Fast and Furious 8 (Fate of the Furious in the US) catches up with Dominic Toretto and Letty (Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez) on their honeymoon in Cuba. While headed back home one day, Dom is accosted by the international hacker and terrorist known as Cipher (Charlize Theron), who shows him something that causes him immediate alarm. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) once again recruits Toretto and his crew to help keep a powerful weapon from falling into dangerous hands. But at the end of the mission, Toretto betrays Hobbs and steals the weapon from him. Dom has apparently joined forces with Cipher, and the rest of his team is soon forced to go up against him.The Fast and Furious movies have never been known for their narrative rigor. Ever since the franchise took its new direction, the plot has been mostly there to facilitate the staging of increasingly absurd set pieces. And so, the expectations for telling a story within this blockbuster are pretty low. And yet, this edition of the franchise still manages to trip over the ridiculously low bar set by the other films. In trying to set up its twists and turns, in its determination to call back things from the past, the film betrays its characters, and gets aggressively dumb along the way. A lot of this has to do with the villain, whose plan is always at best, and insistence on using Toretto in her schemes seems to run counter to her interests. She is presented as being dangerously competent, with enough technology to take control of pretty much anything. But for very flimsy reasons, she risks recruiting Toretto knowing full well that he would be actively plotting against her. This ends up making Cipher seem much less dangerous than she really ought to be. With the resources at her disposal, she ought to be killing Toretto and his crew. But she seems to squander every opportunity to do so. Similarly, it makes no sense that Toretto wouldn’t at some point find a way to let his crew know what’s going on. The script just isn’t working hard enough to make its most basic elements work. Instead, it has its characters exclaiming things to explain to the slowest members of the audience what exactly is going on. Not that it really helps when it counts. The film needlessly sketches out every dumb detail of the plot, but is unable to provide clarity in the middle of its action sequences. The basic motivations of each character in the big set pieces are murky, making the spectacle emptier than it’s ever been.Of course, people are just here for the absurd destruction. To that end, the movie is competent, but uninspired. It doesn’t quite put together the memorably ludicrous images of previous films. A lot of it feels abstract, the scenes lacking a human element amidst the crunch of metal and the hiss of flames. The cast, at the very least, is still having fun. Vin Diesel is as Vin Diesel as he’s ever been. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham make a lot of out of the tension between the characters, even if the film can’t provide a payoff. And every scene Kurt Russell is in is a real joy. The film kind of wastes Charlize Theron, though, whose performance is mainly relegated to cutaways of her at a computer saying sinister things right before she presses a button. Hollywood blockbusters should never have a hacker villain. It just doesn’t work.Fast and Furious 8, more than any of the previous movies, is about empty spectacle. In a few ways, this film betrays the silly yet weirdly affecting overall theme of the franchise: family. In trying to pursue, for example, the thrill of having former enemies work together, the film seems to absolve villains of the crimes they’ve committed against the central family. The film makes all sorts of nods to the franchise’s past, but in the most crucial ways, it has forgotten what this whole thing is all about. It has stripped itself of its last vestiges of its humanity, and has just become this ugly machine that produces nothing but noise. That’s just not as fun.
FAST AND FURIOUS 8 OPENS TOMORROW, APRIL 15, IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.