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F8 steps on the gas

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FILM REVIEW: Brits Jason Statham and Helen Mirren on-board for number 8 in the Fast & Furious franchise, The Fate of the Furious.

Fate of the Furious (12A)
Running time 2hr 16mins
Rating: ***

AT some point, the Fast & Furious franchise ceased to be a series about street-racing, a reality belatedly confirmed with this instalment, which features, among other barmy spectacles, a submarine chase and an airborne baby rescue. It’s a glossy technothriller in the Mission Impossible mould; while one might appreciate the producers’ initiative, there’s only so many times a self-righteously bovine action saga can revolutionise itself – at this rate, it’s not hard to see the next movie taking Vin and the gang into space.

Despite all this, The Fate of the Furious (or: Fast 8, Fast & Furious 8, F8) comes across a curiously
unfatigued specimen. Its plot (something involving nuclear espionage and the Russian defence minister) is nonsensical, the various character threads demanding the sort of tireless intellectual investment necessitated by Marvel outings. The film is quite evidently conscious of the extent to which it’s deviated from the family recipe, with an opening pursuit down Havana’s scenic streets standing in as an apology to fans of the early episodes. With that out of the way, it’s content to move on to more serious matters, as the honeymoon of Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is crashed by the mysterious Cipher (Charlize Theron), an impossibly wealthy cybercriminal determined to blackmail him into ‘one last job’. Enter Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), et al, for more big-budget shenanigans.

Gone is Paul Walker, killed in a tragic 2013 car crash; nevertheless, F8 lives up to the series’ star power, with a British invasion (Jason Statham and Helen Mirren are both on board) doing much to keep things fresh. Gone also is the soap-y, non-vehicular drama that prevented the movies’ descent into bargain bin guff (in other words, to the level of much of Diesel’s recent work). It’s not difficult to gauge the logic behind this shift – the current posse are a little on the stale side, and the Diesel-Johnson pairing has definitely lost its magic (Johnson-Statham, on the other hand, delivers cross-Atlantic quippery gold).

But the usual rent-a-thrills are all here. The riotous pacing never allows the fragile character mechanic to fall apart; these films are nothing less than a test of the viewer’s ability to watch hot cars crash and burn in different combinations, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that the act’s been kept up this long (the first Fast came out in 2001!). The action sequences, an antidote to the strict DIY approach of recent genre additions, are all drenched in CGI, but they’re possessed of energy and madcap imagination. One encounter, which sees whole streets of rush-hour traffic hijacked by Cipher’s super-plane, is a real gem, a masterclass in why-haven’t-they-done-it-before cinema.

So it covers all the bases a Fast & Furious flick should, and with newfound vitality. While this is beginning to feel like a very conventional action franchise – the new cast members, likeable as they are, do not help in that regard – F8 shows the creators to have more than a few tricks up their sleeves.

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