This weekend I did something I’ve never done before – I paid to see a Fast & Furious movie in the theater. Despite openly mocking the movies in previous years, I always rented them via Netflix or Redbox, and found them harmless, if not enjoyable on some level. Yet, I always felt there were too many characters, and the stakes never felt that high to me because I quite frankly didn’t give a shit about what happened to any of them. So why did I bother finally plopping down cash at the cineplex for Furious 7? Well, I guess we’ll have to start way back at the beginning…
Like many stuffy, arrogant, and dismissive squares before me, I thought the first Fast & The Furious film in 2001 was an empty and obnoxious Point Break ripoff that inspired thousands of douchebags to add spoilers, neon trim, and NOS injectors into their Subaru Imprezas. I found the music grating and the culture impenetrable; I wasn’t able to get past the aesthetic to emotionally invest in any of the people behind the wheels of those revved-up whips.
And when 2 Fast 2 Furious was released in 2003, it seemed the burgeoning franchise had already blown a gasket out of the starting block by losing Vin Diesel, adding scads of phony CGI cars, and immediately lapsing into full-on self parody. The title itself became the launching point for a million jokes, supplanting Electric Boogaloo as the new cultural touchstone for ridiculous sequel concepts. It also inspired a fleet of clones and rip-offs, like the borderline satire that is Torque and video games like Midnight Club. My friend and I even created our own 2 fast 2 Furious parody universe where flashy street racers rode tricked out Segways, dubbed Segway 2 Da Streetz. (Don’t steal that, assholes, it’s been copyrighted.)
Then there was Tokyo Drift, the 2006 Vin Diesel and Paul Walker-less cheap-o third entry that starred Lil Bow-Wow and the grown-up kid from Sling Blade, still sporting a drawl so thick you could almost pour it over chicken and waffles. It grossed a paltry $62 million and appeared to simultaneously end the street racing craze as well as the franchise itself. Fast & Furious was dead.
Except, it wasn’t.
Like extracting a diamond from the filthiest lump of coal, Vin Diesel reinvigorated the lifeless corpse of the franchise by shooting a ten-second cameo for Tokyo Drift in exchange for the exclusive rights to his Riddick character. By doing so, he unwittingly set the stage for the unlikeliest cinematic comeback of all time.
Universal got the band back together in 2009 for what would be the first in a line of head-scratching titles. Fast And Furious (what, no 4 Fast 4 Furious?) was the first in the rejuvenated series that wisely eschewed street racing-driven plots in favor of adrenaline-fueled stunts and a more traditional action narrative. Once Duane “The Rock” Johnson came on board in 2011’s Fast Five, it was off to the figurative races, and the movies have never looked back. If you want some eye-popping stats, here are the opening weekend numbers for every Fast film from Four on:
- Fast And Furious: $70,950,500
- Fast Five: $86,198,765
- Fast & Furious 6: $97,375,245
- Furious 7: $147,187,040
Now that is what you call insane exponential growth, and I have been continually surprised as anyone to see this sudden and enormous breakout success. Hell, the Fast & Furious franchise has exploded into the second biggest continuity-driven, interconnected cinematic universe next to the juggernaut (no pun intended) superhero films from Marvel Studios. That’s beyond mystifying, but at this point I’ve decided to stop trying to figure out what’s under the hood and simply try to experience the thrill of the ride for once.
That having been said, one of the smartest things Furious 7 does is pare the unwieldy number of “family” members down to a far more manageable six (eight if you count Jordana Brewster’s character Mia who exits the action early on, and the new female hacker played by the gorgeous and delightful Britsh actress Nathalie Emanuel). This finally allowed me to keep track of their names and their specific talents – Dom is the tough-as-nails, no bullshit leader; Brian is the ex-military badass who does all the risky jumps/infiltrations; Roman is the wisecracking comic relief/con artist; Tej is the tech guy (though I don’t remember his starting off that way at all, I think he was just a gearhead in his first appearance); Letty is the “badass chick” (and probably second only to Dom in driving ability); and The Rock is, well…The Rock.
The plot of the film involves the team travelling the world, executing death-defying vehicle-based missions in pursuit of a completely nonsensical electronic McGuffin that can tap into every cell phone, security camera, computer, and GPS on the planet to instantly pinpoint anyone’s location in a matter of seconds. Dom and the gang need it to track down Jason Statham’s character, who is out for revenge on the team because of what they did to his brother (Luke Evans) at the end of Fast & Furious 6. Here’s the issue – it’s all utterly pointless, because Statham keeps showing up everywhere Dom goes, anyway. This film could have taken place entirely on the streets of Los Angeles in 30 minutes, tops. This scenario is even dumber when you consider that in the movie’s first act, Kurt Russell and his crack black ops team surround Dom and Statham while they about to thrown down and allow Statham to escape, all so they can hire Dom to…get the device to track down Statham?
If all that weren’t enough, Furious 7 also boasts these highlights: Two main characters crawl out of a head-on, 60mph car collision completely unscathed; the team concocts a patently absurd plan to drop cars out of a cargo plane and safely and accurately parachute them onto a winding mountain road; two characters survive an explosion and a 15-story plunge onto the top of a car, resulting only in a broken arm for one of them; said character with broken arm also breaks his cast off simply by flexing his bicep; a well-known female UFC fighter appears in the movie solely to give Michelle Rodriguez someone to fight; Dom survives numerous drives off cliffs and crumbling buildings without a helmet; a drone annihilates downtown Los Angeles; and The Rock crashes and ambulance off of an underpass directly onto the drone as it’s exiting a tunnel at 200 MPH (he also holds and fires a heavy minigun with a broken arm).
But the Fast & Furious franchise has no time to concern itself with nuance, watertight plot elements, the laws of physics, or logic. Fuck logic. This is all about heart. It’s all about family. La Familia. You get it, dude? It’s also escapism in its purest form. Furious 7 revels in its lunacy and impossibly insane, high-octane thrills. If you can watch a guy drive a $2 million sports car out of a building and crash it through two more skyscrapers and not smile or feel even the slightest twinge of exhilaration, you should probably go get an MRI to see if you have a rotted peach core where your heart should be.
I’ve shit all over so-called “popcorn movies” like this in the past, especially Michael Bay’s punishingly incoherent and idiotic Transformers films, but the difference between those fiery cinematic wrecks and these later Fast & Furious entries boils down to a level of sincerity Michael Bay and his cast of unlikable cretins can never hope to achieve. Despite a lack of character depth and development, Furious 7 and its previous three installments all were able to make you at least feel like these people all cared deeply for one another and would stick together through anything thrown at them. (I guess if you are miraculously and repeatedly rescued from plummeting or exploding cars, pretty strong bonds are likely to be formed.) Furious 7 is also well-shot by new series director James Wan, paced far better than any Transformers debacle (which are always an hour too long), narratively coherent despite the shoddy plotting, and thematically and tonally consistent.
The movie also ends with a beautiful and moving tribute to the late Paul Walker, who sadly and ironically died in a car wreck during shooting. It’s a true testament to the will of the cast and crew, Walker’s brothers, and the digital artists at Weta that the final product is as seamless as it is. I never noticed a CGI head replacement or a lack of Walker’s presence in the film at all. The send-off is absolutely perfect in the context of what this series has represented, and while I’m still not entirely sure if I care whether any of these characters live or die (fictionally speaking, of course), I’m starting to warm up to the idea that I could…
3.5 stars out of 5.