Perhaps quashing the hopes of anyone who thought this franchise had remembered the lesson it learned with its previous installment, The Fate of the Furious does its darnedest to push this unlikely franchise further into utter inconsequentiality. That might not seem the case once this review has reached its plot-sypnosis section, though, because theoretically, it is dealing with many elements of great consequence. The team who were once simply drivers of cars they raced for low-stakes joy rides are now fighters of crime across the globe, receiving jobs from the shadowy corners of the U.S. government and suddenly developing a lot of skills in the art of espionage. Cars, crashes, and explosions are plentiful in this new series entry, but what is missing (and what has been missing throughout the series, with the exception of 2015's Furious Seven) is a sense of fun.
There is barely a moment in The Fate of the Furious that does not include some kind of vehicular carnage, and there's also barely a moment within that carnage that can be described as fun. The heroes once again defy all physical logic when they are behind the wheel, and the villain here has a computer program that can hack any car's navigation system, which leads to yet more physics-defying carnage of the vehicular sort. That villain's name is Cypher, a dreadlocks-donning psychopath with deadened eyes played by Charlize Theron in a manner befitting a character who must announce her electronic hijacking of those cars' navigation system with the following line of dialogue: "It's zombie time!" That's probably the most interesting thing about Cypher, who certainly fits her moniker throughout the film, even though her plot for world domination sets up the plot of the film: She convinces Dom (Vin Diesel) to turn on his family.
That "family," of course, is mostly symbolic, although Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is now his wife, which is meant to add a bit of levity to the idea of Dom abandoning her right in the middle of their honeymoon. It doesn't work, mostly because this series has never gotten us accustomed to the characters as humans. They've always been broadly developed, only notable for their slightly varied personalities. That doesn't even help Roman (Tyrese Gibson) or Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) in this case, though, because as two sides of the same comic-relief coin they are interchangeable (and equally unfunny) here. Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), a newer member of the team whose life Dom saved in the last movie, is just a vessel for redundant exposition, and Deckard's (Jason Statham) shift from cold-blooded mercenary assassin killer to goshdarned likable member of the "brotherhood" is nonsensical. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is back because the script needs the character to use his formidable strength to break out of a high-security prison and also to derail the path of a missile during the extended climax set on an iced-over lake in Russia.
The plot has Cypher using some unexpected leverage against Dom to get him to help her in stealing the nuclear "football," the secretive briefcase that holds the arming codes, in order to bring "accountability" to the new world order. That, of course, makes no sense when armed nuclear warheads are the tool with which she plans to bring that peace about, but the sensibility of villainous plots is never something one should question. The "family" angle is undermined by unconvincing performances from the cast, although it's likely no one could make this dialogue (which establishes and then keeps re-establishing the stakes for Dom) work. It's just a vessel for action sequences, most of which are uninspired. The exception is Hobbs's and Deckard's shared prison break, which features exactly the kind of amusing energy that the rest is missing. That's par for the course with this franchise, but the surprise of The Fate of the Furious is in how lazy it is.
Vin Diesel (Dom), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jason Statham (Deckard), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Chris "Ludacris" Bridges (Tej), Charlize Theron (Cypher), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Scott Eastwood (Little Nobody), Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody), Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes), Elsa Pataky (Elena), Luke Evans (Owen).
Directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Chris Morgan.
Rated PG-13 (prolonged violence/destruction, suggestive content, language).
Released on April 14, 2017.