Following the untimely death of Paul Walker in 2013, it would have been completely acceptable had everyone involved in the “Fast and Furious” franchise decided to call it quits, particularly because “Furious 7” works so well as a bookend to the family saga. Despite the loss, the series has soldiered on with another installment (and two more on the way), but while “The Fate of the Furious” proves that the mega-franchise can still function without Walker’s character, it definitely suffers from a Brian O’Connor problem.
Much like how the Avengers curiously never show up to help each other in their respective solo movies, the attempt to explain Brian’s absence in this film (especially considering the personal nature of the main plot) only serves to open old wounds. It’s a void that director F. Gary Gray and writer Chris Morgan try to fill with some new additions to the team, and though it’s not entirely successful, the movie gets by on the charisma of its cast and the over-the-top action that fans have come to expect from the series.
The story begins in Havana, Cuba, where Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are busy soaking up the culture on a much-deserved honeymoon, only to have their vacation cut short when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) enlists their help in retrieving a stolen EMP device in Berlin. But when Dom suddenly double-crosses the team and gets away with the weapon, they discover that he’s secretly working for a cyber-terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron), who Letty believes must be blackmailing him. Beaten, bruised and betrayed by their friend, the team reunites under the direction of shadowy government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and is forced to work alongside former adversary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who has his own history with the notorious hacker and wants revenge, in order to track down Dom and Cipher and prevent them from starting World War III.
Though it’s clear pretty early on that Dom isn’t actually a villain, it’s fun watching Diesel break bad for once, giving him new shades to play after seven films of relative stability in the role. The motive for his betrayal is very rational, even if the subsequent events make you wonder whether it’s all worth it. Still, for a franchise that was built on the back of Diesel and counts him as its most important asset, “The Fate of the Furious” belongs to Johnson and Statham, whose love-hate bromance is the highlight of the movie. Theron is also good as Cipher, playing easily the most cunning and ruthless of all the franchise’s villains, while Helen Mirren’s appearance as Shaw’s Cockney mother is a pointless but nonetheless enjoyable cameo. The rest of the cast performs as expected, save for Scott Eastwood’s agent-in-training; he’s basically a poor man’s Paul Walker with none of the charm. Nepotism and good looks might get you far in this industry, but Hollywood needs to stop trying to make him happen.
“The Fate of the Furious” is arguably one of the messier entries in the franchise, and director F. Gary Gray is partly to blame. With the exception of a couple set pieces (Hobbs and Shaw’s prison break, the big finale), the action scenes just aren’t as memorable this time around. Unlike James Wan, who brought his own style to the series using the blueprint that Justin Lin laid out during his tenure, Gray doesn’t seem to fully understand what makes the property unique, instead settling for some generic action beats and a surprising amount of CG. The movie is also way too long at 136 minutes, and although there are enough great moments to paper over the cracks, it feels noticeably more bloated than past entries. Nevertheless, while “The Fate of the Furious” may be far from the series’ best, it’s yet another entertaining installment that delivers everything you could want in a “Fast and Furious” movie apart from Brian O’Connor. And that’s a problem that the franchise may never solve.