Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron
Director: F. Gary Gray
Running Time: 135 mins
Synopsis: Whilst enjoying his honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) former Underground racer turned world-saving hero Dom (Diesel) is approached by villain Cipher (Theron) and twisted into turning on his family to help her in a plan for world domination (or something like that).
Despite its numerous detractors (although with $4.4 billion in takings so far those detractors are certainly the minority) no one can deny that The Fast and the Furious franchise has constructed some impressive world-building. What started off as a mid-budget Underground street racing picture with some effectively staged race sequences and the combo of a charismatic Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, morphed slowly into a heist flick (the yet to be beaten series high Fast Five) then an unlikely spy tale via world saving heroics. You have characters from previous films showing up to rapturous audience applause that is only matched by the frequent Marvel nods to comic lore. We even have the deliriously clever structure wherein the third film is actually set after the 6th in a remarkably ballsy move. The Fast and the Furious is a formidable franchise, one that even had to face the unenviable task of finishing a film that had faced the tragic loss of one of its main stars, spinning that into a moving send-off and $1 billion worth of ticket admissions. But does the 8th(!) in this unstoppable behemoth continue this evolution or offer more of the same?!
The answer is that Fast and Furious 8, they’ve dropped the surprisingly clever Fate of the Furious title for us Brits, whilst not much of a step change from the last instalment manages to deliver enough stupid fun to thrill. The tone is set with an opening jaunt to Cuba as we find Dom and the now amnesia free Letty on their honeymoon, and naturally they are soon knee deep in the Cuban street racing scene. Challenged to an odds-stacked-against-him race it becomes the standard Fast and Furious moment, involving scantily-clad hot chicks, homo-erotic muscle flexing and of course cars going stupid speeds in exotic locales. A fresh perspective is given thanks to the use of real Cuban locations (Cuba has never been filmed in before) but the thrills are marred by some poor CGI. A shame as this franchise has always managed to balance real stunts with outlandish effects work, but when a simple race through a town has to rely on pixels it removes a little of the heart of what this series stands for. In fact the effects work throughout is somewhat hit and miss this time out, it seems submarines exploding out of ice can look visually stunning but cars falling out of a multi-storey car park can look like something out of a video game.
After some clunkily scripted romantic moments (the writing in this series has always been a tough pill to swallow) the plot kicks in when Dom runs into Cipher. A cyber-terrorist with unexpected ties to previous events she is given suitable menace by Charlize Theron, challenging Dom’s ideals in some pretty intense confrontations. Unfortunately writer Chris Morgan graces her with the most egregious dialogue stinkers, and a villain plan that is thin to say the least. It is shocking that the woman who so fiercely stole the scene as Furiosa in Mad Max, is never put behind the wheel or able to do more than just shout from behind a computer monitor.
Cipher manipulates Dom into assisting her through an unexpected and emotional revelation, one that gives Diesel a chance to actually flex some acting muscles (and cry what I assume are real tears) but one that will involve him betraying everyone he loves. Yes there is an uncomfortable overuse of the word ‘family’ but its sold by the camaraderie between the team built up from 16 years and 8 films together, not to mention the genuine love you can sense between the cast. And what a cast. Possibly the main reason for this franchise’s success, outside of the massive action, with a bevy of charismatic and playful performances. Diesel, Theron and Rodriquez are sadly saddled with the heavy boring stuff so it’s left to the rest to bring the fun. Dwayne Johnson continues to build on his ‘franchise Viagra’ name, oozing cool and testosterone at every turn, with the smart decision to bring back Jason Statham paying off in the spiky banter between them. A prison breakout scene involving the two of them is a film high-point, filled with rousing choreography, humorous grace-notes and crunching punches. Statham has always had an undervalued sense of comedic timing (Spy utilised this to hilarious effect) and gets to play into this multiple times, which to say more would spoil one of Fast 8s best bits.
One of this series’s strengths is that no one ever gets left behind, every character gets a chance to have their moment in what is a true ensemble. Sure they are all painted in broad strokes, nuance should be looked for elsewhere, but when the strokes are this entertaining who cares? Johnson and Statham may be the standouts but don’t count out Tyrese (loudmouthed and cocky as always), Ludacris (playing it laconic and laidback) Kurt Russell (look up ‘cool’ in the dictionary and you’ll see him there) and newcomer Scott Eastwood who gets some laughs as a newbie Secret Agent somewhat eager to please. An unexpected addition comes into play with Dame Helen Mirren turning up in a cameo that is sweary, unusual and hindered by a truly awful cockney accent.
So the cast delivers but what of the other main facet at play, the action? It is large, ludicrous and lengthy, with incoming director F.Gary Gray (The Italian Job remake) staging them with clarity and fury. Even though there is not one singular insane stunt that can trump the tank chase in 6 or the safe heist in 5, there is plenty to keep the blood flowing. Story-wise is another matter with this instalment going the opposite to previous chapters in having a far less convoluted plot. Sadly simplicity does not do it any favours with the thinness bringing to light the stupidity needed to flesh the running time out. Now the Fast films have never been heavy on brains but there was always a basic fantastical logic running throughout, usually seen through the values the crew are beholden to. This 8th instalment reaches new heights of ridiculousness, favouring fan service in place of sensible plot decisions. Case in point: the return of Statham, although very much welcome, comes at the expense of character reasoning. Would this team that so prides family be so forgiving so quickly of a man who brutally killed one of their own? Other characters also return from their past, and despite offering crowd-pleasing delights, they make little narrative sense.
I know I’m insane in hoping for sense in a film featuring a submarine chasing cars and Dwayne Johnson pushing a torpedo out of the way with his bare hands, but after 8 films it is becoming harder and harder to resist laughing at the whole endeavour. These are still incredibly well made and lovingly acted guilty pleasures but with the incoming 9&10 to close the series the talk of the crew venturing into space may represent a franchise that’s one step away from jumping the shark (a stunt that is surely also on the cards).
Verdict: Huge fun, helped along by a charismatic cast and large action but its stupidity and soap opera weaknesses are becoming increasingly tough to forgive.