You can judge the quality of each successive instalment of the petrolhead Fast & Furious franchise by its opening action sequence. Here, the action revs up with a car chase around the streets of Havana. One of the first Hollywood movies to shoot in Cuba, F&F8 effectively uses one of the most photogenic cities on Earth as a display cabinet for vintage hotrods and buttocks. The race is between a turbo-boosted Cuban loan shark and Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) in a disintegrating clown car. Powered by distilled testosterone alone, Dom wins the race, driving backwards, consumed in a fireball, without brakes. The writing is scorched into the tarmac: this episode is aiming for new levels of high-octane silliness.
There is no shortage of muscle battling for alpha-male supremacy. In Vin Diesel, Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson, the film has three of the shiniest, baldest, most artificially bronzed men in Hollywood. When they start to butt heads, it’s like watching a human conker game. Of the three, it’s Statham who swaggers away with the movie, thanks to an audacious fight sequence accessorised with a gurgling baby in a travel seat and a cameo from British grand dame Helen Mirren as his tea-swilling mum.
The baby is a key plot device. The child-menacing antagonist is super-hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron, kitted out with stringy blond dreadlocks, which are meant to suggest “cyberpunk princess of darkness” but look a bit too “gap yah in Goa” for comfort). Cipher is stockpiling WMDs, but since she has the power to hack into anything with a chip – including, obviously, most cars – it’s not entirely clear why she needs the weapons. A geeks-will-inherit-the-earth cyberpocalypse hardly requires a carjacked nuclear submarine to trigger panic. It just needs someone to turn off the internet for a while.
Ultimately, you would have more luck reassembling a working vehicle after Cipher’s remotely hacked zombie-car pile-up than you would piecing together a logical plot. But then logic is not really the strong point of a series that features Diesel walking unscathed and in slow-mo from a screaming pile of twisted metal at least five times per film.