We are nearly at the end of the race but this one left me feeling dissatisfied.
The action scenes were as exciting and as ludicrous as normal. The actors all did their things and yet the film fell flat. With any other film I might conclude that it was the plot that was lacking but this is a Fast & Furious — “plot” is simply connective tissue joining car chases together. None of the films so far (with the marginal exception of Tokyo Drift) have had plots that made much sense.
I did like the opening act. Dom and Letty are finally having their honeymoon that had been delayed by first Dom leaving her and then by Letty being murdered by an evil drug lord and then by a whole other film and then by Letty losing her memory and being controlled by an evil British cyber-criminal and then by the whole gang being hunted by Jason Statham, sorry ‘Deckard Shaw’. With all that out of the way, the couple are in Havana.
The Cuban scenes are nicely done and the film open with a car race. I may be wrong but I think this is only the second time that one of these films has a car race this early on. Dom wins the race, beating another car while he drives a decrepit rust-bucket car. He narrowly crosses the finish line first but he does so driving in reverse with the car on fire. The minor bad guy Dom was racing is so impressed by Dom’s driving skills and his honour that he does a Heel-Face Turn and becomes a good person. That is an important theme but this example is the more plausible one of the film.
The paradise (as always) is interrupted by the intervention of the gods. This time the divine being is Charlize Theron (like Jason Statham, an alumni of the remake of The Italian Job). She is yet another cyber-criminal and she HAS SOMETHING with which to take control of Dom.
The next part is also pretty good as we go and have a look at the domestic life of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). He is his daughter’s soccer coach and if the film has one part worth watching it is Hobbs leading this tiny soccer team in a haka.
From there stuff happens. Hobbs recruits Dom’s team to do a job in Germany for the US government which has to deny any involvement etc etc. At the last minute (gasp) Dom of all people BETRAYS the team (gasp) and drives away with the macguffin. Hobbs is arrested and has to take the fall for the disastrous operation. He gets put in the same prison (in fact the opposite cell) as Deckard Shaw. Mayhem ensues.
Super secret spy guy Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) steps in to restart the plot. He gets Dom’s team to his base (the team now includes the nice hacker woman from the last film) and also Hobbs and also Shaw (oh dear). Now for some plot exposition. Charlize Theron is an evil and mysterious cyber-terrorist super villain called Cypher and (gasp one more time) Dom is working for her! She has stolen all sorts of things and is obviously going to do something very bad and Dom is going to help her do it. Mr Nobody is going to get Dom’s team to stop Dom because they are the only people that can do so and also use both Hobbs and Shaw to find Dom because they have both managed to nearly stop him in the past (and technically failed in each instance).
The plans to stop Dom are interrupted by the bad guy and Dom attacking Mr Nobody’s base, incapacitating everybody, and stealing the ‘Gods Eye’ (or Devil’s Areshole as Helen Mirren later improbably calls it) macguffin from the last film. As Dom and Cypher leave they kiss, compounding Letty’s horror.
Part of the problem here, is maybe this plot line is a bit like F&F6 where Letty has somehow joined the baddies and Dom has to get her back but with roles switched. It feels a bit like a re-tread for a film series which while always being sort of exactly the same also manages never being the same film twice. This film is the most stable in terms of sub-sub-genre the series has got. Having spent six films playing with templates, they finally stuck with one on the seventh and repeated it for the eighth.
Anyway, the truth is revealed. Cypher has kidnapped Elena (the sweet Brazilian cop from film 6, who was Dom’s partner until Letty came back from the dead) but what is worse is Elena also has a baby boy and that baby boy is…Dom’s. She had just fell pregnant when Letty had comeback and didn’t feel able to tell Dom etc etc. So there you go. Dom’s motives are, as always, family but a tad more genetic than usual.
Stuff continues to happen. Dom kills Shaw (seems fair) except he doesn’t and it is all a plot he cooked up with Shaw’s mum who is Helen Mirren. These films get oddly more British as they go on. I feel like Fast & Furious 12 will be Carry On Fast and Furiously and star Sid James and Hattie Jacques back from the dead.
Shaw it turns out, is not a bad person after all and had been framed by the British government in the past. Yeah but…he did literally MURDER HAN ON SCREEN. This is where the twisty-turny aspect of the films starts undermining itself. The whole schtick about found family and loyalty is undermined when whole characters just get forgotten about again. Giselle has been forgotten, Han has been forgotten, that other smaller guy from the first film with ADHD has been forgotten. Worse with Han is that everybody gets over their hatred for Shaw pretty quickly just so the series can have Jason Statham carry on Jason-Stathaming.
I also really disliked the attack on the Russian submarine base. The people at the base aren’t the baddies (technically that is Dom under duress) but the gang just openly shoot several of them dead. It is a callousness that wasn’t present in the earlier films. Sure beating up innocent truck drivers and levels of property destruction that in reality would have led to many deaths of bystanders, have been a repeated theme of the films but generally (miraculously) very few people ever got shown to be hurt. The gang weren’t killers before, not really.
But yeah, car chase with a submarine that works.
Is the absence of Paul Walker part of the problem here? There was always a sense of Brian O’Conner being the narrative character in the films. Not the protagonist as such (although sometimes he is) but the person observing events. If the films had a voice-over it would have been his. Aside from that, it wasn’t obvious what role he played and I was surprised that his absence would make such a difference.
The film also kills off Elena which is a shitty move. It’s pretty much a way of adding motivation to Dom, making Cypher look even more evil but also a way of removing the complexity of the Dom-Letty-Elena situation. And yes, just like Han and Giselle, she gets forgotten about by the end of the film. The baby survives (rescued by the not-dead Shaw in an airplane scene that I feel must have helped inspire The Mandalorian)
The baby is called Brian after their dead friend, who isn’t dead in the film’s continuity but alive and well and presumably in regular contact with Dom. I think the story no longer knows who is dead and who isn’t and who is bad and who isn’t and presumably who is good and who is bad.
The gang are now just a bunch of special operatives who kill people for the US government, personified by Kurt ‘Mr Nobody’ Russell. They aren’t outlaws any more but a hit-squad. Notably when Mr Nobody first turned up he was sinister. Indeed I thought he was going to turn out to be a next level up bad guy. Now he is just everybody’s boss (including both Hobbs and Shaw) and they all do what he tells them to do.
That is sad. The action is still good but the film has lost it’s anarchic heart.
We have one more film to go: the Vin Diesel-free Hobbs & Shaw.