Saturday, 22 April 2017

"London... Abu Dhabi... Cuba. Our paths have crossed before, Dom. You just didn't know it."

The Fast and the Furious franchise is nothing if not adaptive. Beginning life in 2001 as a nitrous injected B-movie set in the subculture of Los Angeles' underground street racers, it morphed into an explosive heist movie for the fifth instalment and by the seventh outing, the action packed crime series was now ransacking superhero territory with its skydiving cars, leaps between skyscrapers and Vin Diesel and Jason Statham smacking seven bells out of each other with gigantic wrenches as concrete collapsed around them.

But how do you adapt to the loss of Paul Walker? Playing fan favourite Brian O'Conner in all but the third instalment The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), the hugely likeable star died, off set, in a single vehicle collision in November 2013.

As all who contributed to Furious 7 (2015) will know, that film made it to the finish line by drafting in Walker's brothers, Cody and Caleb, for a few final shots, and by re-writing the script to award O'Conner a fond farewell. Trouble being, so elegantly and sincerely did it deal with Walker's passing, it felt like a natural endpoint to a franchise that had long made 'family' its key theme.

Well, Fast & Furious 8 – a more mundane moniker over here, changed from the appropriately overblown The Fate Of The Furious in the US – doesn't so much adapt as erupt, doing the unthinkable by turning Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), a man so dependably loyal he makes guide dogs look callous, against the very family he extols with such frequency it should be a drinking game (and probably is).

The architect of his about face is cyber terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron), who persuades Dom to first steal an electromagnetic pulse device in Berlin, and then some nuclear launch codes in New York – both strategic steps en route to an explosive endgame that takes place in the frozen wastelands of Russia (but was filmed in Iceland).

Just what Cipher has on Dom shall not be revealed here, but safe to say her Machiavellian machinations link back to previous Fast and Furious movies, with old names and faces coming into play. What can be said is that the Dom versus family set pieces are huge, with new to the franchise director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) proving he really can handle car carnage after his backfiring remake of The Italian Job (2003). Keeping his camera close to the flying fists and colliding cars, he seeks maximum impact while repeating the series' knack of each time supersizing the action.

At one point a giant wrecking ball plays skittles with a fleet of speeding vehicles, while another sequence sees hundreds of cars electronically hacked in Manhattan and remote controlled to charge down a motorcade, even raining off the rooftop of a multi-storey car park.

All, however, are small fry compared to the kamikaze finale involving muscle cars, tanks, snowmobiles, jets and the submarine first spotted in the trailer. If there was ever any doubt that Dom, Hobbs, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tey (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) are the Avengers with power cars instead of superpowers, the proof here smacks us full in the face. "Man up and save the entire goddamn world," growls Hobbs – yes, the stakes really are that high, the tone that ludicrous.

Truth be told, what is missing here is Walker's Zen calm to bring a breath of fresh air to all this hyperventilation. Although just when it seems he has been too readily forgotten by the Fast and Furious family, a lovely grace note honours his memory.

Anyone requiring even a shred of authenticity or gravitas, meanwhile, will have to make do with the faint real world chimes sounded by a plot that involves hacking, Russia and the shadow of World War 3 – add it to the ethnically diverse cast that has always been the franchise's engine and you might even argue it is a blockbuster for the Trump era.

But that is clearly stretching it. Better to buckle up and enjoy the ride for what it is – an OMG, OTT, WTF action movie that ricochets fast and furiously with banter and put downs. "I'm gonna knock your teeth so far down your throat you're gonna stick a toothbrush right up your ass to brush them," spits Hobbs. At least they will be fixed in a grin.

Fast And Furious 8 is a movie to which the brake pedal is but a rumour. If you are not a Fast franchise fan, you will be furious, everyone else though will have a nitrous oxide blast.

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