Fast and Furious 8
That's a submarine chasing the Fast and Furious crew. Universal Pictures

The Fast and Furious movies are gaudy, stupid and often feel like vanity projects for a vest-wearing potato-man, but somehow, over 16 years and now eight films, this dumb series has managed to find itself a heart and soul that makes its wanton silliness endearing.

The series was rejuvenated in 2011 with Fast Five, when director Justin Lin and series writer Chris Morgan decided to make a heist movie, dialled the series' tropes up to 11 and threw in Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson to make sure that dial didn't budge an inch.

Fast and Furious 8 – brilliantly called The Fate of the Furious across the pond – is the fourth of the Nu Fast Nu Furious films. This time, the hook hoping to stave off off franchise fatigue is the prospect of Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto going rogue.

On his tail is his do-gooder crew – Michelle Rodriguez's Letty, Tyrese Gibson's Roman, Ludacris' Tej, and Nathalie Emmanuel's Ramsey – led by The Rock's increasingly brilliant Hobbs. They've been gathered by Kurt Russel's shadowy government figure Mr Nobody to take down Dom and those he's now working with.

Dom is coaxed back to the dark side by Charlize Theron's calculating hacker queen Cipher, and surprisingly he's given a compelling and understandable reason for doing so. It's a crucial plot point that manages to support the film's more serious moments – not that there are many of those.

The previous three Fast and Furious movies have been just a little too po-faced. Fun, certainly, but as much as those films knew what they were, audiences laughed at them just as much as they laughed with them.

In Fast and Furious 8, Morgan strikes the right tone with a script that sits with the audience every rev of the way. This is the funniest film in the series by a stretch, and that's helped by a cast that by and large is loving every ridiculous line of dialogue.

The Rock is reliably brilliant and Gibson is given greater opportunity to shine, but it's the returning Jason Statham, a former villain now aiding the good guys, who very nearly steals the show from them both.

From his sustained trash talking foreplay with Johnson (if you don't want to see The Stath call The Rock a wanker then this film isn't for you) to an excellent climactic set piece involving – without spoilers – some very careful gunplay, Statham is clearly revelling in every second of his screen time.

Fast and Furious 8
The Rock and The Stath during the film's prison brawl sequence. Universal Pictures

Fast and Furious movies need good action to prop up the laughs (or vice versa depending on your preference) and nothing disappoints in this regard. FF8 starts in Cuba with that series staple, the street race, but unlike most other versions of this recurring scene there's a real sense of danger, a refreshing consideration for passersby and for once Dom isn't driving a supercar, but something far more down-to-Earth.

The centrepiece of the film however is far from grounded, as Cipher and Dom rain chaos down on the streets of Manhattan thanks to some completely unrealistic hacking and a hive of automated cars. All that needs to be said about the snowy finale is that it involves a nuclear submarine and a Lamborghini.

Of course none of the film makes much sense if you start thinking about it and it plays fast and loose with the laws of nature and boundaries of technology, but nobody is watching these movies for lessons in logic.

This is a series built on big action and its ever-growing cast of familiar and charismatic stars, and if the mission statement is entertainment at all costs, it absolutely does not disappoint. There's heart too though, and that's what sets the series apart from most of the brainless blockbusters out there.

In Fast Five it was a team of friends coming together and fighting for each other, in Fast and Furious 6 it was Dom trying to save the love of his life and in 7 it was how the film handled the death of Paul Walker – who played Brian and died during filming. In 8 it's something unexpected that, while certainly an easy way to create dramatic stakes for Dom, certainly succeeds in doing so. Vin Diesel even manages to sell those stakes somewhat convincingly.

Our verdict
Fast and Furious 8

Often when critics lambast big dumb summer blockbusters they're told by fans that their criticism is missing the point. "Just switch your brain off and enjoy it," is something often said by fans of Michael Bay's Transformers movies, but there's a reason those films are so turgid and the Fast and Furious films shine. If your film isn't going to have brains, at least make sure it has heart.

Fast and Furious 8 certainly isn't perfect, but it has a heart and it's in the right place. The series might be adhering to an established formula too strictly at this stage, but as long as it remains this riotously enjoyable I'm not going to say no to another.