Two years ago Fast and Furious 7 accelerated the Fast and Furious franchise into the super league. The James Wan directed sixth sequel to the 2001 original managed this not only by blowing its predecessors out of the water in terms of box office returns, but also by ejecting any and all remaining vestiges of sanity within the series, in favour of effectively reimagining its protagonists as actual superheroes. Fast and Furious 8, sees everyone’s favourite crime fighting/causing international aid/hindrance gang back for plenty more of the same. Wan may have made way for Straight Outta Compton’s F. Gary Gray, but – fear not – Chris Morgan once again has helmed the script, having done so ever since the rightfully-maligned Tokyo Drift, and the result is as familiarly (and preposterously) barmy as ever. Indeed, with great horsepower comes great irresponsibility.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. When it comes to complexity, the most challenging aspect of Fast and Furious 8 lies within trying to get your head around why the film has a different name in America. An opening, entirely bereft of originality, sees Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), on their honeymoon in a sunny and deeply over-saturated Havana, wind up in a spat with some local bigwig, amid a crowd of, exploitatively shot but marvellously tanned, youths. As all petrolheaded family men know, the only way to resolve testosterone infused rivalry is, of course, via a reckless and destructive road race across a beautifully shot tourist hotspot. ‘The only thing that matters,’ Dom reminds us, ‘is who’s being the wheel’. That the following race itself is utterly absurd is naturally a given. Also typical is that Dom’s opponent is a cocky sod, in need of being knocked down a peg or two. Thus, as Dom’s clapped-out old banger slowly morphs into Back to the Future’s DeLorean, said opponent can only watch on in disbelief. ‘That’s impossible’ he splutters – just wait for Act Three, mate.
The actual plot kicks into gear (the puns really are endless) with the arrival of Charlize Theron’s cyberterrorist, Cypher – a character whose name would have had to be ‘Femme Fatale’ were it to aspire for less subtlety. Cypher has something on Dom, a bargaining chip which she utilises in forcing him to work for her, even if it means turning against his family. Segue to DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, priceless as ever) who’s been tasked with the off-the-record job of retrieving an EMP device from a military outpost in Berlin and needs a team. Yep, time to roll out the Mystery Machine. Espionage’s answer to the Waltons’ assembled, things go swimmingly to (bonkers) plan until Dom turns ‘rogue’ on the job and Hobbs finds himself behind bars. Ooh ‘eck.
Cypher wants the EMP for herself and is intent on using it to help her disable a Russian nuclear submarine, so she can – using her techno-chip-thing, which allows her to take control of machines at a distance – launch the weapons and propel the world into nuclear warfare. None of this makes any sense of course (why on earth would you need to go to all this trouble if you can control any technology in the world from your plane of invisibility?) but, eight films in, why change the habit of a lifetime.
Indeed, it’s a good job that the villains of the Fast and Furious universe have an ear for fun and an eye for a good set piece, because if they were to take any of this seriously, the monotony would be truly unbearable. Instead, fans can look forward to more terrifically mindless spectacle. No one cares that cars propelling themselves out of multi-storey carparks is nonsense because, frankly, it’s cars propelling themselves out of multi-storey carparks for goodness sake!
Other treats to look out for include Dom (having mastered the parachuting car routine last time around) driving into a flying plane, Letty air-kicking a bad guy into a gruesome propellor-based end, and Hobbs literally climbing out of his moving tank to physically alter the trajectory of a torpedo. That’s not even to mention the return of Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw – former foe, present ally – who’s granted two hilarious sequences: the first a full-on martial arts prison breakout, and the second genuinely involving a baby. Your face will ache.
Of course, the problem with having quite such a soggy, half-arsed, and intensely convoluted, plot as this, remains that whenever the high-octane pace slows, it’s amazing just how quickly the film looses both its energy and audience’s attention. It never helps that the script is woefully written. Name-checking reminders of players from earlier episodes are accompanied with a line of dialogue inserted to remind viewers of how they fit into the saga (the past four are all linked, Blofeld-style, once again), characters repeatedly ask obvious questions, whilst Kurt Russell boomerangs in and out to deliver background a la Basil Exposition. It’s a blessing that Morgan’s script does at least revel in the opportunity to allow the Rock and the Stath a solid chunk of hate-fuelled, bromantic sparring, of the sort that’s been missing since Dom and Hobbs allied. ‘I will beat your ass like a Cherokee drum’, for instance, is an all timer.
Joining the ever-expanding, alongside Theron, Helen Mirren has a blast in her small part, whilst Scott Eastwood is brought in to fill (somewhat tactlessly) the sorely felt absence of Paul Walker’s Brian. In all conventional senses such talented performers utterly wasted with this tripe – Theron’s a good actress but even she can only do so much with lines like ‘There’s something much greater at work here…this is fate’ – but Fast and Furious has always existed with entirely its own rulebook.
Fast and Furious 8 is the beginning of the end for the franchise, marking the first in a final trilogy, but is as fast and infuriating as ever. Exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, it’s a sure bet that it’ll smash the box office again, and certain to take out a few brain cells along with it.