I think it’s fair to say that we go to the Fast and Furious movies for two simple things: over the top car chases and melodrama so ham-fisted and schmaltzy it would have been laughed out of the writers room of As the World Turns. It’s about family, you see. It’s about family. No, seriously, IT’S ABOUT FAMILY, now let’s chase this airplane down a 100 mile runway and attach it to our muscle cars with grappling hooks.
We’ve been told that the Fast and Furious movies are about family so danged much that by now we’ve actually started to accept it. That means it can’t help but feel like a little bit of a betrayal when the new film – The Fate of the Furious – expects us to believe that team leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has betrayed everyone he knows and loves, and has joined forces with an international supervillain whose first crime appears to have been stealing Angelina Jolie’s hair from Gone in 60 Seconds. Her name is Cipher, she’s played by Charlize Theron, and she’s a brilliant hacker who lives on a high-tech airplane with her small army of mercenaries and attractive young interns.
The problem is, we DON’T come to the Fast and Furious movies for the plots. So even though pitting the rest of the franchise’s ensemble cast against their seemingly unstoppable leader is a pretty fun idea, it’s a huge mistake to keep Dom’s motivations a secret for what feels like half the movie. It’s kind of like knowing your friends and family are throwing you a surprise party. You know it’ll end well, but first you have to endure those insulting days or weeks when they have to pretend they don’t like you anymore.
We don’t need manipulative bullshit from our Fast and Furious family. We just need cartoonish car chases and hugs. Fortunately, The Fate of the Furious eventually delivers all of those things. There’s one action sequence in particular that’s so overpoweringly stupid you want to stand up and cheer. The movie acts like it’s taking big dangerous risks with the franchise but it’s really it’s just withholding all the really good stuff for a while, in an attempt to make it feel more meaningful later.
There’s more to The Fate of the Furious, but not much. In an attempt to catch Dominic Toretto the team recruits Deckard Shaw, a villain who killed a beloved team member in the previous films. You’d think that’d be a bigger deal but the only person who really seems to give a damn is Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), and he isn’t so much mad about the murder as he is about being punched out by a British guy last time. The Fate of the Furious twists into knots trying to make Deckard seem like a good guy now, and Jason Statham is so damned likable the film almost gets away with it, but still… HE MURDERED HAN.* Should you really be inviting him to your family barbecue?
The Fate of the Furious isn’t the worst film in the franchise. It’s still very entertaining, and in the end you’ll get your money’s worth, but this film ultimately illustrates just how delicately balanced these hot rod explosion lovefests actually are. The Fast and Furious series is based on our affection for these characters, and if you betray that affection – even just for a little while – it has consequences. It’s about family, but sometimes a member of your family screws you over. You’re allowed to be upset about that. At least until they get in a car chase with a Russian nuclear submarine. Then all is forgiven.
*Editor’s Note: A previous version of this review stated that Deckard Shaw shot Han in the face, which was inaccurate. Deckard merely blew Han up.
All Nine ‘Fast and Furious’ Movies, Ranked:
Top Photos: Universal Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.