Near the merciful end of The Fate of the Furious, one of the bad guys™, played by Kristofer Hivju, looks over at a bemused Dominic Toretto, played for the last 70 years by a very bald and very rich Vin Diesel. “Quite a show,” Hivju’s character says, referencing, among other things, the other bad guy™ who just got pushed off a building into the spinning propellor of a docked nuclear submarine on the shore of a frozen lake in Siberia, his blood spattering against the wall.
Except this movie isn’t a show—it’s a complete circus. The impulse to entertain is simply relentless, brutally so, two-plus hours of head-bashing-against-the-wall entertainment. But it works, somehow, goddammit, it works: Fate is one of the best consistently terrible movies ever made.
Take, for example, the first scene, essentially a cold open to this $250 million monstrosity, which has already earned $30 zillion and will no doubt spawn 12 sequels. The eighth (8th) installment in the Fast franchise picks up in Havana with Toretto and his recently not-dead wife Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, on their honeymoon. With zero exposition, Toretto gets into a street race with a guy who is either a supervillain or an irrelevant bit player (hard to tell). Toretto wins, of course, but crosses the line with his whole car on fire, à la Ghost Rider (but minus Nicolas Cage and therefore not as good).
Cage is actually pretty much the only famous person who isn’t in this. You’ve got Ludacris again, for some reason. Half the Game of Thrones cast shows up at some point or another (OK, including Hivju, only two). Jason Statham is back as bad guy-turned-good guy Deckard Shaw, and Helen Mirren has three-ish glorious minutes of screen time as his mom. Dwayne Johnson, a human push-up, is back as Luke Hobbs. Because this is America, Kurt Russell has to be in it, reprising his role from Furious 7 as Mr. Nobody.
And Charlize Theron plays international superperson/cyberterrorist Cipher, who stalks Toretto to Havana and blackmails him into betraying his team and doing her bidding, which includes stealing some confusing weapon from Berlin and also stealing nuclear launch codes that an unnamed, vaguely Eastern-European person inexplicably has handcuffed to his wrist in a limo in New York City.
The globe-trotting is truly obscene, but Fate’s biggest flaw is that it explains the stakes far too late, prompting some head-scratching at first about just why Toretto is willing to work for Cipher. Turns out (spoiler alert?) he has a baby, who Cipher has kidnapped. An insanely cute baby. Without giving too much away, at one point, Statham’s character (after he’s managed to stay dead for about 35 minutes) breaks into a plane (while it’s flying) and rescues said insanely cute baby, carrying him along for a gleeful killing spree that’s one of the best scenes in film history, probably. This movie is getting three stars, and like two and a half of them are because of that baby.
Other than that, Fate is pretty much just white teeth, nice butts, and fast cars. The nature of these movies is that they pull off masterful set pieces and completely butcher attempts at being emotionally compelling, with the enormous exception of all the extremely heartfelt Paul Walker stuff in Furious 7.
One of the problems, unfortunately, is Diesel. He’s a complete mystery. He says probably 40 words in this entire movie, all with the same perplexed facial expression, like he too can’t believe this is No. 8. He has more chemistry with the cars than with Rodriguez. It’s hard not to wonder why they keep him around—it’s like if a lousy cook is the unwitting founder of a sprawling multinational chain of restaurants, and all he asks is that he be allowed to keep messing around in the kitchen of the original location, and the new owners just deal with it because without him they’d have nothing.
Another problem is that it’s just so damn corporate. The product placement is overwhelming and tasteless, and the air of inevitability about it all is smug, like they’re very open about stealing your money by making this complete waste of a movie. Don’t believe me? A spin-off series was announced last week featuring Johnson and Statham. It’s become gaudy: at $250 million, this is the seventh-most expensive film ever made, and it seems like they wrote the movie to eat up the budget, rather than the other way around, planning the most outrageous and expensive stunts possible. This is basically the movie equivalent of eating 20,000 calories in a day: possible, but a complete slog by the end of it, and you kind of feel like garbage after.
Come to think of it, maybe Diesel’s facial expression is actually the look of a man who is all too aware of what’s going on here, and doesn’t mind, thank you very much, sticking around to make another $1.5 billion movie or six.
Featured Image by Universal Studios