Intellectualising a Fast and the Furious movie is like heading into McDonald’s expecting gourmet-style nutrition – it’s not expected to possess it, it’s not there, so don’t look for it. If you do, you don’t just miss the point, you shoot straight past it in a million-dollar car that’s exploded into a ball of flames (after all, in these films, you’re living life at a quarter-mile a time, not caring what’s around the next corner), leaving behind any possible enjoyment.
One of the most miraculous things of the series – apart from the flagrant disregard for physics, that sees the feats of engineering only get more and more defiant in the face of what’s possible – is how, eight films in, when most are quickly running out of gas, they only get larger. This installment just had the biggest global debut ever, eclipsing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s impressive for what ostensibly began as a B-movie, a mid-budget Point Break rip-off to fill in a gap with fast cars and (as Vin Diesel would want me to say) family. They’ve never left behind these small ambitions, and Fate feels more so than ever like a bloated B-movie, a mindless quickie let loose with too much money.
As expected, there’s not much in terms of plot – Dom (Diesel) and company are continuing their so-unlikely-it’s-better-not-to-ask rise from petrolheads to international spies, and he’s on a honeymoon in Cuba with Leticia (Michelle Rodriguez) when a dreadlocked Charlize Theron (known only by the name Cipher, a testament to how rogue she is) chats him up over a car bonnet and gets him to come to the dark side by saying that him betraying his ragtag family is inevitable. For a movie even this simple-minded, it’s frustratingly obvious: “That’s the funny thing about fate. it’ s coming. It can bring you beautiful moments and moments like this.” For someone who speaks so highly and consistently about the importance of family, of sticking together in alliances, the most surprising thing is Dom’s lack of resistance. The movie doesn’t know it, but Cipher is clearly a mind-controlling witch, otherwise that doesn’t explain why Dom is swayed with nothing more than some boxed poeticism about the inevitability of fate.
But the thing about Fate that sees it go from a romp to a drag every time it’s not tearing down a street is that it wants to be intellectualised, despite the small ambitions. Cipher, as the name would suggest, is a cyber terrorist (a character trait that’s quickly becoming the signifier of the 2000s, time capsuling all the anxieties of the time), of clacking keyboards and codes that quickly needs too much explanation. The dialogue frequently feels too big for its boots, unnecessarily complicated beyond belief, and the stakes are too lacking to support it. “Have you heard of choice theory, Dom?” Cipher says later in the movie (suffice to say, he has not). Why is Cipher even here? What is this dark side? Why did Dom betray everything the spent seven movies and 16 years building? Since when are they all spies/does this franchise occur in some alternate universe different to our own? Why does the government let them run around destroying cities in fancy cars to no end? And, the age old question, where does the money come from? There is a paradox around these movies – it’s hard to be anti-establishment, Robin Hood with a top speed of 300km an hour with a conscience to boot, when your budget keeps rocketing further into the hundreds of millions. It goes without saying that it’s better when they shut up and drive.