The Fast/Furious franchise is well into an amphibian gondola/invisible car stage of verge-of-tiresome absurdity, powered on by star charisma, knowing ridiculousness, first-rate stuntwork and a kind of baldy-grinning-macho amiability that actually increases with the absence of Vin Diesel – whose family homilies risk spoiling the fun of punching, squabbling and eye-rolling here practiced by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, who were both brought in well after the series got going in order to beef up (as it were) increasingly grandiose sequels.
This not-quite-a-spinoff movie finally breaks with the Los Angeles street racing scene that was the high concept of the very first movie, and spends its time in London, Moscow, Ukraine and Samoa. There’s still a lot of talk about family, with Deckard Shaw (Statham) involved in tsuris because his SAS sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) is hosting a genocide virus in capsules injected into her hand and has been framed as a rogue agent by cyborg baddie Brixton (Idris Elba), who is working for a shadowy evil organisation who have radical depopulation plans presumably cribbed from Moonraker. Hobbs (Johnson) just wants to save the world, when he and Shaw stop bickering, but this case also leads to him reconnecting with his estranged Samoan family.
Both heroes have scenes with their mothers (Helen Mirren, Lori Pelenise Tuisano) and Hobbs reunites with his brother (Cliff Curtis) though Shaw’s brother (Luke Evans in a few films) is presumably busy elsewhere – as are all the other FF regulars, with Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris presumably waiting for their own spin-off team-up to get a greenlight and Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez knowing better than to ask. In their place, we get a couple of extended comedy cameos from current action/comedy stars more or less petitioning to join the gang. The format of the series seems to be to bring on antagonists who prove so popular they have to be reformed to stick around – which works okay with Hobbs, who was always a good guy, but requires us to forget all the corpses (including a beloved series regular) Shaw littered the streets with in earlier films. Here, Elba plays yet another rogue SAS agent, who is filled with so much tech he calls himself ‘Black Superman’ and is a reasonably credible threat to the combined five hundredweight of testosterone and baldness thrown against him.
The laughably-named Brixton takes his orders from a distorted voice villain we never see, who claims to have history with Hobbs – laying pipe for future films. Director David Leitch is new to the saga, but has served time staging fights for (among others) John Wick and directing Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. By now, there’s a risk that all these big action set-pieces blend into each other, but there’s a good abseiling fight, a neat bit with Brixton’s versatile motorbike (which seems to be his Trigger), and a muscle-and-senses-straining finale in which Johnson lassos a helicopter with a chain. The comedy bits are less sure, here – relying a lot on the stars insulting each other and having childish sulks, giving it all a Three Stooges feel. Future stunt casting possibilities are still open – we’ve not met Hobbs and Shaw’s Dads yet.