Review: THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS

The usual goofy fun, ignoring one unfortunate misstep.

Remember back when Fast & Furious was a franchise centered around illegal street racing? Back before it became the gloriously bonkers ensemble super-spy action franchise it is now? Over the last few films there have been nods at those origins in the form of single, rather obligatory race sequences, and The Fate of the Furious is no exception. This new entry gets that obligation out of the way at the very beginning, and it’s kinda beautiful. In fact, it’s the best part of film. In what feels like a thesis statement for the series as a whole, it finds Dom in a heavily MacGyvered death trap, racing a Cuban loan shark over possession of Dom’s cousin’s car. It’s centered around a fun action sequence, but it also manages to bring in a bunch of this exhilarating and hokey franchise’s thematic concerns: redemption, earned respect, and of course the importance of family. This opener could stand on its own as a short film in the vein of a Marvel One-Shot. When I say that the film that follows doesn’t quite live up to it, that’s not that much of a criticism. It’s that damn good.

To be clear, there is a lot of really good stuff in the film that follows. Lunkheaded in a smart way, and genuinely sweet, it’s what we’ve come to expect from Fast & Furious. While the action never quite reaches the heights of Fast 5’s safe sequence or Furious Seven’s parachuting cars/bus chase scene, it’s still over the top and well crafted. Some of the fight scenes are too shakycam for my tastes, but the series’ trademark vehicular warfare is spot on.

The story embraces the more spy movie aspects of the Family’s new day jobs with both muscly arms, with Charlize Theron playing Cipher, the most Bond villainish foe our heroes have faced yet. She’s your classic movie “superhacker,” whose goals aren’t ideological or financial, but simply power for power’s sake. At the end of Dom and Letty’s Cuban honeymoon, she tracks down Dom and forces him to join her in her nefarious plans. The leverage she uses to shanghai him isn’t revealed until much later in the film, but suffice it to say it’s very much in line with the stuff Fast & Furious usually has on its mind. Hint: it rhymes with “hammily.”

Arm properly twisted, Dom assists Cipher and her team in stealing an EMP bomb, and we’re off to the metaphorical races. With Dom “gone rogue,” the series’ Nick Fury, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, being his usual charming self), enlists the family in tracking him down and preventing any future WMD-related shenanigans. He also enlists Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), and that’s where this otherwise solid installment goes astray.

If you’re new to the franchise, and shame on you if you are, Shaw was one of the heavies in Furious Seven, seeking revenge against the Family for the fate of his brother Owen. Owen Shaw was the villain in— Ah, screw it. Go watch the rest of these movies and get back to me. At the end of Fast & Furious 6,1 Deckard Shaw kills fan-favorite and explosion in a charisma factory, Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang).

The death of a Familymember is serious business in these movies, and Shaw was originally played as a slasher villain with guns. He just shows up out of nowhere throughout Furious Seven and proceeds to murder people to death. He is a capital B Bad Guy. A redemptive arc for Shaw in The Fate of the Furious really could have worked and still been in line with the Fast ethos, but in order for that to happen it would have had to address Han’s murder. It doesn’t at all. As far as I can remember, the name “Han” never leaves anyone’s lips. If anything, the antagonism between Shaw and the Family is framed more as an often funny grudge match between him and Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson)2. In every scene where the relationship between the two of them thaws a bit more into grudging respect, you can feel Han’s ghost in the room.

If you’re a fan of the franchise, the Shaw family element is the worm in the apple of this film. If you’re not? Well, it’s frankly a lot of fun. Helen Mirren, playing Mamma Shaw, gets to drop the movie’s one PG-13-compliant F-bomb, so it’s got that going for it. Too bad it’s also got an unearned warm and cuddly turn for Deckard “Killer of Beloved People” Shaw.

The Fate of the Furious is probably the weakest of the post-genre shift Fast & Furious films. I say weakest because “worst” sounds too harsh for what is generally a solid installment. The action is fun, the laughs are well-earned, and the drama is that wonderful combination of hokey and heartfelt that we’ve come to expect from the franchise. It’s a great, popcorn-munching time at the movies that is unfortunately saddled with one very poorly handled element. Go see it, have a blast, but pray to the movie gods that Fast & Furious 9 doesn’t see Cipher have an “Are we the baddies?” moment.

  1. And, in retrospect, Tokyo Drift. The timeline of these movies is weird.
  2. ”I will beat you like a Cherokee drum!”
  • Until this moment I’ve been confused about the timeline. Once I started thinking that T.Drift was actually a speculative sci fi film set in the distant future of 2014 or so it fell together. Sort of. I miss Han.

    I won’t see this for a while, but I’m glad to be primed about Shaw – this is definitely going to bug me. Sounds like there is plenty to love, otherwise!

    • Allen

      “distant future of 2014” DEAD lol

  • Andrew Clark

    Here’s my pitch about Deckard, Family, and how forgiveness is a big part of the series. Some spoiler-ish talk to follow:

    While the film goes pretty far in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER-ing us with Shaw’s past (added to his previous list of military credentials is a medal for valor in saving hostages at risk to his own life) to make him more palatable as a hero, it’s also sets up both the idea of Dom understanding an idea of “fairness” in the world as well as that he is willing to forgive a man who crossed him. When Dom engages with the loan shark in the beginning, he at first is willing to let the man take his cousin’s car, since it was on his cousin’s head that he lost it. Then the guy insults Letty, so Dom challenges him to a street race. Then the guy tries to hurt or even kill him! But Dom lets this go.

    It seems crazy, but it’s definitely Chris Morgan and Co. setting up the idea that Dom would forgive Deckard for his past transgressions, both in terms of understanding that his attack on Dom’s family came from a place of defending his own, as well as Dom becoming a big enough person to let that go. This isn’t even out of left field for the series, since forgiveness of sins has been a part of the series since the beginning, with Brian looking past Dom’s criminal history to see the good man that he loves and letting him go, to Roman forgiving Brian (and himself) for being in jail as a teen, and later of course Dom forgiving Brian for his duplicity (and getting Letty killed!).

    We’ll see where the series continues with the character and the family (I thought the Shaw family stuff was quite cute). Roman, Tej, and Letty were all pretty vocal about their disquiet with Shaw being present when he first walked in the room. But Hobbs never really knew Han, so his ease in settling in to being chummy with Shaw makes sense to me. They’re both tigers of similar stripes, and since Dom was on the lamb this film, it made sense that they needed another muscle guy for Johnson to have sweaty chemistry with.

    So ultimately what I’m saying is, the text of the movie supports the transition, as well as the path of the characters themselves. I totally understand that people’s mileage on that is going to vary, but I do think it was a very purposeful decision on the creators part and not made by just ignoring Han or the consequences of Deckard’s actions. If anything, the dramatic beats in this movie are made stronger by Dom and Hobbs’ ability to move past their animosity. It’s always easy to kill off the character who has let down or betrayed the team (like Vince!) because it saves writers the difficult work of engaging with the concept of how to forgive someone for something unforgivable. I think its actually pretty big of the series to allow that to happen and to engage with that kind of material (this is getting very long and I should probably just turn this into a piece next week or something).

    I also thought Jason Statham was pretty much the best part of this movie. The prison break and airplane fight were the highlights of the movie, for me.

    • ryanrochnroll

      Damn, Andrew. I like where’s your head Is at with this. I hope to see it soon and now I’m feeling better about the Shaw stuff.

    • YayMayorBee

      I agree with you completely. Deckard Shaw is Dom’s doppelganger–he too is all about family, and will do whatever it takes to protect it. The difference is that Shaw’s a military guy and is way more comfortable with being a violent killer. Also, it’s revealed in this film that Cipher manipulated Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw in the same way she manipulates Dom here, so you can understand fully why Dom and the crew would forgive.

      And, yeah, Statham steals every scene. He and the Rock are legit great together.

    • Yeah, like I said I feel the redemption/forgiveness arc really could have worked like gangbusters. You’re right that it’s awesomely set up in the Cuba sequence, and I love the idea of Shaw ending up a recurring, morally ambiguous sometime ally in subsequent films. But to make that redemptive arc work, I think you need to address what Shaw needs redemption for, and it’s not putting Hobbs in traction.

      • Andrew Clark

        I think there’s an element of Han not being present (and not having been featured in an F&F movie since 2013) that ties into not mentioning him by name. Just on a storytelling level, focusing on the characters who are actually present in the movie, like Johnson/Hobbs, makes the engagement and the head-butting more active than making it about a character (who we love, I know!) who isn’t around.

        I agree with you on one level because I of course love Han and Sung Kang, but I don’t begrudge the decision to not specifically reference a moment from the past that might confuse folks with the storytelling happening in the present moment.

        This is said with the caveat that there are a ton of callbacks and moments just for long-time fans of the series, but I might argue that those are cameos or quick beats, not intrinsic plot moments.

        • Good points. I may come around on the issue with subsequent viewings, but right now it’s stuck in my craw.

          Speaking of callbacks, my audience flipped their shit over a certain cameo that happens later in film.

          • Andrew Clark

            Oh yeah, my audience was a constant stream of applause and cheers in the last twenty minutes. People love these movies and the characters.

          • Yep. When Dom revealed his son’s name, someone behind me yelled, “I KNEW it!” Which… I mean, who didn’t! But I was right there with him.

          • Andrew Clark

            We all clapped and cheered and cried when that happened. It’s such a sweet, loving moment.

  • Nice review. I’m interested to see how Shaw plays for me in this movie, considering that he seems to be the most prevalent sticking point.

  • YayMayorBee

    Yeah, 8 is not quite as good as 5, 6, or 7, but it’s no great sin to fall only a tiny bit short of some of the best action movies ever made. I think the first 1/2 to 2/3 of the film is really strong and it’s only the finale (or the non-Statham part, anyway), that falls a bit short–it runs too long, it’s nowhere near as focused as the finales in 5 or 6, it lacks the batshit insanity of 7’s finale, and the best parts were spoiled in the trailers. Still, pretty damn good (and the Statham parts of the finale are A+).

    • Andrew Clark

      Agreed. I think the inevitable moments of figuring-it-out in this movie on a storytelling and meta level were always going to happen, given 7’s ending in both our world and theirs. It’s the same way that 4 was a realignment.

      • YayMayorBee

        Yes. Although, obviously, this is much more successful than 4. I was actually very surprised at how little I missed Paul Walker’s presence. The ensemble is just that strong. And bringing the Shaw family into the fold is really ingenious. It’s a new dynamic, but it feels evolutionary rather than jarring.

    • It really bugs me that the trailers showed the very end of the climactic action scene, with Dom very obviously back in league with the family and luring that missile into the submarine.

      • YayMayorBee

        They should have completely hidden the finale from marketing. Imagine how much better the finale would play for an audience that had no idea a nuclear sub would be in play, much less crashing through the ice and firing off torpedoes. Boneheaded move.

        • Yep. I totally agree. I’d say the same thing about the building-to-building jump in FURIOUS 7.

          • YayMayorBee

            Yeah. They need to stop spoiling their big setpieces.

      • Andrew Clark

        (This is why I don’t watch trailers! Everything was new to me. :-P)

  • I’ve never been as hot on this franchise as most of you. The Street-racing ones mostly fall flat for me, except Tokyo. I loved Five. A heist movie that “brings the band back together” is one of my favorite things, but that was definitely the peak of the series. I’ve liked these spy ones more, but after 5, I’m in less and less of a hurry to see each new one

    • Andrew Clark

      Given how different this feels from 6 and 7, I’d actually be interested in hearing what you think about this one.

  • Dom’s race with the guy at the start of the film and his choice to take his respect but not his car is indicative of this franchise’s stance on the Shaw family, IMO. Dom says himself that he’d rather turn someone to his side than destroy them, and he’s given people second chances before – makes sense to me that he’d turn the Shaws into allies, given the chance.

    • I agree. The start of the film totally sets up what later happens with Deckard, and it could have been really, really great. I give it kudos for that aim. But I feel the nature of Deckard’s past sins needed to be addressed as part of that. He’s played as more of a contextless bad guy than someone whose actions have (at least one assumes) deeply affected everyone else involved.

      • For me, it just furthers the larger than life melodramatic soap operatics of the entire franchise. Think of it like a comic book – yeah, the Shaws have done terrible things, but everyone loves it when the bad guys and the good guys are forced to team up, and the film itself did just enough work for me to buy it. That being said, I don’t have the same attachment to Han as many others do, so… maybe it’s just me that this actually worked for.

        • Yeah, I see what you’re saying about the comic book/soap opera aspect. The stumbling block for me is that the franchise is so overtly family-centric that ignoring the death of a family member plays wrong. I see why it’s playing well for people, but it isn’t for me.

  • I choose to believe Han is alive somewhere with Gisele…so that’ll all get cleared up.