The Fast & Furious juggernaut rolls into view once again, ready to add to the $4bn it has hammered through the box office since 2001. Losing one of its founding cast members so suddenly would have signalled the death knell for almost any other franchise, yet the show powered on, somehow gaining further strength. Director F. Gary Gray takes over from James Wan behind the camera for more of the same in number 8; The Fate of The Furious.
Gray has developed solid action credentials across his career so far, although it took the success of Straight Outta Compton to finally be entrusted with a place in the drivers seat. Seeing as reality has long since been left behind in the world of F&F, the biggest problem facing Universal is ensuring a sense of continuity can remain in place with every change of director. With a growing number of new faces being added to the established core with every passing film, Gray does a fine job, and offers enough screen time to the cast without anyone feeling noticeably left out.
The biggest surprise this time round is discovering Gray's love affair with all things Albert Square. With the chains truly taken off Deckard’s (Statham) cockney accent, Helen Mirren’s cameo allows her to go full Peggy Mitchell, wrapped up in a leopard skin fur coat, H-dropping with abandon. But where would Grant be without his bruvva? Thankfully the family circle is completed by the appearance of Deckard's brother, Owen (Luke Evans), joining in the fun as the crescendo builds. Given the soap opera DNA that has always been so crucial to the foundation of these films, the inclusion of their very own Mitchell Clan feels somewhat appropriate.
Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) skirts around the edges of the crew once again, but as he says himself, he's only there to cast an eye over events, sporadically stepping into the conversation with meaningful sounding exposition. And, of course, to pick up an easy pay cheque for Russell while he’s at it. This time Mr Nobody is joined by Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) as they pull together the regulars and head off for another bizarre ride inside the writers’ room. That is, everyone except Dom, who has gone rogue. “Dom has gone rogue,” various crew members kindly repeat for our benefit, just in case we had forgotten that he double-crossed his own team. The rest of the story is as superfluous as you've come to expect, and taking any sort of time to explain it here would only make me look crazy.
Tyrese and Ludacris' double act still provides most of the comic relief, used to break up the extended set pieces (although they are upstaged this time in a scene late on involving a pair of headphones and a doting psychopath) and Nathalie Emmanuel sits in front of her laptop occasionally offering up technical jargon to justify her inclusion. Michelle Rodriguez always brings a certain smouldering intensity to the screen, which has made sure she has remained the most consistent performer over the past 16 years, still very much the beating heart of Letty's relationship with Dom. Try as he may, Vin Diesel will never be the most convincing of actors, but this particular role fits like a pair of old slippers.
If you've seen the trailer, then you'll know exactly what to expect, although the real icy performance is delivered with pleasure by Charlize Theron. While certainly less theatrical than her turn as Ravenna in the Snow White films, her villainous Cipher character lacks just as much blood in her empty veins. Dwayne Johnson once again dominates the frontline, gleefully trading one-liners with Statham for the first hour. His return is a welcome one after the re-editing of the previous film left him nursing his wounds and making up the numbers. Johnson is now as integral to the success of the franchise as those who were present from day one, and for the time being at least, it’s safe to say that plans are well under way to reach double figures and beyond.
Director F. Gary Gray revs up yet another popcorn hit