Review: Ridiculous action reigns supreme in the endlessly entertaining ‘Fate of the Furious’
It’s hard to imagine “The Fast and the Furious” once was a low-budget street racing franchise. Over the series’ seven previous installments, the action increased in volume and ridiculousness. In 2001’s original film, Paul Walker and Vin Diesel raced one another and outran a train. In “Fast Five,” the pair used a massive harpoon to carjack vehicles off of a moving train and then promptly drove off of a cliff.
The trend continues in the latest adventure, “The Fate of the Furious,” which brings the level of ass-kicking to new heights. This time, franchise protagonist Dominic Toretto (Diesel) has turned against his destructive automotive brain trust. Cyber terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) holds powerful leverage over him (for initially unknown reasons) and uses him as a sort of ‘roided up hitman for her various schemes. Equally muscular hero Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) steps in to lead the Furious squad. Meanwhile, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) switches from previous villain to ally when he is recruited to help take down Cipher.
The cast grows and the chaos increases with each chapter in the franchise, which helps keep it laughably entertaining. But there’s also a growing sense of self-awareness at the heart of these films, as if each absurd set piece comes with a wink and smile. “Fate” knows exactly what it is: an over-the-top action extravaganza, with barely enough story holding it together to be considered a narrative film. It plays into these limitations magnificently (and hilariously). All logical caution gets thrown to the wind within minutes, thanks to a ridiculous tone-setting opening sequence set in Cuba. Later, the team does vehicular battle against bad guys with guns, rockets and, in the film’s best sequence, a nuclear submarine. Yeah. A submarine.
But despite all of the fun, “Fate” struggles in small spurts. Sixteen years after the first installment, the series’ macho-ness (there are gratuitous shots of scantily clad women in every movie) is growing stale. And the film’s source of pathos (the strength of family) isn’t enough to excuse the ease with which Paul Walker’s character is replaced by Scott Eastwood, another attractive white guy.
Still, director F. Gary Gray stages the action with flair, and there’s enough humor and heart to make up for the film’s flaws. “Fate” isn’t perfect. But it’s much better if you just laugh along.
Follow Dana on Twitter: @alstondalston