me wrong, Fate is still a lot of fun – it’s just got a really hard act to follow.
Final Grade: B