Over several years of watching most, if not all of the movies in the Fast and the Furious franchise (hard to keep track, to be honest), I’ve learnt that there are three aspects common to each installment:
- Badass, insane car chases without regard to human life, property damage or the environment
- Every possible variation of cheesy, action-movie lines such as ‘You got this’, ‘Let’s get this show on the road’, ‘Take this baby out for a spin’, ‘This is not good/ This is not good’, and ‘How about we do both?’
- The unshakeable belief that Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) always knows what he’s doing.
It feels weird to be watching a film with the suffix ‘8’ in its title. What story needs to go on that long, you ask, before you suddenly remember the Harry Potter franchise and correct yourself by asking: what story that isn’t just the same thing over and over needs to have seven sequels? The answer is, clearly, the ones that make money.
And therefore we have Dom and his family of faithfuls —Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) — returning for what always seems like ‘one last time’, until it isn’t.
F. Gary Gray, who made the breezily entertaining Straight Outta Compton (2015), is at the helm of affairs here, not that one can really tell.
The multi-million dollar budget is visible in every frame, from the locations (from Havana, Cuba to what is supposedly Siberia but is actually Mývatn, Iceland) to the sensational special effects. This is a franchise known for preposterous stunts and its eighth installment definitely delivers the goods.
Highlights include an outlandish set-piece wherein driver-less sports cars are hacked into, and start committing hara-kiri en masse by driving out of showrooms and onto streets with the sole intent of stopping a stretch limo; a pretty stunning Mad-Max-on-ice sequence towards the end in which a giant submarine chases Dom’s team over a giant, frozen water body; and, finally, a race through the streets of Havana, which leaves half the city in smithereens to assuage the egos of two dunderheads, in which Dom drives a vintage car that catches fire and still manages to win (I’d say spoiler alert but were you really expecting him to lose?).
But the problem with this installment, even if we keep our expectations as low as possible, is that there’s very little that makes it memorable, even though it tries harder than most of its predecessors. Dom turns rogue and starts working with Cipher (Charlize Theron, on autopilot), an international cyber-terrorist who evidently cannot afford a better hairdresser than the one she has currently, which should be a big deal and tear the ‘family’ apart.
However, despite high-octane chases and death-defying confrontations — including a torn-by-wild-horses like face-off in a busy New York intersection — the emotional stakes are low. At no point do we feel for any of these characters, nor do we feel compelled to believe that any major character has actually died, even when visuals claim otherwise.
There's a discernible lack of a true sense of danger or stakes.
The motivation, for the most part, involves retrieving and chasing a device that has the cataclysmic power of… shutting off the power in an entire city block. Umm, guys, do visit India some time.
Apart from amusing cameos by Kurt Russell and Helen Mirren(!), there’s very little in Fast and the Furious 8 that doesn’t seem derivative and exhaustingly banal. Fans of the franchise won’t mind, of course, but one wonders what they even see in it anymore. Surely this would be more fun as a video game?
(The author is a film critic and culture journalist who resides in Mumbai. Previously, he was the entertainment editor at a leading website and has written for a number of publications. In his spare time, he makes music. When free from all of the above, he travels.)
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