Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron
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Fast & Furious. A franchise that refuses to believe that less is more, to an almost fanatical degree. What began as a street racing thriller has grown into a globe-trotting, tank-exploding, plane-crashing, building-smashing action series. What started with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker has expanded to include Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Now, with its eighth film, Fast & Furious introduces Charlize Theron and even Helen Mirren. By the time someone starts talking about nuclear warheads, you’re not even surprised.
All that extra baggage arrives just as the series begins its first entry without Paul Walker’s Brian, and his absence shows, not just from the lack of emotional weight the movie carries – Fast & Furious 7 was a remarkably moving blockbuster, for all its combustible nonsense – but also from the film’s haphazard attempts to add anything that might fill the gap.
With Brian gone, it falls to Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and Johnson’s Hobbs to lead the gang, and their brand of conflicting braun and, well, braun continues to hold entertainment value. Vin Diesel remains the earnest heart of the ensemble, while Hobbs balances a sweet soft side with his macho posturing. But there’s a growing sense of imbalance, as Statham’s Deckard Shaw switches sides and joins in the heroic madness. The Stath is always superb value, and has a natural comic timing to compliment his physicality, but the script can’t work out how to fit him in: a brilliant set piece involving him and a baby feels like it’s out of a different film, while Mirren’s cameo as his mother is like too much food is being piled on our already overfilled plate.
In the villain’s corner, the movie doesn’t know what to do with Theron either; despite her being the read lead in Mad Max: Fury Road, Fast & Furious 8 doesn’t even put her behind the wheel of a car, instead casting her as a hacker, called Cipher, who blackmails Dom into helping her crew acquire world-threatening power. Her skills do create a superb sequence that involves taking over seemingly every car in New York City, and there’s fun in seeing how overblown the absurdity can get, but you begin to miss the more grounded silliness of previous sequels, as represented by a fiery opening race, led by Dom’s growling wheelman.
The result is big, dumb and obvious, as Fast & Furious 8 proves it still has enough fuel to drive boredom away at high speed. But while director F Gary Gray brings a slick sheen to proceedings, listen closely and you can hear the engine starting to strain.