Directed by James Wan,
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell
We’ve come a long way.
In The Fast And The Furious, Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) merry band of leadfoot thieves were ripping off truckloads of VCRs and stereo equipment; now they’re going head to head with international terrorists and rogue assassins, and doing countless millions in property damage in the process. The shift in scale seemed gradual and reasonable over the course of the franchise; it’s only be measuring where we are against where we started that we can see how steep the gradient really is.
It’s a smooth slope, though – the F&F universe is a remarkably consistent one, both narratively and thematically, with this episode drawing in elements, characters and plot threads from the length and breadth of the series, most notably in villain Deckard Shaw’s (Jason Statham’s) motivation being revenge for his little brother, Owen (Luke Evans), the antagonist of the last film. His attacks against Dom, Brian (Paul Walker) and their extended family-by-choice are so vicious – they blow up the Toretto house! – that the boys jump at the chance to team up with a shadowy intelligence agent (Kurt Russell, effortlessly cool) who also wants Shaw out of the picture. This gives Dom and his team – recurring regulars Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris – access to some next level cars and tech, and thus we get scenes of cars parachuting from planes, cars jumping from one skyscraper to another, cars evading a Predator drone in downtown LA.
The key to enjoying the F&Fflicks is understanding that they are, by this stage of the game, a superhero franchise where everyone has the same power, and that power is Cars (except for Dwayne Johnson, whose power is Being The Rock). The makers of the series – thankfully including new director James Wan, taking the reins from codifying auteur Justin Lin – understand that fun and mayhem are the order of the day, and the Rule of Cool trumps all other considerations, including physics. We’re not here for meek realism; we’re here to watch Statham and Johnson beat the ever-loving hell out of each other –which they do, and it is wonderful. The action sequences are really next level stuff, and Wan brings his own flourishes to the table – keeping a camera locked on a performer’s body as it get gets knocked around the scenery, say – while still retaining the core visuals we’ve come to admire and expect from Lin’s tenure. Taken as a pure exercise in speed, motion and impact, the film is almost peerless.
But the Yin to F&F’s raging Yang of vehicular violence has always been an open-hearted and at times embarrassingly sincere veneration of the notion of family, and it really comes home in this instalment, thanks in no small part to the untimely death of Paul Walker in 2013. The need to address his future absence from the series is obvious going in and we, as viewers and followers of the franchise, are aware of the rewrites and reshoots that were necessary to shape the film around the unfortunate event of his death, but it remained to be seen whether it would be handled tastefully or mawkishly. In the end, it’s handled in big-hearted F&F style and, the plain-spoken values of family and loyalty are lent extra shading and depth by the obvious sincerity and love on display. It’s genuinely touching.
The Fast & Furiousfranchise is far from flawless, but it’s certainly the best action property currently running (not that there’s much competition). This seventh film – and it still feels weird to type that – delivers the expected visceral thrills while simultaneously closing out the preceding chapter of the series and signposting the open road that lies ahead. I’d happily ride shotgun on another seven of these, and I’m not alone.