By Eashan Reddy Kotha
With each installment, the Fast and Furious franchise has raised the stakes, taking it from the streets of Los Angeles to the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan. After “Furious 7’s” critical acclaim and leggy box office run (1.516 billion dollars), one question that arose was just how director F. Gary Johnson could continue the constantly evolving adrenaline-fueled franchise in “Fate.” Well, for fans of the franchise or of superheroes whose power is pulling off crazy car stunts, “Fate of the Furious” offers a solid action film, if not treatises on its characters.
“The Fast and Furious” has had the advantage of developing its returning cast and their team dynamic over several films, notably starting with the release of “Fast Five.” Despite only being a few years removed from the last installment, it feels unusual watching characters like Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) interact on screen. The scenes linking all the action together are held up by minor comedic interactions between Tej and Roman. As a result, the exposition and transitions from one sequence to another feel a bit rough. We get a nice flyover of a location, starting at Cuba and ending on an NYC rooftop. A couple of people talk and look at computer screens. Shortly after, we jump into the action sequence. Then it’s back to the screens again. Johnson handles the action well but falls short in making the interludes engaging. Still, with a longer than two-hour runtime, the action occurs at a steady enough pace to keep the film from being drawn out.
While returning characters have retained their larger-than-life status on screen, Agent Reisner (Scott Eastwood) is added to the already extensive list of characters. Reisner is a welcome addition and out of all the characters, he seemed to be the most dynamic. He is initially introduced as a “play by the rules” type character and awkwardly tries to come to grips with the way Dom’s team operates, but by the end, he’s found his place amongst the team. Hopefully, his character doesn’t stagnate like Ramsey’s did in this film; one issue with such a large number of characters is that there is little time to investigate the personal battles that each person is going through or has gone through.
At best, “Fate” seems to excel in ridiculous line delivery by its leads. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) has some pretty interesting sound bytes (“I will beat you like a Cherokee drum!”) like his prior films, and they seem to serve as reminders to viewers that yes, he did say that, and yes, it still sounded pretty cool. His cheesy one-liners are truly something to marvel at when you watch Hobbes punch through thugs like they’re made of plush toys and cardboard. With such characters in play, “Fate” can get away with shallow characterizations. It can avoid the pitfalls of a soap opera drama as long as there is little time between its action sequences.
“Fate’s” antagonist is also quite good. As Cipher, Charlize Theron effectively plays a cold, calculated puppeteer orchestrating Dom’s betrayal. However, when it is revealed that Cipher has one of Dom’s old lovers, Elena, and their child, I was longing for some sort of flashback to show how Elena got kidnapped in the first place. Perhaps an in-depth look at how exactly Cipher was thwarted twice by Dom and his family. Nevertheless, the idea of family has always been a central element to Dom’s character, so it was interesting to root for him as he worked to get Cipher’s tasks accomplished and save his child. However, Theron’s character could have had a greater presence in the film; she is underutilized. Then again, it is not too big of a loss since the strength of the film lies in the unbelievable stunts and cars/tanks/vehicles being pushed to their limit.
“Fate” relies on character development from prior films contributing to less substance and more style in the end product but the set pieces are awe-inducing and inject life into the film. In sum, it is an exhilarating thrill ride — bumpy at times, but the action alone is worth the price of admission.