Expect the expected as the highly profitable, high-octane, globe-hopping action series returns for another run.
When fast cars, furious quests and family combine, anything can happen. A street racer can form a brotherly bond with the undercover cop who tried to bring him down, a ragtag group can speed into each other’s lives from around the world, enemies can become friends, and criminals can become world-saving secret heroes. Runways extend longer than ever before, vehicles skydive, and jumping a submarine is completely normal. That’s the Fast and Furious world, and audiences have been living in it since 2001. In what is clearly the franchise’s biggest achievement, a grimacing, gravel-voiced Vin Diesel has long turned a Point Break knock-off into a highly profitable, high-octane, globe-hopping action series, built from reliable parts, tinkered with here and there, and fuelled by trying to outdo its past runs.
Eight films in, that’s still what’s driving into cinemas. Like any frequently travelled road trip, however, the latest instalment can’t always balance the enthusiasm that accompanies its return to beloved territory with its repetition. Directed by Fast and Furious newcomer F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) and written by the previous five movies’ Chris Morgan, The Fate of the Furious hurtles through the anticipated components, displays the appropriate amount of glee, yet also feels like a regular best of package. Rehashing the series’ standout elements might sit at the core of every feature since 2009’s fourth chapter Fast & Furious tried to kick the then-stalling saga back into gear, but here, the highlights can’t always drown out the nagging familiarity. The Japanese moniker for the franchise’s fifth outing perhaps best sums up the greatest hits compilation-like efforts the series has now become, courtesy of a name that easily applies to the last four films: Wild Speed: Mega Max. (In Japan, The Fate of the Furious has been titled Wild Speed: Ice Break.)
Cue a mega mix of maximum vehicular mayhem as Dominic Toretto (Diesel, xXx: Return of Xander Cage) honeymoons in Havana with his long-time girlfriend turned new wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Smurfs: The Lost Village) — complete with a frenetic dash around the city for glory and respect, naturally — then finds himself persuaded by cybercriminal Cipher (Charlize Theron, Kubo and the Two Strings) into betraying his nearest and dearest. The plan comes into effect during a clandestine government mission in Berlin, as led by US agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, Moana), leaving Dom’s faithful crew shocked and confused. Under the guidance of shadowy fixer Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell, Deepwater Horizon) and his new offsider (Scott Eastwood, Suicide Squad), Hobbs, Letty, Roman (Tyrese Gibson, Ride Along 2), Tej (Ludacris, New Year's Eve), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, TV’s Game of Thrones) are soon hunting down their tight-knit clan’s traitorous pseudo patriarch, aided by their former nemesis Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, Mechanic: Resurrection).
Story has always come second to stunts in the Fast and Furious realm, a preference that doesn’t change here, but the connective tissue weaving together the film’s many car chases is worn thin. The Fate of the Furious is content to serve up a twist that’s been done before, toy with a new adversary, and keep finding ways to spout the franchise’s central emotional theme of loyalty, though the series’ knack for casting once again delivers. Helen Mirren’s (Collateral Beauty) character might prove a predictable part that ties into that oft-mentioned love of family, but her enjoyable couple of scenes are a lively inclusion. As villains — one current, one reformed — Theron and Statham find the right respective modes to add flair, one calmly menacing, the other more jovial and frenetic. The main mainstays, like the movie itself, do exactly what they need to: Diesel and Rodriguez’s conflicted seriousness, Gibson and Ludacris’ comic relief, and Johnson and Russell’s dependably entertaining efforts, for example.
Indeed, the latter two mirror The Fate of the Furious’ fortunes, in what remains a reliable but never remarkable addition to the fold. Even when vehicular onslaught takes pole position, spanning classic models catching alight, a giant wrecking ball, seas of zombie cars colliding, standoffs across intersections, sporty and military vehicles, as well as the aforementioned submarine, spectacle and surprise never crash together. As his 2003 remake of The Italian Job already demonstrated, Gray is an energetic helmer of action, even if some of his set pieces ride past their welcome, but his hand-to-hand combat scenes better hit the mark. As The Fate of the Furious speeds across the screen, expect the expected. Of course, the fact that eight Fast and Furious films have careened through such an array of antics that they’ve become routine ranks up there with the franchise’s feats.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
The Fate of the Furious
Director: F. Gary Gray
USA, 2017, 136 mins
Release date: April 12
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level