If a person were to tell me in 2001 that the film The Fast and the Furious would spawn a seven film franchise with a cinematic universe that predated Marvel’s, I would have said, “What?” because I was only ten and hadn’t seen the movie. With hindsight though, it is pretty incredible to see how far the franchise has come, not only continuing for almost a decade and a half, but managing to improve with each installment. Despite a convoluted timeline (chronologically, the third film The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift comes after Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6), it has proven to be a wildly entertaining series that delivers fun individual installments that are even better when viewed as part of a greater whole.
What I love about the Fast and Furious franchise is its commitment to its universe. When it comes to action, most of what occurs onscreen is completely ludicrous (Ludacris?), but the films are so earnest and straight-faced that it’s believable and, most importantly, fun. This is due in part to the absence of what I like to call the “wink/nod” factor, which is the downfall of most films with ridiculous action set pieces. Though characters in the Fast and Furious franchise point out how preposterous certain events are, their reactions are always grounded in a realistic sense of peril and genuine surprise that they have survived. There are no fourth-wall breaking moments nor any glib acknowledgments that what is taking place is actually a movie rather than real life. In a way, the Fast and Furious universe is simply a heightened version of our own, one where street racing through busy surface streets only results in crashes when convenient for the plot and where crashing in general is viewed as a minor inconvenience rather than potentially life threatening.
Like any franchise, the challenge the creative team faces with a new installment is outdoing what they did before. In this, Furious 7 does not disappoint. I will not beleaguer you with a detailed plot synopsis. Rather I will merely say that Jason Statham plays Deckard Shaw, brother to Fast and Furious 6’s antagonist Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who is revealed to have survived the finale of the previous film. However, he is in a coma and Deckard is understandably upset about this. Vowing vengeance for what happened to his brother, he sets his sights on Dominic Toretto (played once again by Vin Diesel) and his multi-talented team of expert car drivers/hackers/crack shots/brawlers. What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse that takes Dom’s team from Los Angeles to Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi, and back; one which involves a whole lot of vehicular carnage, fist fights, and most importantly, heart.
Many people complain that these films have no plot. This is not true. They have plot, but the plot, as least for me, has always been trumped by the strength of the series’ characters. This is a rarity when it comes to action films, but the reason why the Fast and Furious franchise has been so successful, apart from its impressive action sequences, is because of its likable characters and the relationships they have with one another. Throughout the series, there has been a specific focus on the importance of family, a bond that runs deeper than blood, deeper than friendship, and despite how corny that may seem, it is always affecting and delivered with such sincerity that it’s difficult not to be moved.
This time it is especially potent due to the tragic death of Paul Walker, who played Brian O’Conner, the second face of what was mainly a two-person franchise. Using a mixture of stand-ins (played by Walker’s brothers) and CGI (from Weta Digital, famous for their work on The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, etc.), Walker’s unfinished scenes were completed and placed into a reworked script that was designed to honor Walker’s memory as well as retire his character. The result is perfect in every way, respectful and heartfelt, and as much a goodbye from the cast to their dear friend as well as a farewell to a character and actor widely beloved. That a film that features a car jumping through three buildings can also make you cry due to the relationships between its characters is a testament to the chemistry of the cast, shown most effectively in the pairing of Diesel and Walker, whose characters’ relationship grew organically over the course of the five films in which they featured together. These men, who went from enemies to friends, share what is perhaps the greatest bromance ever put to screen, or at least the only one which can boast such longevity. The final moments shared between them are truly touching and I would wager that a fair amount of tears will be flowing for any longtime fan.
On a technical level, the film is as impressive as the rest of the series, especially in light of Walker’s death and what was accomplished thereafter. The work done to recreate Walker is remarkably impressive and for the most part seamless. As for the direction, James Wan, best known for his horror offerings Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring takes over for Justin Lin, who had directed the series from Tokyo Drift onward. Though some were worried that a change in cinematic tone would occur, this is not the case. Wan conducts the camera with confidence, teaming with cinematographers Marc Spicer and Stephen F. Windon to deliver scenes just as kinetic and exhilarating as those that have come before. In particular, there is some truly creative camera work that goes on during the fight scenes, something that I hope will continue on into the next installments should Wan direct again.
As a small aside, it is also refreshing to see such a racially diverse cast of characters shown in a number of different roles that are not simply fulfilling archaic and wearying stereotypes. Hopefully more films will follow suit considering Furious 7’s already record-shattering opening weekend. Also, despite a fair amount of slow-motion jiggling from extras, the main female characters are treated as respected members of their team, both strong and capable without ever reaching into parody or coming off as one-dimensional archetypes. Again, perhaps more films will take note of this treatment of female characters, though I find that doubtful. That being said, who knew Furious 7 would set a new bar for such things?
What else is there to say? Furious 7 is just as enjoyable and ridiculous as its predecessors, perhaps even more so, yet it maintains the series’ heart. In all, it represents the best type of pure, unsullied fun you could have at the theatre. It will make you laugh, set your heart pounding, and send tears flowing down your face. If you want a story about friendship and family, this film is for you. If you simply want to watch things blow up for two hours, you’ve come to the right place. And if you ever wanted to see Dwayne Johnson utter the line, “Daddy’s gotta go to work,” and then literally break his arm cast by flexing, this film is for you.
Go see it with your ride or die and enjoy the show.