When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of crime and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.
Family. There’s so much family in this latest instalment of the Fast and the Furious franchise that for once Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) can’t handle it all. Actually, he can’t handle any of it: while on his honeymoon in Cuba with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, the only actress in the world who can seem comfortable kissing Vin Diesel) he’s approached by a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron), shown a video and next thing we know he’s betraying his family in the middle of a mission so top secret it gets supercop Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) thrown in ultramax jail right across from arch enemy Ian Shaw (Jason Statham). Hobbs has a daughter, Shaw has a brother, and if you’re wondering what could make Dom betray his family you really aren’t thinking things through.
The Fast and the Furious franchise used to be about a group of hard-driving crooks, but after they escaped with a gazillion dollars at the end of #5, money stopped being a motivation. The next two films made it all about family; now with #8 the franchise finally tips all the way over into generic globetrotting spy action, complete with nonsensical hacking sequences, nuclear weapon theft, satellite surveillance, and some even more ridiculous hacking sequences. Has any film ever make hacking sequences seem exciting? They don’t even try here: whereas once upon a time this series at least pretended to integrate the scenes between the big action sequences with those big action sequences – they’d have to go win cars at drag races, they’d stumble upon a bad guy and give chase as he drove away – now it’s just rival puppet masters ordering their forces into over-the-top set-pieces.
Much of the fun of the series' best instalments – that’d be #5 and #6 – came from the way that clearly insane hijinx still linked back to the real world (however tenuously), if only to emphasise the insanity of the core action. Sure, Dom was a fast-driving-crook-turned-international-secret-agent and Hobbs was some kind of walking musclebound bridge support, but the late Paul Walker’s Brian was close to a normal human and the street racing meets were the kind of thing that could perhaps happen in real life. Maybe Scott Eastwood’s bland agent will step up into more of a Walker role next time (there’s a sense that the filmmakers were perhaps a little too careful in not bringing in a straight-up replacement for Walker too soon), but as far as this film is concerned Brian is gone, real life is firmly in the rear-view mirror and everyone lives in a world where, sure, a tea-drinking Cockney crook can get a hold of wing suits so that a couple of characters can fly onto a secret plane mid-flight because why not?
That’s not to say this stuff isn’t awesome: to state the obvious, this is full of crazy sequences that are loads of fun to watch, and if there’s nothing as good as the runway chase at the climax of #6, the ending here is a lot more memorable than the drone shootout from #7. If you like big stunt sequences, you will like this film. New director F Gary Grey ensures the fight scenes are decently shot, the car stunts rarely seem CGI-heavy, and the only thing that really lets the action side of the film down is the lack of decent post-murder quips: saying “nasty” after seeing a guy thrown into a spinning submarine propeller just doesn’t cut it.
The trouble is that with Diesel, Johnson and Statham as the film’s big guns, it has three leads who all give off the same kind of musclebound action cartoon character energy, which means there’s a vague sameness to the goings-on that dampens things just a little. The biggest loser this time around is Johnson: while Diesel gets to “act” more often than usual (almost entirely with a glassy-eyed Theron; it’s interesting that for a film so much about family, there are almost no scenes where Dom interacts with the regular cast) and Statham gets a number of strong action sequences that show off his talents and charisma, Johnson’s Hobbs has lost his planning and exposition role to Kurt Russell’s Mr Nobody, leaving him as defacto team leader without a moment as memorable as his plaster cast-destroying flex in #7. But he does get to coach a girl’s soccer team, so it’s not all bad news.
Rather than a marked comedown then, this is more a continuation of the series’ gentle skid towards more traditional action fare. The flaws here aren’t fatal ones, but this feels like the first instalment where the rot is starting to creep in. It’s over the top without any sense of there being a top to drive over, it’s overstuffed with characters that aren’t quite going through the motions, and it stars a lead who spends almost all of the film with an overly pained look on his face, as if a bird just crapped on his car. Restraint? Subtlety? A hard limit on the number of things that can explode? They’re all just speed bumps this film is going over too fast to feel.