You know how, in Hong Kong movie series, a popular actor who gets killed off in one film gets recast as a different character in the next one?
In Hollywood, though, it’s all about having your cake AND eating it – the Fast & Furious franchise doesn’t want to kill off its characters but still wants them to go through all kinds of character swerves.
Good guy/gal in one movie, bad in the next. Or vice versa. Or dead in one movie, alive in the one after the next.
And it’s not just regulars like Michelle Rodriguez who have to go good-bad-good or alive-dead-alive. This time it’s series staple Vin Diesel whose Dominic Toretto, the heart and co-muscle of the franchise, is made to go rogue.
Oh yes, series sophomore Jason Statham also gets to shift gears from “I-just-killed-everyone-in-a-military-hospital-to-visit-my-kid-brother” despicable villain to “I’ll-risk-my-life-in-a-better-than-007-aerial-stunt-to-save-(spoiler deleted)” good guy in the space of one movie.
But, what the heck – more Ludacris … beg pardon, ludicrous things have happened in the F&F films before. I figure it’s only a matter of time before Dwayne Johnson’s formidable law enforcer Luke Hobbs turns “evil” too, in a future instalment.
If you think the trailers for F&F8 (known Stateside as The Fate Of The Furious) have given away everything, well yeah, almost – except for a couple of critical plot points which will not be revealed here, either.
Yes, Dom goes rogue. But there’s a Darned Good Reason for it. Yes, he throws in with a vicious cyberterrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron) and her wildling henchman Connor (Game Of Thrones’ Kristofer Hivju, who might be a soul brother of WWE’s Enzo Amore). But you know that kiss isn’t genuine. Er, we mean the one between Dom and Cipher, not … never mind.
So, while the gang – Letty “Mrs” Torretto (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, also from GOT, returning as the hacker from Furious 7) and Hobbs – try to figure out why Dom betrayed them, covert operator Mr Nobody (an also-returning Kurt Russell) force-feeds them two new members. One, of course, is The Stath’s killing machine Deckard Shaw; the other is a wet-behind-the-ears agent, let’s call him Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood), who is kind of, gently and not too obtrusively, meant to maybe take that slot in the gang left by Brian O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) – but no, never to replace him.
Now, here’s the thing about F&F8. As you might expect, after all the mayhem of the last few films, it just has to go even bigger and broader in order to top them.
And given that director F. Gary Gray (Law Abiding Citizen, Straight Outta Compton) isn’t exactly known for big, sprawling action flicks (the closest thing to this being his The Italian Job remake), you may wonder if he can live up to Justin Lin’s high-octane legacy from the third through the sixth instalments.
After all, Movie No. 7’s James Wan didn’t pull it off too smoothly except for that heartfelt farewell to Walker.
To Gray’s credit, he does a pretty good job of giving the audience exactly what they’ve come for, even throwing a few surprises our way and maintaining the intrigue although the general outcome of the main plot threads is quite predictable.
Theron raises the franchise’s standard of villainy a bit in her earlier scenes, particularly the one where Cipher calls out Dom for his emphasis on protecting family. A pity that her character, who initially seems like a rather cool distaff counterpart of Skyfall’s Raoul Silva, sort of falls apart in a crisis … Queen Ravenna would hang her head in shame, for sure.
Still, any attempts to be serious or relevant are always purely secondary to the big action sequences, and F&F8 delivers several beauties of escalating intensity and scale. And, yes, ludicrousness.
Ultimately, the movie delivers in terms of knuckle-whitening street races, bruising punch-ups, colossal pile-ups, things blowing up all pretty-like, and carnage that approaches the level of an Expendables movie.
You won’t hear action fans complaining too loudly and I’ll be doggone if the jaded movie reviewer in me didn’t find it all almost … lovable. Only major beef: not enough Helen Mirren!
It’s not a spoiler to say that everything winds down on a happy note as the gang prepares for No. 9. Even the much-publicised backstage feud between Diesel and Johnson is not all that obvious on-screen (I still feel it was an attempt to start an angle that The Rock could take to this year’s WrestleMania, just that talks probably fell through).
After all, family means ’ohana, and ’ohana means burying the hatchet for the good of the franchise.
Fast & Furious 8
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Helen Mirren, Scott Eastwood, Kristofer Hivju