While undertaking a secret government mission, Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel) abruptly betrays his loose family of high-speed racers and goes rogue with a EMP generator. While his friends reel from his betrayal, they are forced to track him down and apprehend him to prevent his new employer – the computer hacker Cypher (Charlize Theron) – from throwing the world into chaos.
Universal Pictures’ The Fast and the Furious has for some time now been the world’s most weirdly entertaining action film franchise. In some respects they are review-proof: they are simply too enthusiastic, over-the-top and knowingly ridiculous to be taken seriously, and once you are in on the joke it is near-impossible to hold any of the franchise’s excesses against it. It is also a genuinely strange catch-all for some of Hollywood’s most enjoyable actors, including Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Kurt Russell, Luke Evans and Jason Statham. The cast is also astonishingly diverse, slowly evolving over eight films to present what is Hollywood’s most ethnically varied and representative ensemble cast. The franchise simply beggars belief; so much so, in fact, that in my opinion it’s best to simply sit back and enjoy how ridiculous the car chases, fist-fights and explosions can be.
There is a plot behind all of the chaos, but that plot really does boil down to wild goose chase as Cypher sends Dom on a series of daredevil missions and Dom’s old team race to stop him. As far as a string of action set pieces go, it’s undeniably impressive. Anyone who was entertained by the previous three Furious pictures in particular will be well at home here. Like all good action films there are a few stand-out moments, notably a pile-on of remote-controlled cars in downtown New York and a cars-versus-nuclear submarine climax that stretches credulity to a wonderful and hugely entertaining degree.
It is not all perfect. A returning character is disposed in a rather blunt and cavalier manner, and by film’s end the cast are celebrating victory when they should probably be mourning that one of their friends is dead. On a similar level Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw is brought a little too gleefully into Dom’s “family” given that just two films earlier he stone-cold murdered one of the team. That is ultimately the one core problem of the Fast and the Furious franchise: it only works if you stay in the moment and refuse to think about the plot too much. It is a confection, and once you make the mistake of cracking the surface it has a tendency to fall apart.
In the end the film simply feels like a party with a bunch of friends you have not caught up with for a couple of years. The ensemble returns with plenty of momentary character highlights and showcases. There is plenty of humour. There is a repeated discussion of ‘family’ taken to a deliberate level of self-parody. Things explode. Cars drive fast. Vin Diesel growls with overt seriousness. Dwayne Johnson wins the film with machismo and charisma. Jason Statham gets to star in his own tribute to John Woo’s Hard Boiled. This is deliberately stupid, loud, funny chaos, and all the better for it. Roll on Fast and the Furious 9.