The number 8 sat well on Steven Gerrard, but not necessarily on movies. Fast & Furious 8 — a more mundane moniker over here, changed from the appropriately overblown The Fate Of The Furious across the Pond — sets out to break a curse that took down the likes of Friday The 13th and The Pink Panther. And it does so in much the same manner that transformed the franchise from an also-ran into one of the world’s biggest box office behemoths: by doubling down on daft. This is no longer a down-and-dirty series about loveable carjacking criminals; it’s a globetrotting, scenery-smashing, logic-jacking extravaganza. Fast 8 is more of the same, more or less, with the emphasis heavily on more.
It starts sedately enough, with an almost entirely extraneous sequence in which Vin Diesel’s carjacker-turned-Dom Toretto and his wife Letty (Rodriguez) are on holiday in Cuba, getting caught up in one of the franchise’s seemingly contractually obliged street races. By the end, though, that pesky escalation has delivered a true first for movies — a submarine-car chase. In-between, enough vehicles are totalled to make the end of The Blues Brothers look like the start of The Blues Brothers.
These action sequences are handled comfortably by new director Gray, even if there’s nothing here to rival the sustained insanity of the bus chase in Fast 7. Instead, it’s during the film’s frequent bursts of exposition that Gray struggles, with the scenes in which the crew members each explain something while looking at monitors heavily redolent of TV shows such as NCIS. They further reinforce the long-held feeling that some of the supporting characters aren’t really that compelling. Thank the Lord, then, for three actors who are having the time of their lives.
First, there’s Kurt Russell, whose Mr Nobody rocks up from time to time to helpfully explain what the hell’s going on. The action stuff he leaves to newcomer Scott Eastwood (just when you thought there was no more vroom at the inn, this movie has more characters than TwitLonger) as his deputy, Little Nobody. But whenever Russell’s on screen, his eyes twinkle like a man enjoying one hell of a career resurgence.
The second is Dwayne Johnson, which should come as no surprise. The introduction of his super-cop Luke Hobbs to Fast Five was integral to the franchise’s evolution from callow contender to self-aware, sweat-drenched, gloriously silly blockbuster champ. And here, with Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner absent for obvious, tragic reasons, the bulk — literally and figuratively — of the movie’s action falls to him. And he steps up to the preposterous plate, whether it’s tackling a torpedo with his bare hands, or exchanging choice insults with Jason Statham.
The Stath’s Deckard Shaw was the bad guy last time around, hunting down The Car-azy Gang one by one and giving good enough glower for them to keep him alive. This time around, thanks to reliably ridiculous retconning, he’s on the side of the angels, and actually emerges as the film’s MVP. There’s no glowering here — this version of Deckard Shaw is a quip-happy one-man-army that utilises Statham’s natural charisma in a way Hollywood has mostly missed until now. His standout sequence, though it borrows liberally from John Woo’s Hard Boiled, is huge heaps of fun. Give this man his own spin-off.
Russell, Johnson and Statham, of course, are in on the joke. Something that doesn’t seem to be the case with Vin Diesel. And to reflect that, while Dom’s crew are off taking care of the Fast, Diesel is stuck with the Furious in his own little rather dour, melodramatic movie with Charlize Theron’s villain Cipher, who doesn’t get to do much except stare at computer screens and bark standard-issue threats. Mind you, even here escalation is inevitable: just when you think this storyline will be a fun-free zone, Diesel finally gets a couple of scenes with Dame Helen Mirren (complete with slightly dubious Cockernee accent).
Oh, and there’s further good news: if you’re playing the Fast & Furious drinking game, where you take a shot every time Vin says “family”, you’ll be pished as a newt about an hour in. Now that’s a win-Vin situation.