It's that time again. After the emotional gravity of the previous entry's heartfelt send-off for series establishing star Paul Walker - which undoubtedly contributed to the 7th film's gargantuan box office success - the team are back for another globe trotting adventure that makes the last Bond movie look like Driving Miss Daisy. This time the stakes are higher than ever before as a mysterious woman known as Cipher (Charlize Theron) forces Dominic Toretto to apparently go rogue and betray his nearest and dearest. It's left to Letty, Roman, Hobbs & co., and a very uneasy alliance with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), to get under the bonnet and work out who Cipher is and what is her endgame?
The "Fast-chise"™ has come a long way since its roots as a Point Break ripoff with cars. It's somehow (inexplicably many might say) evolved from being about a team that engages in relatively grounded (albeit illegal) activities such as street racing and boosting DVD players from distribution trucks, to being about a group that are basically superior to any special ops division in the world (even the Predator would have trouble hunting this lot - Toretto would just drive his Dodge Charger into his head). Thus becoming the "go to" team for super shadowy government official Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) - who has a new rookie sidekick in the form of "less than nobody" (Scott Eastwood). They are a double act to rival Agents Johnson & Johnson from Die Hard, and the world will be a poorer place if and when Kurt Russell retires from making movies.
The films are becoming more ridiculous than Vin Diesel's V8 sized ego, more ludicrous than Ludacris - narrative plausibility not so much taking a back seat but thrown kicking and screaming into the boot of the vehicle. However, it works (but only just about, mind) because the series stopped taking itself seriously several sequels ago, and also due to the genuine camaraderie and repartee between the key characters that comes from years of working with each other, and something that is difficult to replicate if you just throw a random group of stars together. The only other time its worked as well is on the Soderbergh/Clooney/Pitt Ocean's Eleven remake, and even then the sequels were not as good. The increasingly bonkers stunts and (more over the top than Lincoln Hawk) OTT set pieces also help, obviously (just don't watch the trailer if possible, etc. etc.).
Straight Outta Compton and straight into the director's chair (vacated by James Wan) is F. Gary Gray. Having previously collaborated with Diesel (A Man Apart), made some glossy action movies in the form of The Negotiator and Law Abiding Citizen, and no stranger to cars and stunts (The Italian Job remake) - Gray was an ideal recruitment and the transition between Fast 7 and 8 is as seamless as the chassis on Deckard Shaw's Jaguar F-Type coupe. Series regular Chris Morgan is once again on scripting duties with the usual overbearing themes of family and brotherhood an ever present over the course of the movie. The only thing that is a little irksome is the frequent (read tedious) pseudo intellectual psycho-analysis of Toretto's "live life a quarter of a mile at a time" principles by super-villainess Cipher.
With the established successful formula firmly in place, Fast and the Furious 8 is another vastly entertaining thrill ride that deserves a trip to the cinema to be seen on a giant (IMAX or whatever) screen with matching sound system. However, it's probably a slight notch below Fast 7, fortunately anchored by two strong factors - namely Dwayne Johnson and Jason "The Stath" Statham. Their natural chemistry means that the two stars not so much steal every scene they have together, but rather more perform a military precision heist that the Ocean's Eleven boys would be proud of. The proposed spin-off film featuring the two cannot come soon enough. The former's Luke Hobbs seems to get all the best lines too. In the last one, it was proclaiming to Letty: "Lady....I AM THE CAVALRY!!" before unleashing "old painless" on a poor attack helicopter. In Fast 8, its announcing to Deckard Shaw from behind a prison screen: "I WILL BEAT YOU LIKE A CHEROKEE DRUM!" Now, I'm not exactly sure what that even means, but its funny all the same (must be all in the delivery). And whilst the involvement of the latter in this outing has proved somewhat controversial given his previous behaviour, there's no denying that the presence of Statham provides an extra spark (of the nitrous turbo variety) to the movie. It'd be poorer without his participation.
On a final note, there's even room for a homage to John Woo's classic Hard Boiled that is particularly inspired. In fact, I think Chris Morgan may be a Woo fan as there was also a moment in Fast 7 that appeared to be a nod to the Heroic Bloodshed maestro. I fully expect the appearance of white doves in the next movie.