The eighth installment of The Fast and the Furious has finally arrived, much to the pleasure of gearheads and fans of the series alike, but also much to the chagrin of critics. This saga has spanned 18 years and it’s likely not slowing down anytime soon. Sadly, the franchise has to continue without Paul Walker, who tragically died in 2013. There’s still plenty of star power, witness to Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren and Kurt Russell along for this wild ride. In addition, nearly all of the series’ main players are here, including Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges and Nathalie Emmanuel (Scott Eastwood in onboard as one of the newest cast members).

F8 looks to pick up not long after the events of Furious 7 (2015). Dom (Diesel) and Letty (Rodriguez) are honeymooning in Cuba when he’s approached by a mysterious woman known only as Cipher (Theron). Cipher blackmails Dom into working for her, and when Hobbs (Johnson) brings in Dom and his team for a black ops mission in Germany Dom betrays everyone and absconds with an EMP device for Cipher. Hobbs ends up in jail and “reunites” with Deckard Shaw (Furious 7’s baddie), then they both are recruited into Frank Petty’s (Russell) covert ops team. Luke, Deckard and Dom’s old crew are tasked with one mission – find Dom and in turn find Cipher, and derail any criminal plans they have in store.

But really, what’s the point? Plot is not important in this film series. F8 is all about action, and director F. Gary Gray filled this one to the brim with so many unbelievable scenes Michael Bay might raise an eyebrow. Of course, anyone who’s seen the trailer has witnessed the giant wrecking ball taking out many an armored car and tank. Then there’s the chase scene on frozen ice patch in which the crew is trying to outrace… a submarine. That’s what we’re dealing with, and with the ante being raised each time out, Gray had to pull out all the stops. To be honest, the action is worth the price of admission – I was impressed with one high-speed chase through the streets of NYC. That sequence is a great example of practical effects mixing well with technology, both in front of and behind the camera.

As is true with past pictures, family is a strong theme. That theme is put to the test this time around, since the biggest supporter of family is Dom, yet he’s turned his back on his family. Writer Chris Morgan keeps that theme evident, almost hammering it over viewers’ heads, but it’s commendable that they’ve remained consistent in driving home the importance of family throughout its bloated 136-minute running time.

That’s not to say the film drags, quite the contrary. F8 moves as quickly as the cars it enlists, but there are so many characters and so many moving parts that it’s almost necessary for it to be a marathon. Still, there is opportunity to trim scenes, especially when Cipher rants, raves and pontificates about her trite motivations and schemes. And since we’re on the subject, Theron, for all of her talent, was wasted. I place blame on the so-so writing, but I think this is one time she called it in.

For a couple of films, the Fast and Furious series was the standard for big-budget action films. I detested them, but over time I accepted, then finally embraced them because te series is perfect popcorn fare. F8 is a step backwards, in my opinion – it’s all over the place with its storyline, the action is unbelievable, even by F&F standards, and I think Paul Walker’s absence has hurt more than many would like to admit. But this latest incarnation is fun, although highly predictable (even down to quotes), and is still worth checking out if you’ve any interest or curiosity.

2.5 stars out of 5

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