16 April 2017

Fast & Furious 8 review

At this point, I feel like you're either on the same wavelength as the Fast and Furious franchise or you're not. When I saw Furious 7 two years ago, I most decidedly was not, and my review at the time reflected that - having since seen both Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, however, I'd now consider myself wholly on-board with the larger-than-life soap operatics that is core to the franchise. These films are big and broad and dumb, sure, but their willingness to earnestly embrace the recurring motif of family and the  ridiculous sense of canon built up over the last 16 years or so means that they work, often in spite of themselves - and Fast & Furious 8 (or to use its far superior title, The Fate of the Furious) offers no exception.

The plot this time sees international cyber-criminal Cypher forcing Dom to turn on his family in order to help her steal various pieces of technology, but despite the simplicity of that hook, newcomers to the Fast and Furious franchise are going to find themselves entirely lost here. So much of what makes Fast & Furious 8 work on anything beyond a purely visceral level is rooted in the work that previous films have done with the characters and their relationships to one another - anyone lacking that context is likely to miss out on the weight behind Dom's betrayal, Cypher's hold over him or the tension in bringing a Shaw brother onto the team. This over-the-top melodrama is ultimately where the heart of Fast & Furious 8 (and the franchise at large) lies, and as such those not attuned to that frequency simply won't find as much to enjoy here as those who are.

That's something of a shame, but if any franchise has earned to right to be a little alienating to newcomers it's one that has been going for almost two decades now, especially when Fast & Furious 8 works as well as it does for those who are invested in this franchise. I may not care about these character individually - hell, I'd struggle to actually assign most of them with even one defining character trait - but the franchise's ability to make us care about them as a group (and maybe more importantly, make us believe that they care about one another) shouldn't be underestimated, again speaking to the soap operatic nature of these films at large. It's become something of a meme in recent years, but family really is at the heart of these films, and by acknowledging that throughout Fast & Furious 8 has a surprisingly sturdy core from which the set pieces hang around - it's certainly one that worked for me, anyway.

And that's a good job too, because while bigger and bolder at least conceptually than any other action scenes in the franchise to date, director F. Gary Gray fails to really make the action in Fast & Furious 8 feel as good as it should. It's not that he stumbles from moment to moment - there are any number of action beats that could be considered all-timers in Fast & Furious 8 - it's just that his ability to pace an action sequence is lacking, and the result is that moments that should be impressive or exciting in a vacuum end up feeling oddly weightless and somewhat forgettable in context. The "prison break" sequence towards the start of the film is a great example of where F. Gary Gray gets it right, upping the ante as we go without allowing the scene to overstay its welcome; the "submarine chase" finale is unfortunately the exact opposite, allowing the scene to run on for far too long while only rarely altering the status quo - a real shame too, considering the strength of some of the individual pieces that make up that finale.

All of which means that Fast & Furious 8 is almost exactly what fans of the franchise might have expected - a captivating continuation of the ongoing saga of Dom and his family that again pushes the absurdity of its action sequences to new levels, albeit all without reaching the franchise heights of Justin Lin's Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6. People like myself have mocked this franchise for as long as it's been around, and sometimes it quite rightly deserved it - but at this point, the Fast and Furious franchise has more than earned its place as an important part of the cinematic landscape thanks to its earnest, sincere approach to its diverse cast of characters and the world they inhabit. And Fast & Furious 8, while undeniably flawed, is still very much a part of that franchise.

3 stars

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