Cards on the table, I really liked the first The Fast and the Furious film. It was a super fun popcorn flick and the action was blistering. The film was full of eye candy and it sported a surprisingly likable cast. I doubt anybody at the time thought the movie would grow into a franchise with at least 7 installments to date, though. This is evidenced by the second film in the series which, if I recall correctly, returned only star Paul Walker reprising his role from the first in any meaningful way. Added to the roster was Tyrese Gibson, who I believe could possibly be credited with ushering in the cocky, obnoxious a-hole character that Hollywood has since mistaken for some sort of witty antihero and who overpopulates all of cinema today. After that, I kind of lost interest in the franchise. I think the next one was in Tokyo and featured literally nobody from the first two films. Then suddenly pretty much everyone returned for the next three chapters and they’ve been cranking these things out at the title pace ever since. Having not seen a Fast/Furious film since way back in the day, I’m sure you can imagine how concerned I was that I would be unable to pick up on the nuance of the series when leaping right into the newest offering.
In Furious 7, Jason Statham joins the party as Deckard Shaw, the super shady, impossibly dangerous, special ops trained evil older brother of some baddie that Dom Torretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew of speed junkies apparently put down in a previous film. Wouldn’t you know, Shaw’s got revenge on his mind and nobody’s safe. From Shaw’s brief, violent introduction alone it’s not hard to see that things are going to get ridiculous in a hurry around here. Once Deckard starts going after the peripheral members of Toretto’s crew, newly minted family man Brian O’Connor (Walker) is forced to give up his minivan, child and pregnant wife to help Toretto stop the madman. Naturally, a shadowy US Government black ops team shows up to add a little spice to the festivities. Led by Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody (seriously), the Special Forces team needs Toretto and crew to help secure some top secret technology that they promise to then use to help Dom and the gang track down Shaw and end his brutal shenanigans. Why do they need these streetwise car racing enthusiasts/charismatic criminals with hearts of gold? Because it’s awesome, that’s why! And why does Dom & Co. need super special spy gear to track down Deckard Shaw when he manages to show up at every single place they go all over the world anyway? Because shut your mouth! Also, there’s a random terrorist organization that wants in on the action and The Rock is there.
This movie is craaaazy convoluted. Its story telling is out of control and unbelievable. It brings back Tyrese Gibson for crying out loud! And it kind of just nails it. You can’t be mad at a movie like this; a film that knows what it wants to be and delivers on every level. It’s style and cars and action and girls. It’s jet setting and glitz and glamour and explosions. So many other films try to be this and just fall short on so many levels. This film is an escape in every sense of the word. It’s a world where the heroes spout platitudes about family and walk away from the most devastating car crashes imaginable only to immediately engage in a wrench fight with the villain who just emerged from the same crash. The action has ramped up so much over the years, that even though I’ve really only seen trailers, I walked into this film demanding that bare minimum I needed to see someone jump a car at a helicopter, and I came away more satisfied than I could’ve hoped to be.
It’s pretty clear that the only people probably having more fun than the audience are the cast. This is not an acting clinic, but these people know each other and interact pretty naturally in the kinds of situations that would never present themselves in nature. Some actors get their friends together every so often to go on vacation and call it a movie (I’m not naming names, Happy Madison). This has a similar feel of real-life compadres mixing it up, the difference being that this group puts in the work and gives the audience what it really wants. Heck, the audience even seems to love Gibson, even if I’m less impressed. The troupe feels a lot like the family they claim to be, even when it’s so hokey you want to cover your eyes. It’s easy to see the connection just as it’s hard not to feel awful for the players here for what they must’ve gone through when confronted with Paul Walker’s untimely and tragic death before filming wrapped. Walker was not necessarily the kind of actor who blew you away with his craft, but seemed to be the kind of man that compelled those around him with a luminous personality and a genuineness of character. The cast and crew pay tribute to their fallen friend here, and it’s hard not get a little choked up.
Look, I’m not putting this film up for any academy awards or the like. As I said, it’s gloriously over the top and absurd. It’s too long. There are more than a few times where you find yourself thinking, “Sure this is harrowing, but why can’t they just stop the car?” But if you can’t have fun with a film like Furious 7, I’m not sure what it would take. As for me, I’ll probably have to go back and check out the ones I missed.
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