Fast and furious? Well, yes. It is always good when the contents match the label on the tin and Fast and Furious 8 – or, the official title, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw - does just that.
It starts with the slickest of slick openings, in which MI6 operative, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) leads a team of tough guys in a wholly improbable mission somewhere in the City of London to recover evil virus technology. Evil plan foiled. Viral thingamajig recovered. All is looking fine until Brixton (Idris Elba) appears on the scene .
Who he? demands Hattie. “I'm the bad guy”, explains Brixton, thus setting the tone for a movie in which words are never allowed to get in the way of a good action moment. Brixton proceeds to eliminate Hattie's team. Hattie escapes – just! - pausing only to inject herself with the virus in order to keep it out of Brixton's hands.
And then the chase is on. Brixton's masters, an evil megacorp called Eteon, funded by dark money and seemingly able to control the world's media at will, set up Hattie as rogue agent: so she can expect no help from her own side.
There is nothing very complicated here. Brixton just happens to be “cyber-enhanced”, which makes taking him on in any one-on-one combat next to pointless.
Unless you count Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard (Jason Statham) introduced as a classic odd couple of maverick agents on the side of the angels, tasked with finding Hattie and bringing her in alive. Or maybe dead.
Twist one: Deckard just happens to be Hattie's brother, so he is naturally a bit unhappy with plans to eliminate his sis. Even if they fell out many years back over Hattie turning goody two shoes spy to Deckard's cockney enforcer. Cue touching family back story as Deckard pops into his local prison to chat to mum Queenie (Helen Mirren), whose dearest wish – alongside her very own personal jailbreak – would be for her children to bury the hatchet and get back together once more.
Twist two: The only thing that Hobbs and Deckard detest more than the bad guys is...one another. So the first half hour of their partnership includes a great deal of posturing and chest-beating, interrupted only by Hattie playing big sister and advising the lads to cool it.
And, of course, as the film unfolds you just know that Hobbs and Hattie are going to fall for one another. Well: the first time they meet, Hattie wraps her legs around his neck and tries to choke him, which is obviously code for imminent wedding bells. And also of course, Deckard just HATES the idea of any such entanglement. The romantic one, that is. Not the stranglehold!
And there is a strong family dimension to this film. Not just the falling out between Deckard and Hattie, which, apart from adding interesting plot twist, allows for an excellent Helen Mirren cameo: albeit one that mostly seems to reprise her role as Victoria in similar action nonsense, Red.
Also, a bit of back story for Hobbs, who starts the film as single dad in charge of precocious only child, Sam (Eliana Sua). Here, too, family rifts are the order of the day, as the film introduces this pair with Sam sketching out a fairly bleak family tree with just two members on it – her and her dad – and inquires winningly if Dad doesn't have some more family elsewhere?
Um. It's a long story...
...which ultimately allows for a film finale in Samoa, and opportunity – a rarity this – for some on-screen representation of Samoan culture. Off-screen, too, this episode reinforces Johnson's burgeoning identity with his maternal family, as he explained to fans earlier this year that he identifies as both black and Samoan.
Marmite for Movie-goers
It is all nonsense, of course. Comic book action and violence, as has always been the trademark of the Fast and Furious franchise. Plenty of impossible fights. And loads of even more improbable car chases. But you don't watch these films for the realism. Nah: they are just excuse for settling down for a couple of hours with a bucket of popcorn, your favourite slushie, while you get your weekly adrenaline rush from watching others indulge in a level of physicality you can only dream of.
It is a bit “action movie by numbers”: but sometimes that is all we want. And it also moves the Fast and Furious franchise another pace or two along from its more realistically grounded origins. We are now in full-on sci-fi territory, what with Eteon, revealed as your standard eugenetic genocidal maniacs, determined to eliminate inferior folk and supplant them with an army of super-humans, like Brixton.
Marmite stuff. If you enjoy this sort of thing, you will love Hobbs & Shaw. If you don't, you really won't.
Luckily, I do.
Three and a half stars.
To book tickets visit Broadway Cinema.