Fast and Furious 8 review: Bigger doesn't always equal better in The Fate of the Furious

The hugely bankable franchise is back with a pulse-quickening but overall convoluted instalment

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The Independent Culture

There's an interaction in Fast & Furious 8 (known in the US as The Fate of the Furious) between franchise latecomers Luke Hobbs (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) that sums things up nicely: the two are thrust together, threats are hurled back and forth, one of which involves punching teeth, a toothbrush and a place where the sun don't shine. The two maintain a steely composure for about four seconds before their faces contort in laughter. Not even they can suppress it anymore.

Perhaps this is the first warning sign that, with Fast & Furious 8, the franchise is squarely in on the joke. However, instead of opening the floodgates for a helping of self-deprecating comedy, the final product feels more like a replica as opposed to something existing on its own merit - a scandalous notion considering this film truly has it all (and then some): family drama, cyber-terrorism, prison riots and a dreadlocked Charlize Theron.

This time around, the group lock heads with Theron's Cipher, a cold-blooded villainess who tries to turn Vin Diesel's gruff franchise leader Dominic Toretto against his own 'family' in the name of terrorism. Why? It doesn't really matter. Even if it did? You'll struggle to recall. A first for a series which once proved skillful at silencing the creaks that could once be heard over the crunching of metal and cracking of knuckles.

It's almost staggering to comprehend that this is the eighth Fast & Furious film, not least because it seemed like the franchise was chugging to a close when Universal dropped the entire cast for the Japan-set spin-off Tokyo Drift in 2006 - and yet its episodic nature, well-managed ensemble and increasing ridiculousness made this an easy film series to enjoy.

A third of the way through Fast & Furious 8, it hits you: it may have reached its limit. While this outing is often an enjoyable, pulse-quickening spectacle that should be seen on the biggest screen you can find, the franchise's peak - fifth entry Fast Five - just won't be bettered. For the first time, this film's existence smacks of obligation as opposed to necessity (an issue when considering this is the start of a new trilogy).

The spin added to the chase sequences here is that they pit (a hesitant) Toretto against the group he usually leads. Their confusion is what grounds the film - what on earth could Cipher have against their leader to make him an accomplice in a global terrorist plot? - and yet the only emotional beats returning screenwriter Chris Morgan permits come courtesy of Toretto's wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), whose blossoming friendship with seventh film addition Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) is fortunately given room to grow. Ultimately, the premise promises a showdown that never arrives, instead building to a resolution that barely gets explained, almost as consolation.

Fast and Furious 8 Clip

Its other consolation is Statham. Deckard Shaw is an unexpectedly vibrant addition, even if his presence undercuts everything which made his debut appearance in Fast & Furious 6 so tense. No matter - a shootout involving his character arrives so boldly within the running time it lassos the film from under everybody's noses, evoking underrated Clive Owen thriller Shoot 'Em Up (2006) and solidifying him as 2015 comedy Spy's ace in the pack. Hilariously, there's not even a car in sight. The petition for a Deckard Shaw spin-off begins here.  

The Fast & Furious series became the money maker it is because, in many ways, it was the huge franchise that couldn't which in turn transformed it into something Diesel and company could never have anticipated. If all involved are in on the joke, it's in danger of wearing as thin as the ice the gang find themselves speeding along breathlessly in the climactic set-piece (one word: submarine).

This is loud, garish, two hours-plus proof that bigger, while perpetually entertaining, doesn't necessarily equate to better.