The Fast and Furious series started out as a cops vs underground street racers Point Break rip off, and if you’d told audiences in 2001 that it would eventually evolve into The Avengers but in cars, they would most likely have scoffed. Yet, thanks to changing blockbuster tastes and the ingenious addition of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson to the team as super-cop Luke Hobbs in 2011’s Fast Five, the franchise’s escalation has ensured that 2017’s Fate of the Furious is exactly that. By a wide margin the most gleefully stupid film I’ve seen this year, Fate’s revelling in its own ridiculousness makes for a highly entertaining two hours.
Picking up not long after the end of Furious 7, we are reintroduced to franchise hero Dom Torretto (Vin Diesel) on his honeymoon in Cuba. It’s the only sequence with any pretence at being a traditional Fast movie, centring on Dom winning a street race in a junky old mess against a devious opponent in a souped-up muscle car. After that, Dom meets blandly evil villain Cipher (Charlize Theron), a hacker with enough dirt on Dom to turn him against his team in her quest to obtain WMDs for nebulously nefarious purposes.
So begins a globe-trotting, world-saving adventure that effectively sidelines Dom by putting him on the Bad Team, letting his fellow giant bald men Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, as returning and redeemed villain Deckard Shaw, run the show. And run the show they do, with everything good and great about F8 coming in scenes involving those two, especially Statham, who not only leads some of the best action sequences, but also brings in an extended cameo for a ‘Cockney’-accented Helen Mirren as his mum. Other notable returnees include Tyrese Gibson, who lands the film’s biggest laughs, and Kurt Russell as enigmatic spook Mr Nobody, now with a bumbling sidekick played by Scott Eastwood.
Another new addition to the franchise is F8’s director, Straight Outta Compton’s F Gary Gray. He proves more than capable of handling the series’ style, marshalling some really show-stopping set-pieces that thrill despite (and, admittedly, because of) their ludicrousness. Already heavily present in trailers, a prison break and a submarine chase are breathless fun, but it’s a daring hostage rescue set inside a jumbo jet that steals the film. Predictably, Chris Morgan’s script can’t match the visual fun, funny in places and certainly functional, but lacking any emotional impact.
Honestly, that’s fine for a film of this ilk, as is the fact that its plot hangs together by the loosest logical threads possible. After all, what need do you have of nuanced dialogue in a movie where a giant wrecking ball destroys an entire German military convoy? Less forgivable, in that they actually impede the brain-off enjoyment of F8, are some very sub-par performances. Theron is completely wasted in a shallow, shouty role, and Nathalie Emmanuel is eye-wateringly appalling as the team’s tech support, who delivers her lines without any hint of commitment or charisma. In an otherwise fun cast, it’s a shame that the women are given leaden, sincere roles whilst all the men get to be in on the joke.
Satisfying character arcs and gender-progressive credentials aren’t what audiences come to a Fast film for, though. Instead, the crowds for this increasingly enormous franchise are drawn in by the promise of blockbuster cinema’s most ethnically diverse cast at the helm of a plethora of lightning-fast, near-indestructible vehicles and F8 delivers that in spades. Chuck in a moment in which The Rock performs a war dance to scare a children’s football team and you’ve got yourself a forgettable but enjoyable couple of hours.