Fast & Furious 7

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I’ve been looking forward to this one. It didn’t feature at all in my preview of the year back in January but since then I have begun to get quite excited about it. Clearly the first few months of the year were dominated by the big, worthy awards movies and, wonderful as they were, having come out the other side I started to crave a good car chase.

I was late to the party with the Fast & Furious series having only watched my first one (part six) last year. I really enjoyed it though and since then I have also caught up with number five (even better) and four (not quite as good but still entertaining). I’ve not seen the other three, and don’t think I’ll bother, but I think I’m up to speed with what’s gone on.

From what I can work out the first one, The Fast and the Furious, had Vin Diesel’s Dom, his sister Mia and his girl Letty involved in street racing and there was an undercover cop called Brian in there too. Then followed 2 Fast 2 Furious in which only Paul Walker as Brian returned but he was joined by characters Tej and Roman. After this it was Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift that had none of the original cast but introduced Han who died at the end. (I understand Dom did turn up briefly in a post credits cameo). Number four was titled Fast & Furious and was a bit of a franchise reboot with Dom, Letty, Mia and Brian all coming back. Han was in it too, Tokyo Drift apparently being set later. We also met someone called Giselle and Letty died. Next up was Fast 5 with Dom, Mia, Brian, Han and Giselle as well as Tej and Roman from part two (there you were thinking Avengers was the first film to bring characters together from other movies) and Dwayne Johnson as super cop Hobbs. At the end of this one it turns out Letty isn’t really deceased which was apparently news to actor Michelle Rodriguez who didn’t know she was coming back until she watched the film and saw her photo turn up in a file on Hobbs desk. (This surprises me as it was kind of obvious to everyone else that she wasn’t really dead.) This brings us to Fast & Furious 6 featuring Dom, Mia, Brian, Giselle, Han, Tej, Roman, Hobbs and an amnesiac Letty. The end of 6 flashes back to Han’s demise in Tokyo Drift finally revealing where that movie fitted into the chronology and who it was that did him in. The perpetrator, it turns out, was Jason Statham’s Shaw seeking revenge for the defeat of 6’s bad guy, his brother. Now we have numéro sept featuring Dom, Brian, Mia, Letty, Tej, Roman, Hobbs, Han in flashback and Jason Statham and Djimon Hounsou and Kurt Russell and legendary Thai martial artist Tony Jaa. (No Giselle, she died probably and the actor Gal Gadot is now busy being Wonder Woman.)

It is easy to be snooty about movies like this and write them off as dumb action movies but I try not to be snooty about movies and truth be told they’re an awful lot of fun. So many of the current blockbusters are humourless epics rammed with CGI that the Fast & Furious films are a bit of a breath of fresh air. The leads are all highly likeable, no one is taking any of it too seriously and the stunts are just brilliant.

With regard to those stunts, most films like this have two or three stand out action set pieces but Fast & Furious 7 has so many I lost count. There’s the office fight, the lorry take down, the drone chase, the punch up in the crumbling building, the helicopter chase, the party punch up, the running up a truck as it tips off a cliff moment and most memorably the automobile parachute drop and the part where they jump a supercar between monolithic skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. There are others too that I can’t recall right now, not due to the fact that they were forgettable but because there was just so much to take in. The action in this movie is genuinely audacious and totally totally bonkers.

Yet still it manages to stay within its own logical parameters. You’d think with all those road vehicles shooting through the air that at some point they would jump the shark but they somehow get away with it all. You will believe a car can fly.

Getting the tone right with this kind of thing this is harder than it looks but here they’ve got the balance just right. Tongues are in cheeks but there are no raised eye brows. Somehow they manage to play it straight and ridiculous at the same time without it seeming like a Princess Bride style parody. There are moments it comes close to tipping over, like with Jason Statham’s introduction exiting through a devastated London hospital, presumably the result of his unseen entrance some moments earlier, but at no point do they actually do anything that compromises the more serious business at hand.

The serious business of which I speak is the sudden death of series co-star Paul Walker during filming. Clearly this dramatically affected production and the tragedy hangs over the whole of the finished film, although not necessarily in a bad way. Any occasion when his character Brian is facing death now has unavoidable poignancy and there is a particularly emotional moment when he is saying goodbye to loved ones prior to the final showdown but actually they have made the film into a fitting and deliberate tribute to the forty year old actor.

Of course to have made the film all about one performer would have gone against the usual ensemble feel of the series. Walker has many standout moments but this is not purely his movie. There are a number of people here who you would not necessarily expect to have real screen presence but do. Vin Diesel can be highly watchable with the right material and these films continue to give it to him. Dwayne Johnson has similarly carved out a surprisingly deserved film career. Certainly no one would have predicted this when he quit wrestling and turned up in The Mummy Returns looking like a background character from Shrek but give him the right film and he could yet end a proper star in the mold of Harrison Ford and Steve McQueen. (Rather than the grinning Charles Bronson he is at the moment.)
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Then of course there’s Mr. Statham. Jason Statham doesn’t actually play bad guys that often, crooks yes but not bad guys, but he does it well; I don’t think there is a more intense stare in the whole of Hollywood. This film doesn’t quite showcase his balletic fighting style but there is always pleasure in watching the boy from Derbyshire in a punch up.

Ensemble casts are hard to manage, despite how easy Joss Whedon makes it look, and Furious 7 actually marginalises some of the key players.
This is deftly done though as there is real pleasure when one of them in particular rejoins the action.

I recommend Fast & Furious 7 wholeheartedly. It doesn’t tackle any big issues, the acting isn’t really anything more than perfunctory and the writing is nothing to write home about. On the other hand though it throws cars and people around in quite spectacular fashion and if you feel that could be enough for you then you should definitely see it. As soon as you can. Speed is of the essence.

Is this one for the kids?

There are loads of fist fights but it is all typically bloodless for a 12A. There is a little bit of swearing but that’s not too bad either. Unusually for this kind of movie the violence does have some consequences with one of the main characters being hospitalised. Mind you since said incident should in reality have killed him ten times over it’s still all very Tom and Jerry.

The Ripley Factor:

The Fast & Furious films have always given us strong female characters with Letty, Mia and Giselle as well as Elena and mixed martial artist champion Gina Carano’s Riley who I haven’t event mentioned yet. Mind you Gal Gadot’s Giselle didn’t actually get a character name until her second movie so the gender imbalance is not perfectly redressed. The film’s also like to show a lot of women’s bottoms in tiny pants and while the last few instalments have moved away from this a little, this one brings them back with great enthusiasm.

Jordana Brewster’s Mia has also been left at home holding the baby for three films now but actually I quite like what this has done to her character. It is a shame she is out of the action so much but compared to Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley herself she is one of action cinema’s more gentle mother figures.

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