As many of you will know (if you’ve read all my reviews up to this point and if you have… kudos!), I was not one to mince words about my rampant dislike of last year’s Vin Diesel car-smashin’ hit Furious 7. Despite the film receiving the most positive reviews any movie in the series had gotten to that point, mine was not among the glowing praise. I found the acting to be almost non-existent and the comic relief to be annoying, the action to be ridiculous to the point of boredom and the incessant push on Paul Walker’s real-life passing to be bordering on tacky. That being said, I had absolutely no expectations going into the 8th (!) installment of this action franchise.
We join Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) on their honeymoon in Cuba and they are both pretty much the same thrillseekers they have always been at heart. After racing and winning the respect of a Cuban man named Fernando, Dom elects not to take his car and instead gives his own car to his financially-starved cousin. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and soon after, Dom is tracked down by a cyber-terrorist known as Cipher (Charlize Theron), who blackmails Dom into helping her track down a nuclear weapon and its codes so that she can essentially hold the world hostage. Soon, Dom is forced to go up against his own team (including a new character and one forced alliance) and must choose between two different meanings of the word family.
The first thing I will say is that… this movie is awesome! You read that right. I haven’t given one iota of shit about any of the past installments in the series, having seen three of them but this one just hit all the marks for me. Whereas Furious 7 felt like it hampered and doubled-down on endless drama and soap opera-nonsense, this one truly embraced its psychotic pace, editing and action set pieces in full force. That is the key aspect to making a film like this work because make no mistake about it – it is tremendously stupid. However, it is almost stupid to the extent that it is brilliant. Consider a scene in which Vin Diesel drives a broken-down jalopy of a car so fast that it catches on fire and he still manages to win a race. Or how about a scene in which Cipher can somehow auto-start every car in a parking garage, causing them to tumble out the windows onto the streets below just so she can get her hands on a briefcase. Or how about an inspired scene where one character shoots at a number of enemies while holding “precious cargo” all the while the sounds of the Chipmunks can be heard. It’s insane but damn oh damn, it is so good.
As for the performers, to me they appeared to be having a lot more fun and were more loose in this one. Where I found Tyrese and Ludacris’ interactions to be annoying and obnoxious in the previous film, this time they felt a lot fresher and not overused to the point of saturation. Both men were funny and I even enjoyed their constant attempts to one-up each other and impress Ramsey, played by the lovely Nathalie Emmanuel. Vin Diesel will probably never win an Oscar but he has the presence for an action movie like this but it also probably helped that his presence was not felt as much as previous films as well. The Rock is his usual charismatic self and shares some very enjoyable scene with the return of Jason Statham, who is helping the team this time out. It’s nice to have the great Kurt Russell back and while I enjoyed Scott Eastwood as a new character, it’s Charlize Theron who steals the show as the venomous Cipher. Every word she says just oozes out of her mouth and she pushes the limits of what characters like her can do in “silly action movies” to get the audience to hate her. Michelle Rodriguez is there too; she’s fine.
The humour in the film feels a lot more natural and there are some enjoyable back-and-forth moments but it’s also not played out in abundance like the previous installment and this time it feels like a welcome break from the high-octane action sequences rather than “oh no, not this again.” The action sequences themselves are of course what people go to these things for so you’ll be glad to know that they are just as insane as any of the other installments. What places them head-and-shoulders above those other movies though is that they are not overlong and the great visuals are complemented by some actual decent writing and plot progression. Having Diesel as a reluctant villain for most of the film is a unique story to follow and he surprisingly is able to convey that battle through his… yes… his acting! The action comes to a head with an insane final sequence involving submarines, tanks, missiles and lots and lots of hand-to-hand combat.
I never thought I would say this but I am looking forward to the next installment if they can keep this kind of spirit alive rather than drudging themselves up with needless drama. What a nice surprise!
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)