Bigger, bolder and more bizarre – yes you’ve guessed it, Fast and Furious is back for what is the most craziest film in the franchise.
“London… Abu Dhabi… Cuba. Our paths have crossed before, Dom. You just didn’t know it. I think I need to remind you why you chose to be here.” – Cipher
If you’ve made it this far, there’s really no point in arguing the logic. Fast and Furious 8 is probably the most ridiculously stupid yet the most ridiculously fun film you’ll see this year. It has stubbornly stuck to its guns as to why it has maintained this aura and appetite of action. Because it’s a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. When you let go of that boundary, you end up having a good time.
Fast 8 continues the emotional precedent set by Furious 7. With Brian (Paul Walker) out of the game, that emotional transference is delivered by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who forcibly betrays his crew to work for Cipher (Charlize Theron). It might be the most overused word in this franchise (and to be honest I lost count at how many times it was mentioned) but that essence of family and what you would do for it drives the film. Pun intended.
It may seem strange considering that the previous seven films have talked non-stop about family for it to suddenly change direction. But there’s a genuine reason for Toretto’s change in behaviour which is emotionally and physically exploited.
What compounds and solidifies it is because we see a different side of Toretto who is desperate to lead a new life with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). The opening scene in Cuba is that confirmation – it appeals to their car-loving nature by participating in a street race and Cuba’s passionate and multifunctional love of cars. It’s an idyllic car heaven where life can be simple and personal questions come into play. But part of the enjoyment of Fast 8 is that change in dynamics, playing around with an almost untouchable unity. It’s the compromised conflict and dilemma that Toretto faces. He knows the “family” code and still operates by it but unfortunately it comes at a cost by deceiving his friends. By having a major character like Toretto betraying his team, it obviously pits them against each other but it also provides an unpredictability. When that person knows how a crew operates, one of your own can be far more dangerous. Given the betrayal, the character of Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) takes a natural step into leadership. Where there’s a disbelief about amongst the crew about Toretto’s new allegiance (in particular with Letty) Hobbs has no qualms about neutralising the threat.
But the best thing about the Fast and Furious films is the action and you always get the sense of the franchise “upping the ante”. In the character of Cipher, the playing field is a computerised chess game in which she controls all the pieces. Taking familiar cues from the computer game Watchdogs, cars are now hackable tools to achieve an objective. It’s also a different, more relaxed performance by Charlize Theron. Whilst she doesn’t get to go all Furiosa (although I wished she did), but she does provide a psychological edge for the film.
Structurally Fast 8 is also a more coherent, free-flowing film in comparison to Fast and Furious 7. The untimely death of Paul Walker was an obstacle and while it successfully navigated past those difficult and emotional hurdles, the change of direction and re-working of the script was telling.
Of course no film is perfect and Fast and Furious 8 is guilty in that respect. While the film may excel in some areas, Fast 5 is still the best one in the franchise and every Fast and Furious film that has come after it has not come close to matching or succeeding it.
One of the prime reasons for this is because Fast 5 was a game changer. It took the common street race ideology that made the early films successful and switched it into a Ocean’s Eleven heist movie but with cars. It was a re-invention with Dwayne Johnson’s natural abundance of energy giving the franchise a new lease of life. It still had some seriousness but didn’t compromise on the fun. Since then every Fast and Furious film after that has followed that same intricate pattern, but has gotten more ridiculous and over the top like emulating a Top Gear stunt x 1000 whilst on drugs.
But because all the stories are now interconnected, a Fast and Furious cinematic universe has quietly crept up upon the audience. The villain in each film is almost excused or redeemed in the next one because there’s another villain that’s above them in the chain that gave context for their criminality. In the case of Fast 6 and Fast 7, the Shaw brothers have been working for Cipher all along. Because of this repetitive interconnection, we slightly lose a self-contained uniqueness, something that Fast 5 brought to the franchise.
It also doesn’t help when the films have been playing fast and loose with its own story lines without acknowledgement of the consequences. Remember Han? Remember when he was murdered by Deckard Shaw which became the catalyst for Fast and Furious 7? Suddenly in Fast 8, Shaw is now part of the family, like a slate has been cleaned. It’s a conflict because on one hand you enjoy Statham’s performance. His hilarious banter with Hobbs steals the show like watching a pre-match trash talk for a WWE match. But on the other hand, it’s the quick acceptance of Deckard working for the crew in tackling the Toretto problem. I guess we’ll have to wait until the next Fast and Furious films to see if there’s an acknowledgement but at this current moment, it’s a bit baffling.
But Fast 8 is also guilty of not knowing when to put on the brakes and stop. It’s not necessarily aimed at the franchise per se, but more in terms of the action. The action in each film, especially in its grand finale are becoming so outlandish that sometimes you get the feeling that it doesn’t know when to end. Each scenario within a set piece is constantly evolving like tiny little cogs in a machine and sometimes when a film does too much of everything, it slightly loses the spectacle it wants to achieve.
But overall, Fast 8 does what you expect it to do. It’s clever on the humour and the action whilst keeping within the film’s emotional core. At the end of the day, it’s about family.