Starring: Vin Diesel (Riddick), Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence), Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar), Tyrese Gibson (Transformers), Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Max Payne), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Jason Statham (Crank), Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones), Scott Eastwood (Suicide Squad), Kurt Russell (Escape from New York)
Director: F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton)
Writer: Chris Morgan (Wanted)
Runtime: 2 hours 16 minutes
Release Date: 12 April (UK), 14 April (US)
How did we get to this point? Here we stand sixteen years later with eight Fast & Furious movies, each one more ridiculous than the last. However, in a rare twist of fate, it’s a franchise that only became good once it decided to jump the shark and has become the guilty pleasure of many a film fan since. But every franchise starts to suffer from fatigue eventually and, though Fast & Furious 8 (known as The Fate of the Furious in the US, because I guess puns sell) does begin to show some signs of weakness, it still manages to be at least as satisfying a blockbuster as its last three outings.
The Fast Family has somehow seamlessly transitioned from street racers to a car-centric team of GI Joe action figures, but even with all they’ve faced Fast 8 still manages to raise the stakes even further. Dominic (Diesel) has been turned against his team, the family now forced to ally themselves with former enemy Deckard Shaw (Statham), and the world hangs in the balance at the hands of a hipster cyber-terrorist by the name of Cipher (Theron). It’s a preposterous spectacle full of soap opera melodrama, giant holes in logic, and action sequences that border on parody, but somehow it all manages to hold together because of the self-aware approach the film takes; nobody could take this seriously at face value. Where the film falters is that it’s just a little too bloated. It’s two hours plus like all the recent Fast movies, but it doesn’t quite have the same momentum as some of its predecessors. Some of the more dialogue-heavy scenes go on too long and the climax, whilst as entertaining as you’d expect, does begin to outstay its welcome. What’s most surprising about Fast 8 is how it manages to carry the emotional elements of Furious 7 onwards, giving the film a little more dramatic heft than expected, but don’t expect it to dampen any of the fun. This is a film that balances so many tones and ideas so well, it might as well be an anime.
The cast will never quite be the same with the loss of Paul Walker, but Fast 8 does a good job of retaining the irresistible camaraderie of these characters and even manages to develop a few of them in interesting ways. Though Dom spends most of the film working for the wrong side, his motivations soon become clear and they are more than understandable. Vin Diesel does a good job of showing some emotional vulnerability with the character, though unfortunately the same hasn’t been done to him physically. He’s still an unbeatable mean machine at every turn no matter the odds, and if the franchise is to evolve then he needs to be taken down a peg somehow; at least let him lose a race for once. His relationship with Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty is really put to the test here and, though they curtail a certain issue between them without acknowledgement (it would be a spoiler to explain), it helps their bond in a way that could prove to compensate for Walker’s absence. Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris continue to provide solid comic relief as Roman and Tej, though their characters still haven’t advanced much since Fast Five. Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey proves key at a few moments and even gets in a few pot shots at the expense of Roman, but she does feel a little wasted. Considering the film’s villain is a hacker too, it felt like Ramsey and Cipher should have had more of a rivalry than the brief scene they spend out-hacking each other.
Speaking of which, Charlize Theron’s Cipher brings the franchise something it’s always lacked: a truly threatening villain. Though she is disappointingly physically inactive, never once stepping behind the wheel and controlling the events remotely instead, her means of manipulating Dom and others to get what she wants give her a captivating twisted edge over the series’ previous mix of drug lord and terrorist adversaries. Kurt Russell returns as Mr. Nobody but unfortunately doesn’t add much beyond his own natural charm, allowing his new protégé played by Scott Eastwood to handle most of his business. Eastwood proves to be a non-starter on screen, lacking personality and any semblance of chemistry with the cast; he’s intentionally an outsider to the crew, but he fails to connect in even a negative way. However, what Eastwood lack in rapport is more than made up for by the fantastic banter shared between Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Shaw. Their antagonistic relationship does feel a little cut short, but whilst it lasts it becomes the most entertaining aspect of the film and the two remain consistently entertaining on their own too. I don’t want to say much more, but Statham gets an action sequence set on a plane that truly puts the franchise’s sanity to the test. Top it all off with some fun cameos from familiar faces from both within and outside the franchise, and you’ve got a solid cast that knows exactly how seriously to take this material.
Gary Gray already has ample experience with cars thanks to his remake of The Italian Job, but the spectacle on display here makes that film look like a set of Hot Wheels in comparison. Though none of the action sequences here have quite the initial pop of scenes like the vault chase from Fast Five or the skyscraper sequence from Furious 7, they are all equally bombastic and compelling in execution. The chase through New York piles up enough cars to put Blues Brothers to shame, the much-hyped submarine battle proves all kinds of ridiculous, and there’s even enough room for an old-fashioned street race through Cuba that brings back memories of the earlier films of the franchise; even the non-car set pieces are a lot fun, like Hobbs and Shaw fighting through a prison riot or the aforementioned plane sequence. The film looks vibrant and explosive from a visual perspective, but I was disappointed to see CGI become overused in the franchise again. Some of it isn’t even very convincing, like the obvious added-in cold breath in the Russia sequence. CGI is always necessary for some of these preposterous stunts, but these films are at their most fun when as much of it is as practical as possible. Given how each film continues to ramp up the spectacle, keeping that balance right in future instalments will prove difficult, but the results really do show on screen.
As of writing, I’m still unsure where I’d rank Fast & Furious 8, but it’s definitely amongst the better films in the franchise. You should know already whether these are movies for you, and if you’re a fan you are going to get exactly what you are looking for with a few sweet surprises. I’m excited to see where this franchise goes next, but I do certainly feel like another major change-up is in order. The series needs to evolve in some way somehow, I’m not enough of a mad genius to conceive how, but it needs to something that reinvigorates it in the same way Fast Five set these characters on a whole new path. Fast 8 get my hearty recommendation now, but I just hope that by the inevitable ninth instalment they don’t begin treading water.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10