WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
On a superficial level, it’s fair to call the The Fast and the Furious franchise just another action movie franchise. Indeed, it has grossed over $3 billion at the box office, and the several sequels have ridiculous, incongruous titles (why did they go from Fast Five to Fast & Furious 6 to Furious 7??). The latest installment, Furious 7, has made a record breaking $801 million since it’s release just two short weeks ago. So if ticket sales and sheer longevity are good indicators, The Fast & Furious franchise is certainly a hit.
But there’s more to these films than just the mindless explosions; indeed, at their heart, these are street racing films, centered around unadulterated vehicular chaos. Furious 7 continues in this vein, with a new slew of cars that range in quality from American muscle to Japanese agility to… I guess we can call it a tank.
The film opens up with a nostalgic nod to The Fast and the Furious‘s “Race Wars,” which seems to be the Burning Man of quarter-mile races. Positioned in the middle of the desert, it’s almost exactly what it sounds like. There are women in bikinis, men with too many tattoos, and, of course, a diverse and jaw-dropping ensemble of gorgeous cars. And Iggy Azealea, because this is actually the type of place she would hang out.
Furious 7 opens with an unfamiliar restlessness, even tension in the “family” of protagonists that centers around Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). For 14 years, they have teamed up in various glamorous locales to kick ass and go fast. At the opening of Furious 7, however, the group has dissolved; each team member leaving to pursue a less dangerous lifestyle. Except for Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), who works as a Diplomatic Security Service agent in a high-tech law enforcement office with tons of easily breakable glass (hint: it all gets broken).
O’Connor in particular, who claims to “miss the bullets” more than anything else, is nostalgic for the group’s old adventures. Toretto is still struggling to convince his girlfriend Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez), who has lost her memory, that she belongs with him. The family has no choice but to come back together, however, after the death of Han Seoul-Oh (which actually happened in a movie that came out 9 years ago but that only just now got tied into the rest of the franchise — WOW who’s writing this shit) to face down perhaps their most formidable foe yet: Jason Statham. Well, actually it’s Deckard Shaw, whom Statham plays at his most Statham-y, but it might as well be Frank Martin, the protagonist of The Transporter series, whom Statham plays as well. Let’s just call him Jason Statham and leave it at that.
The arrival of Shaw means audiences get to experience a long-anticipated battle royale between him, Dwayne Johnson, Djimon Hounsou, and Vin Diesel that includes, in no particular order, a car-joust, an attack helicopter, a minigun from said helicopter, an ambulance, and these biceps. That is far from the only over-the-top battle of man and machine in Furious 7, however. One of the film’s earlier standoffs pits Toretto in a classic 1974 Plymouth Barracuda against Shaw in an elegant Maserati Ghibli. Pointing their cars at each other in a long deserted tunnel, Toretto and Shaw gun it in a straight line, ramming their cars into one another. What better way is there to articulate the complex and involved statement: “My car is stronger than yours”? It literally looks like this, except with cars.
This scene repeats itself again in the film’s climax, except that Toretto is driving his 1970 Dodge Charger R/T (an American hero), and Statham is behind the wheel of the Bond-like Aston Martin DB9. Like the true jousters they are, Toretto and Statham square up again, rev to the redline and put the pedal to the metal. But this time, after a head-on crash, Toretto and Statham duel it out in a fucking wrench fight. BlogDH is officially starting the movement to get wrench-fencing to be a varsity sport.
But for all it’s unadulterated awesomeness, Furious 7 continues to pull the franchise away from its roots. As much as the insane stunts and high-velocity pace of the film keep it grounded in the car movie genre, Furious 7 lacks some of the grit that made the films so enjoyable to begin with. The franchise has never shied away from its reputation as a guilty pleasure for many, but earlier films in the series, like 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), felt scrappier in their aesthetic; the sound effects of the cars sounded more inane than realistic and cars were styled with ridiculous tribal decals and curious under-glow lights. The special effects seemed purposefully primitive, enhancing our experience of the film as distinctly otherworldly. Brian O’Connor wore oversized baggy t-shirts instead of the slim fit suits he dons in this newest addition. Ludacris had an afro. Perhaps it’s the newer film’s abundant budgets that make everything feel so sharp and crisp, but the older films were proud of their retro imperfections and wore them on their sleeves. Some of that crudeness is missed. Including Luda’s afro.
Despite the adrenaline overdose of mountain chase scenes and skyscraper jumps that make up most of the film, Furious 7‘s most poignant (and most talked-about) scene is its conclusion. Set to the saccharine smash hit “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, the side-by-side drive down the coast between O’Connor and Toretto may be a bit overwrought at times — “It’s never goodbye” is never a permissible line — but it is a poignant send-off to the late Walker who died in a car accident in 2013. It left at least one blogger with a single tear sliding down his face as the actors’ cars diverge and the screen fades to white, leaving viewers with the simple message, “For Paul.”