As a little experiment, I am going to attempt to explain the plot of this film and how it links to the others without opening Wikipedia or IMDB. Strap in, folks. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are on their honeymoon in Cuba, getting into a street race to try and remind the audience what the series used to be about. While in Havana, Dom is approached by a mysterious woman who is codenamed Cipher (Charlize Theron), who shows Don something that forces him to oppose his team and family. So when Dom and his team (Letty, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Missandei from Game of Thrones, and The Rock) are hired by the government to steal an EMP from the Germans(?), Dom takes the EMP for Cipher and gets The Rock arrested. With Dom and Cipher too dangerous as a team, Shadowy Government Dude and his young recruit (Kurt Russell and Scott Eastwood) force Dom’s old team to work with Bad Guy from a Previous Movie (Jason Statham) to take him down.
Confused? At first, I was too. The film throws around names and plot-points from previous movies quite a bit, which can make some of the film's big reveal moments seem lackluster for those of us who haven’t followed the series since the beginning. However, the plot is such standard action-movie fare that you pick up what is going on very quickly. You don’t need to have seen the prior movies to know that there is beef between The Rock and Statham, or that the team has dealt with Kurt Russell before. Details like this are revealed through the formulaic storytelling that litters Fate of the Furious, something that would be a much bigger problem if the film didn’t fully embrace the ridiculousness of its nature.
Speaking of which, this movie is goddamn crazy. I don’t think I can give some of the action sequences justice in text, but they are absolutely absurd and off-the-wall in the best way, so I’ll try to describe some of what happens. Cipher hacks into a bunch of cars on the top stories of a parking garage and forces them to drive through the windows to rain down on a limousine that is carrying the Russian ambassador and a suitcase of nuclear launch codes. The Rock gets shot with a rubber bullet, flexes the bullet out of his skin, does what can be only described as the fiercest battle-cry I’ve ever heard and proceeds to headbutt the shooter through his riot helmet. The Rock also clotheslines two people at once, rips a concrete structure out of a wall and punches a guy so hard that he does a full flip before his body hits the ground. A nuclear submarine fires a heat-seeking missile at Dom, who avoids it by using a modification in his car to jump over the sub and forcing the missile to blow-up the sub. As the sub explodes and it appears Dom will be engulfed in flames, his team creates a car-barricade to save him.
But all of this craziness is what makes the film fun. The scenes aren’t shot and edited in a way that is particularly groundbreaking or spectacular, but the sheer scope of the action sequences makes up for this. Having seen the film in IMAX, the cacophony of sound and visuals were a spectacle to behold. Maybe I would feel differently if I had seen the other films, as I am sure this is essentially a re-hash of at least the last three Furious movies, but I was thoroughly entertained during the action segments. Unfortunately, the movie loses a lot of steam when it tries to pretend that it has any semblance of dramatic weight. All of the characters feel like stereotypical place-holders, simply there to get us from action sequence to action sequence. And while none of them do a bad job (annoying characters like in Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the bane of flashy action films), none of them bring anything to the table when the movie tries to push its themes of family and trust.
I feel like anybody who wants to see The Fate of the Furious is going to get exactly what they want. The movie is everything it appears to be: a shallow but entertaining romp through a series of increasingly ridiculous action set-pieces. If you are expecting anything more than that, you are definitely looking in the wrong place. But for those of you who are clamoring to see Jason Statham do this to two guys in riot gear or watch hundreds of cars slam into each other, you are in luck.