I realize that the eighth (!) entry in this glorious franchise doesn't officially come out until next weekend. However, I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening of it last night and, due to my immense love for this series, I really need to talk about it right away. I'll leave all the spoilers for the end, the rest I just want to talk about my general likes and dislikes. Read at your own risk!
I will say right off the bat that, yes, I liked it quite a bit, but I do not think it reached the greatness of Fast Five or even Furious 7. I'd still maybe put it above 6, if we're just talking about from 5 on. It's an undeniably fun movie in any case. Not only was the screening fucking packed, but the crowd reaction was more akin to a sporting event. People were laughing, cheering, shouting, and reacting more loudly than I've ever seen at a theater. It was kind of nuts, but it really added to the experience.
There is obviously a Paul Walker-sized hole in this film, a void that I didn't think would make that huge of a difference, but it really did, at least for me. He is gone but certainly not forgotten. That said, the movie uses the expanded cast nicely and does an excellent job at giving everyone a bunch of shit to do. What surprised me the most was how much of the movie Statham was in, which is quite a bit. He also kicks some serious ass. Both he and The Rock share a bulk of the highlights in both the action and comedy. The Rock also thankfully gets way more screentime, especially compared to the two sequences he had in 7.
My two major gripes with this movie both come down to the action, and they are with the pacing and use of CGI. Fast and Furious 6 had pacing issues, which is mainly why I don't rank it as high as 5 or 7, but it feels like even more a problem in 8. There is a very long stretch before the movie really gives you the goods. Not that it's boring, but hey, insane action sequences are what you come here for. Luckily I thought the character work and tension building were stronger than they have been in the past. As for the effects, what I loved about this franchise, especially since 5, was that it prided itself on stunts and practical effects and used CG fairly sparingly. That's not the case with 8, and while the CG is mostly good, it's still CG and detracts from the impact of the action. Not that I could reasonably expect the studio to spring for a real submarine and get it to do the things it does, but the actions does tend to be a little more...fantastical this time around.
That being said, the action is still fucking bananas, bonkers, and other silly words. The last 30 minutes keep in line with the massive, multi-part finales in the last several movies, with some truly spectacular moments that I'm sure will go down as some of the best in the series. There are more than a few parts in this movie that go beyond the ridiculousness of Dom catching Letty in mid-air in F&F6 that are endearingly hilarious. That's pretty much exactly what I want out of this franchise. To just look at the screen in such awe and disbelief that I can't help but laugh.
The story was good enough, with a believable justification for getting all these guys back together once again. A lot of parts a glossed over quickly, though, adding to the pacing issues. 7 had a similar problem, but the premise of that movie was so paper-thin that it was hard to care. Here, the story is more involved and to have things just sort of happen without letting them unfold naturally feels like cutting corners. The movie is long enough as it is, however. The acting is mostly what you expect, with a few emotional spikes that really stand out, especially by Vin Diesel. He is PISSED in the last act and for good reason. Charlize Theron is fine, hardly the best she's done by a mile. It's more that Cypher as a villain isn't super compelling. She reminds me a lot of Timothy Olyphant in Live Free or Die Hard, actually. Very similar characters handled in a very similar manner. She is reasonably menacing at times, though.
By the time it wraps up, there aren't any obvious loose threads for where the last two might go, but it also doesn't have the finality that 7's ending had. I can confirm that there is NO POST-CREDITS SCENE that sets anything up, so we have no idea of what the look forward to.
Okay, time for some spoilers!
Elena's death was handled well, raising the stakes and adding weight to the situation. It's sad that she didn't have much to do in this movie or the last one. Still, I liked the way it was done. It really pushed Dom over the edge. When he finally kills Rhodes at the end, it is SO FUCKING SATISFYING. That moment got an incredible reaction in the theater.
The New York scene is, I think, maybe the absolute most "good-dumb" action sequence this series has had. Not that it's the best by any means, but all of the "zombie" cars is a fucking sight to behold and it's hysterical. The shot of them all careening around the corner made me laugh hard. The parking garage raining cars was also quite special.
The finale was in-fucking-credible in spots, maybe a little lazy in others, by overall very enjoyable. When the two guys in jet-powered wing suits land in the plane and it's revealed to be the return of BOTH Shaw brothers, the theater exploded. What an awesome moment! Statham killing everyone on the plane while protecting Dom's baby is fantastic. Holy fuck, Statham was good in this movie. I hope he comes back for the next one.
Helen Mirren as mother Shaw, although only a cameo, was delightful and also got a big reaction. The very brief return of Leo and Santos also did. In fact, everything coming together at the end of the movie was insane. Dom finally returning to the light side and saving the day, destroying the submarine, and then having the rest of the crew drive up to protect him from the blast at the last second got a goddamn ovation in the theater.
Also, the Rock uses one hand to toss and redirect a fucking torpedo into an enemy vehicle.