Hard to believe, but we are on the eighth film in this franchise! It’s far and away Universal’s biggest franchise, and amongst all other ‘summer tentpole’ movies – features the most diverse cast, and the most global appeal.
In 2001, we were introduced to undercover cop Brian O’Conner who tried to break into a street-racing crew led by Dominic Toretto. Brian fell in love with Dom’s sister Mia, and over the course of the next seven movies, the crew developed into a tight-knit family, and we learned that there is nothing more important than family, because it’s mentioned over and over again.
This movie picks up where the previous movie left off – Brian and Mia have retired from ‘the life’ to raise their children in peace. Dom and Letty are on their honeymoon (even though they got married back at the beginning of movie 4 – in the meantime they had a whole movie of her amnesia and recovery to deal with) in Cuba. While there, Dom’s cousin (how have we never met this kid before if he is family!?!) accidentally gets Dom involved in a street-race with a local hoodlum. Dom wins, but lets the guy keep his car, because – respect, and it will come into play later.
Meanwhile, DSS agent Luke Hobbs is coaching his daughter’s soccer team when he’s approached by a government agent to take on another job that has to be ‘off the books’. He recruits the crew to come help remove an EMP from a Russian base. They successfully grab the EMP, but what they don’t realize is a mysterious woman approached Dom in Havana, and shown him something that forced him to work with her, and he promptly steals the EMP from the crew and delivers it to ‘Cipher’, who we learn is the world’s greatest cyber-terrorist.
Well, that doesn’t sit well with the family, but they don’t really believe that Dom turned against them, and they scramble to figure out Cipher and Dom’s next move under the guidance of Mr. Nobody, who has a new recruit, referred to only as Little Nobody. Dom and Cipher break into their base and steal the ‘God’s Eye’, the item they spent all of the last movie chasing. The gang then tracks Dom to New York, where he is going to steal a nuclear football (suitcase of codes) from a Russian ambassador with the assistance of Cipher hacking all the computers of local cars, causing hundreds of ‘zombie cars’ to chase the ambassador’s limo around town. The crew almost catches up to Dom, but he manages to get away from them.
Finally, Cipher and her evil crew plus Dom head to Russia to steal a submarine that has nuclear weapons on board, and our family is forced to use their cars (because they have to use their cars) to attempt to stop Cipher from stealing a submarine while Dom finally figures out a way to get out from under Cipher’s control to get back with his family and put an end to her plot.
If that sounds over the top – you’re absolutely right. It has to be, each of these movies has been bringing bigger and bigger stunts into play, and this one is no exception. The street-race in Havana at the beginning is a great action sequence. The escape in the very beginning when Dom first turns against them is fantastic. The scene in New York with the zombie cars is really cool – and something I had not seen before. But really – the climax chase with the submarine is absolutely fantastic. Yes, over-the-top, but that is just perfection where this movie series is concerned.
This one is directed by F. Gary Gray, who knows how to direct car-heist movies thanks to his experience on the Italian Job. The action is great, and honestly, I felt that some of the performances were better than I expected this time around.
- Vin Diesel plays Dom, and while at no point does his family believe he has truly turned against them, he does a pretty convincing job of being torn when forced to work with Cypher.
- Jason Statham returns as Deckard, one of the villains from movie 7 – there were a few of them. Honestly, he stole most of the movie for me. This is back to early Transporter Statham as he Stathams his way through this movie. The prison break sequence at the beginning with he and the Rock trash-talking each other, and then hand-to-hand combating through a bunch of prisoners is just fantastic. And, without spoiling it, his action sequence at the end was probably my favorite bit of the movie. Yes, it makes no sense that the crew would be willing to work with this guy, since it is all about Family, and he did kill Han three movies ago, but hey – sometimes the enemy of your enemy is your friend.
- Dwayne Johnson – let’s be real, we’ll just continue to call him the Rock – plays Hobbs, who started out chasing the team in movie 5, and by the end of this one is officially part of the family. I enjoyed his bit with the girls’ soccer team at the beginning, charming and fun. His interactions with Statham were fantastic, and if they don’t get to do a spin-off together, then I really want an action buddy-cop movie with the two of them. Their on-screen chemistry is outstanding!
- Michelle Rodriguez is back as Letty, despite being dead for movie 4 and 5, amnesia-victim for 6, and amnesia-recoverer for 7. I have to say, I thought her performance in this movie was better than I have seen her in any of the others. Her pain at Dom’s betrayal felt real, even when she wanted to believe he would never turn against them. Which he wouldn’t.
- Tyrese Gibson plays Roman Pierce who started out as Brian’s buddy in movie 2. Yes, he’s still charming and hilarious. He charms his way through the movie, but I have to say, seemed to be snacking a lot less. And I missed his snacking. But – I did love his action sequence in his bright orange Lamborghini.
- Chris “Ludacris” Bridges plays Tej Parker – who continues to be a world-class tech guy and hacker, despite being introduced in movie 2 as a garage owner. He and Roman still have a fun back and forth with Ramsey.
- Nathalie Emmanuel plays Ramsey, who was introduced as a world-class hacker in movie 7. Because Tej is a world-class hacker, there seems to be very little for her to do. Also – she doesn’t seem to drive. Ever, at all. Which is odd, because the majority of this movie is how our family drives for all their adventures. I’m hoping for the next movie, she gets her own car. And, does not end up with either Roman or Tej. Because, while their back and forth is somewhat entertaining, it’s also demeaning and I would be happier if she chose to not be with either of them.
- Elsa Pataky is back briefly as Elena – who was a Brazilian cop that Hobbs used as a partner in movie 5, then hooked up with Dom at the beginning of 6, then let him go find and be with Letty.
- Kurt Russell is back as Mr. Nobody, who was first introduced as a shady government operative in movie 7. He’s just fantastic in this and really looks like he is having the best time.
- Scott Eastwood joins in this movie as Little Nobody, a new recruit that Mr. Nobody is training. He’s really bland, boring, doesn’t fit in and seems unnecessary.
- Luke Evans returns briefly as Owen Shaw who was the main villain of movie 6.
- Kristofer Hiyju plays Connor Rhodes, Cypher’s henchman number one, who is basically around to glare at Dom and make some smart-ass comments. You can guess how that goes for him at the end.
- Charlize Theron plays Cipher – and chews all the scenery she can find. It is fantastic for this movie, and perfectly fits the tone. Plus, there are several scenes where she just doesn’t blink while saying her lines. It makes her look like a complete psycho. I was a little disappointed that she didn’t get to drive, but hey – she commands her airplane in a very terrifying way.
Overall, it was absolutely fantastic. There is the hole missing that was the late Paul Walker, but there are lots of little tributes to him throughout the movie. Early on, someone says, “Brian would know what to do” which I interpreted as both the characters and the actors being a little bit lost without him. There are little bits here and there that were questionable: Would they really work with Deckard after he killed Han? Would they really forgive Dom that quickly? Why not simply get out of the cars in New York and punch somebody? Would the cars really outrun that sub? Can the Rock really manhandle Scott Eastwood that easily? Yes. And honestly, I could do without another scene of two hackers staring at screens attempting to out-hack each other while saying things like “oh, she’s good”, “this is impossible”, and “I’m in!” That has happened in far too many movies and shows lately. Let’s get away from it now. But, really – none of that matters. This is a big, giant, popcorn movie. Sit back, turn off the brain, and enjoy yourself.
9 out of 10- bonus points for Helen Mirren. Spoiler alert – there’s some Helen Mirren in this…but not nearly enough! And yes, I’m taking off a point for the booty scene. There’s always a scene in these movies of some chick starting a street race in booty shorts. I’m over that.
Extra Special Bonus - the LAMBcast podcast discussion of the entire franchise, which I was lucky enough to guest on. https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/lambcast/episodes/2017-04-27T15_32_16-07_00