Note: as usual, I recommend reading this only after you’ve seen the movie.
How the hell do you follow a movie with a classic freeway cars vs. tank battle and a legendary 27.86 mile cars vs. planes gun/grappling hook/wrestling fight? Well, we already had a good idea from the trailers: with cars that skydive and jump from skyscraper to skyscraper and with Jason Statham. The day after my first viewing I feel like FURIOUS SEVEN is probly not as good as FAST FIVE or FURIOUS 6, but it’s in the same range at least, which is a feat. And due to real life this silly fictional world turns very emotional at the end. I suspect that despite all the effort put into automotive insanity this will primarily be remembered as the one that says goodbye to Paul Walker.
It’s a blessing because really, when has a tragically passed-on star been able to have such a meta farewell in a movie? The character of Brian O’Conner gets to drive off into the sunset and the public gets to share in the send off as a narrating Vin Diesel/Dominic Torretto pay tribute simultaneously in and out of character. Heath Ledger might’ve had a better last big performance, but he was left hanging on the side of a building.
(It’s a little unclear what it means on the movie level, though. Are Brian and Mia and the kids driving off to be far away from Dom so they can be sure to stay out of trouble? Or is Dom just not planning to visit his own sister, best friend, niece and nephew if he’s not shooting guns anymore? Maybe he’s just assuming that now that he’s a dad Brian’s not gonna hang out anymore?)
Back when FURIOUS 6 was still fresh, my fear about the next one was that they were rushing it. Director since part 3 Justin Lin had to bow out, because they wanted it ready for the following summer. Because of my love for DEATH SENTENCE I thought James Wan was a pretty inspired replacement, but he’d never done anything that big and he had such large shoes to fill. And he looks like a tiny little guy in pictures. I guess that’s not that relevant.
Then, of course, Walker – the star of every FAST movie besides TOKYO DRIFT – died tragically before filming was complete, and no one knew what would happen. Remember, there was even talk that they might scrap the entire movie for insurance purposes? By now I kinda took it for granted that Wan knew what he was doing with the movie but how were they gonna finish what they hadn’t shot and how were they gonna rework it for Brian to gracefully leave the series? Hell of an uphill battle there, but that’s what this series specializes in. (Although the best big set piece in this one is actually a downhill battle.)
I don’t think Wan adds as much of his own spin to it as Lin did over the course of his movies, but he does an admirable job of taking the wheel while Lin jumps out the window. Which is a metaphor based on a thing that happens in a lot of the FAST movies in case you didn’t get that. It’s probly a coincidence that SEVEN shares some themes with DEATH SENTENCE. Both have the heroes and villains waging battle to avenge something that happened to literal or figurative family members. Two families in an endless circle of violence.
I never really realized until seeing Statham in this that none of the previous FAST movies really had a great villain. Luke Evans as Owen Shaw in part 6 might be the most memorable. So the introduction of Jason Statham as his vengeful brother Deckard is this entry’s biggest boost to the series. He makes an A+ entrance that actually reminded me of the remake of MY BLOODY VALENTINE. So that’s how dangerous this guy is, he could be a movie slasher. But it sounds like he’s more like Strannix in UNDER SIEGE, a highly trained super deadly elite special black op forces master killer but they decided he was too dangerous so they tried to kill him but seriously he is too dangerous so they were unable to kill him.
And the funny thing is we thought his little brother died in the last one. Actually he’s still alive but paralyzed, presumably to be healed and return to the driver’s seat in a future chapter. But that’s still enough to send Deckard on a crazy revenge spree.
The new Shaw spends the movie dogging Dom and the gang, showing up wherever they are and trying to kill them. They literally go to Azerbaijan to the exact spot that the military tells them is the most inaccessible, they come up with an insane plan on how to gain access, and then all the sudden he just shows up. Then they’re in Abu Dhabi and he shows up there too. This fuckin guy.
And he gets to have a long duel with Dom. I’m not sure he really lives up to his potential as a villain, though. Such a great buildup but then it’s just a fight like Dom has already had with Hobbs and with Hobbs’s doppelganger and others. There’s not a sense that this guy ends up being as deadly as we knew he was earlier. And he doesn’t talk much, or find other ways to convey as much personality as a standard Statham character. We got everything about him in that opening scene, I think.
I hope this will change on future viewings, but it feels to me like the situation with Walker/O’Conner and the convolutions of the plot kind of water down the personal part of the main plot. FIVE has a more powerful story because they bust Dom out of prison and all become most wanted fugitives. They get into trouble with a crime lord, but also get chased by the D.S.S. and Hobbs for the first time, achieve fight brotherhood and temporarily team up against a common enemy. Classical shit. Then 6 has the men-on-a-mission business of Hobbs having a task that only Dom and his crew could pull off, and offering it to them in exchange for amnesty. In SEVEN the hook makes a little less sense, an unrelated mission they do for the government in exchange for the use of equipment that it seems like they don’t really need, that gets stolen and used against them anyway. By the time they were fighting terrorists and Predator drones in the streets of L.A. and I was worried about how O’Conner is gonna leave all this behind I kinda forgot that this started out as revenge for killing Han. And blowing up the house. And breaking Hobbs’s arm and leg so he has to lay around watching The Incredible Hulk all day.
(Man, I knew this was gonna happen from the commercials, but that’s fucked up that he blew up the house. 6 was all about getting back that house. This is like ALIEN 3 killing Newt and Hicks.)
(Also I lost track of how many times Dom has killed his dad’s car. Is this really the last ride?)
Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of this secret, scary government agency run by Mr. Nobody (Stuntman Mike himself Kurt Russell) hiring the crew and giving them the resources to do whatever the fuck they want. And he has a file on Dom so detailed that he knows to have some cold bottles of Corona ready for him in an official Corona bucket, that’s pretty cool. But I remember before they started filming and Wan said that he wanted to make his version of a gritty ’70s revenge thriller in the FAST universe. That’s not what this is, except maybe in that cool funeral scene (previewed on the 6 dvd and blu-ray) where Dom senses that Shaw is nearby and all the sudden he’s in one of his muscle cars chasing after him.
The bad news about the action: it tends to be a little more chaotic than part 6, especially in the fight scenes. They’re pretty shaky. I’d say the best is Hobbs vs. Shaw at the beginning, an almost super powered clash between the cinematic fighting styles of The Rock and the Stath. It involves alot of wrestling moves and smashing through glass and furniture. It also has some somewhat dizzying but very cool visual gimmicks where the camera stays on the actors as they flip (the only noticeable Wan addition to the Lin stylistic playbook as far as I could tell). Also it culminates in a nice reminder that in the Fastiverse if you fall off of something you should try to find a nice soft car to land on.
Second best fight is Brian vs. Mercenary-Working-For-Terrorist (Tony Jaa) rematch. Their first fight had me worrying that they were wasting my man The Protector, but in the second one he gets to work in some of that Jaa parkour like in the ONG BAK market chase, so it’s better. Also, with his tattoos and minimal English dialogue Jaa manages to escape his usual naive country boy persona and seem like a real asshole.
Letty vs. Bodyguard-of-Jordanian-Prince (UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey) is fun but compromised by the camerawork. In my opinion Rousey is not showcased as well as Carano was in 6 or she herself was in (the otherwise inferior) EXPENDABLES 3. Her best moment is not a move but just calling Letty a bitch.
But the good news is that even if sometimes messy the action is always fun, absurd and in decadent abundance. SEVEN follows the part 6 template by having a set piece in the middle – a high speed chase battle with terrorists down the side of the Caucasus Mountains, no joke – that’s bigger and more thrilling than the climax of most movies. Even spoiled by trailers I was kind of in awe of how much farther over the top they were able to take it. You gotta wonder if it’s even possible for them to up the ante again. Isn’t there a ceiling on how far up that ante can go?
By the way, why do I feel like we’ve seen the FAST gang fighting drones before? Oh yeah, because of that crazy artwork from FAST AND FURIOUS: SUPERCHARGED at Universal Studios:
Best stunt scene: Brian escaping the bus as it falls off the cliff. And for what it’s worth I don’t agree with the criticisms I’ve heard about there being (why, I never!) computers used to enhance all the incredible stunts. Of course I’m not as racist against computer generated imagery as is currently accepted by society, but also I don’t know which FAST AND FURIOUS movies these people have been watching that they think they haven’t always been a mix of stunts and special effects. You think Paul Walker and Vin Diesel really drove off of a speeding train and a cliff and Vin crashed and flew across a bridge and caught Michelle Rodriguez in the air and smash-landed on a car? Because in my opinion that was a combination of stunts and special effects, as is often necessary for creating fantastical fictional movie entertainment.
Best new character that doesn’t survive: The Demon Love Child. When it rolled down the cliff and was being torn apart I was convinced it would land upright and just be a skeletal vehicle like the ramp cars in 6. But I guess it’s better to burn out than fade away, at least if you are an inanimate car and not a person.
Did you guys get tricked by that credit for Sung Kang and Gal Godot like I did? I thought they were gonna be in a flashback or something. Good for them if they can get residuals for being in a still photograph. I wonder why Bow Wow didn’t get a credit? He was in the TOKYO DRIFT footage. Talking and everything.
Jesus, Sean grew alot of arm hair during that race. Would liked to see him after that scene, but I’ll wait to complain if he’s not in the next one.
All the other living characters get things to do, but is it my imagination or do they feel (maybe because of having to film without Walker) not quite as integrated as before? The Rock’s part is a little smaller, and kind of off to the side, only talking to Dom from the hospital and not seeing the rest of the gang until the finale. But that’s okay because his personality is there and what he decides to do when he realizes there’s a battle going on near the hospital makes up for lost time. Also it’s nice to see them officially state that they are now brothers instead of reluctant, tenuous allies.
Most wasted actor: Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou (AMISTAD, ELEPHANT WHITE) as the infamous terrorist guy. He gets to be scary but in a very generic way and a small amount of scenes, and then he’s just in a helicopter talking to people on a radio.
One new character on the good guy side that seems likely to return is Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), the genius hacker who they have to rescue from the terrorists in order to get Mr. Nobody a spooky surveillance program called God’s Eye that they’ll be allowed to use to track Shaw. (I was hoping when they did they would find out he was standing right behind them, since that’s where he seems to be for most of the movie.) Ramsey is very Fast & Furious in that she is gorgeous and the camera enthusiastically ogles her when she wears a bikini. But otherwise she comes from a different world than these guys, so it makes for a funny gimmick during the convoy chase, we get to find out how a civilian reacts when O’Conner flops her from a careening semi trailer onto the front of a car (spoiler: she screams and wiggles around). For everybody else in the movie high speed vehicle jumps are routine by now.
I really like that they make a point of referencing all six other movies in the series, tying them all together. From part 1 we finally have a return to Race Wars (the un-self-consciously named desert car race festival), a cameo by Hector (Noel G.), the first person Brian met at his first street race, mention of Brian coming into Mia’s shop to buy bad tuna fish sandwiches, Dom referring to Brian as “the buster” (Vince’s insult turned nickname for him), and Dom wielding wrenches as weapons, a reference to the crime that put him in Lompoc. From 2 FAST we have talk of Brian and Roman being buddies in high school. From TOKYO DRIFT of course we have the death of Han and Dom meeting with Sean. From 4 we have flashbacks of Letty’s supposed death and references to things that happened while they were living in the Dominican Republic. And Roman mentions the police station breakin-in from 5 and the tank and airplane from 6. Also a news report refers to “vehicular warfare,” a phrase Tej used in 6. This is actually the third one in a row that includes a nostalgic montage of things that happened in the previous movies, though this one is fittingly focused on Brian.
One thing about Lin: I bet if he was still directing he would’ve put some BETTER LUCK TOMORROW characters at Han’s funeral. If Wan did I didn’t notice them and they aren’t credited. Maybe they’re all supposed to be in prison.
By the way, they never said in part 1 that Dom and Letty “invented” Race Wars, did they? First of all, that sounds bad, I hope he’s careful not to brag about that in mixed company. Second, I think Dom just made that up to impress Letty. In part 8 she’s gonna tell him she knows the truth.
While the beginning of the movie is trying to deal with Dom and Letty’s relationship, and Brian’s struggle to live as a normal dad, they couldn’t help but make the end be about Dom and Brian, since that’s how the series started out. It does feel a little disjointed, but I think we can all forgive that.
I suspect it was originally gonna end differently. I believe the rumor I read somewhere that Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody character was going to be revealed to be Brian’s father. In retrospect it’s even set up, in FAST FIVE I believe, with a discussion about fathers and him not having one. And this maybe doesn’t make sense but my guess is that the reveal would also be part of a villain turn that would set up the next chapter. I don’t know why.
How will they proceed? It’s gonna be tough. In the last two chapters we lost Brian, Mia, Han and Giselle. If 8 tries to build on the hugeness of the last entries but with a smaller cast it might start to feel like these movies are on the way out. A favorite Lin trick was the reunion, bringing back characters from previous movies that you didn’t think would come back (starting with Dom and then Brian and then everybody). There are characters I think they should bring back (see Appendix B below) but the only one that would make a major impact I think is having Lucas Black as Sean Boswell return as a main character, working with the team for the first time. I suspect that will happen, as it was reported a while back that he’d signed up for 3 more movies. But since TOKYO DRIFT aficionados are only a subset of FAST fans it’s not gonna be a huge event to everybody.
So I think they need to think of some different character types they’re missing and come up with some more surprising castings on the level of The Rock and Statham. And I think they should figure out a way for them to work with Rousey’s character (who was just doing her job protecting a non-evil client when she fought Letty). It’s important to continue the theme of people on different sides forming bonds with each other and getting over their differences. But I can’t imagine who would be a more impressive villain, especially one who is as associated with driving (since Mel Gibson already did an EXPENDABLES and a MACHETE). So their work is cut out for them.
Or maybe they can figure out some way to make smaller seem better. Good luck with that. But have they considered a spin-off that brings together all the girls that started all the races throughout the series? The tattooed lady from this one could be the star. How do they get this honor? It’s probly very competitive. The way THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS is a ripoff of POINT BREAK this could be a ripoff of ALL ABOUT EVE. And it could all lead up to starting a street race that we will see in part 8. FAST AND FURIOUS shared universe.
* * *
Holy shit you guys, there is a movie with Vin Diesel, The Rock, Jason Statham, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey and Kurt Russell in it. And it’s not a disappointment.
I know everybody is saying this now, but I’ve been pointing it out longer than most of ’em: this series is truly a cinematic and pop culture miracle. Even the most optimistic person in 2001 could never have imagined that the surprisingly good (but not that well reviewed) POINT BREAK rip-off made by the director of DRAGONHEART because he read a Vibe article about the illegal street racing subculture would, in 14 years, be the biggest franchise in the history of Universal Studios and an ongoing series beloved even by critics. When it came out in 2001 it knocked LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER out of the #1 spot at the box office. Which of those would we have guessed back then would make it to 7+ movies? Or even back when TOKYO DRIFT came out with different characters and setting? There’s no other precedent for something like this, a series that starts out as somewhat disposable teen exploitation and builds into major summer blockbusters, winning over the critics on part 5.
Not many series even make it to part 7. How many have part 7 and it’s the biggest one yet? It’s fuckin ridiculous. I used to have to defend the very idea of them making sequels to this, now it’s a major cultural event like a new James Bond or Batman movie. I’m sure there are still people who turn their nose up to these movies as lowbrow trash, but I wouldn’t talk to those motherfuckers anyway.
And the casting! We take it for granted now that it has the best action ensemble around, more effective than THE EXPENDABLES. It’s hard to believe way back in parts 2 and 3 they couldn’t even get their original leads to come back. Now they have marquee names like The Rock and Statham coming to join them. It’s like if in 1994 DEATH WISH V was the biggest and slickest of the series and had Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise or Harrison Ford as the villain. Not to mention they got people like Kurt Russell (who turned down THE EXPENDABLES), Gina Carano, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey and Joe Taslim in the supporting cast and latecomer The Rock doing what’s gotta be his best movie character.
In a time when we’re always hearing about lack of diversity in casting here’s a series that has always been multi-ethnic and international. (This one makes it to the Middle East and does introduce an Arab who helps the team, but unfortunately not a very cool one.) Its black, white, Latino and Asian cast consider themselves a family and all share equal importance. Though Walker was the biggest star and the point-of-view character in the first one he’s never seemed like the white guy leader like you would have even in the very diverse STEP UP movies. If anything he ends up being the sidekick to Vin Diesel. These are characters who are not intimidated by other cultures. A kid from Alabama goes to live in Tokyo and doesn’t complain; they find themselves living in Brazil and the Dominican Republic and they adapt.
Also of note: part one is the only one with a white director. The rest are African-American, Asian-American, Asian-Australian.
It’s a hyper-masculine series, full of male bonding and women in short skirts and tall shoes watching or starting the races. Still, it managed to build up quite a few female characters who actually participate in the action: Letty has always been one of their best drivers and tough talkers, Mia managed to drive even in the one where she had a baby and got kidnapped (though not in SEVEN), Gisele drives and fights and dies heroically, Riley (being Gina Carano) beats up as many people as the men do, Elena kicks some ass in this one even after being dumped by Dom in the last one, and Ramsey can’t fight yet but does invent and hack the same massive surveillance program it took Bruce Wayne’s tech team to invent.
Since Walker’s death I’ve rewatched the first six FAST AND FURIOUS movies, as well as JOY RIDE, which also has its share of dangerous driving. Of course I can’t help but think sometimes of the tragic irony of Walker building a career off of these movies where he’s in fast cars and dangerous crashes and then that was how he died so young and so senselessly. And it’s not that comforting to think that he did those movies because he was a thrill seeker and in a way he died doing what he loved. It’s just not worth it.
But by starring in this impossible series of movies he brought something better to this world than he must’ve ever expected. In these stories he and his Fast family glorify in a corny but sincere sort of way the values of loyalty, honor, brotherhood, forgiveness, understanding. And in the filmmaking they’re demonstrating a faith in some kind of pop integrity code of honor. Stay true to your weird balance of crazed absurdity and emotion and maybe people will scoff at you but eventually you’ll conquer the world. It’s truly inspiring.
If we could, of course, any one of us would trade the whole series for that poor guy to be able to just grow old and spend more time with his daughter. But we can’t. So let’s appreciate the consolation prize that he was part of such an amazing thing through which a part of him will live on forever. Thank you, Paul Walker, for leaving us this legacy. Bro.
Appendix A: ideas for FAST/FURIOUS 8
1. All new set of characters are involved in street racing scene in New York. They are slow to accept newcomer to the scene Tom Doretto (Vin Diesel in blond wig) who we find out well into the movie is actually Dom undercover for Mr. Nobody to find a secret such and such chip or what have you, etc. Loose remake of part 1 or loose loose remake of POINT BREAK.
2. Car does jump off pyramid
3. Paralyzed Owen Shaw shows up in a mech suit with grappling-hook-scarred-but-still-alive Riley (Gina Carano) to bust Deckard out of the joint. The Shaw Brothers (get it) become a Master Blaster type pair with driver Owen strapped to asskicker Deckard’s back.
5. Chase through Venice with amphibious cars
Appendix B: people and things from previous entries they still could bring back
1. Leon (Johnny Strong), the only surviving member of the original FAST gang who has not returned
2. Torretto’s Market
3. Suki (Devon Aoki) and her pink car
4. Twinkie (Bow Wow) and his Hulk car
5. The original Drift King (Brian Tee), who has gone through hard times and must learn to respect Sean
6. His uncle the honorable Yakuza (Sonny Chiba)
7. The Racer’s Edge auto shop
8. Clay (Zachery Ty Bryan), the bully from the TOKYO DRIFT opening, who I think should be a corrupt senator who tries to pull funding from Mr. Nobody’s agency because he’s in with weapons manufacturers who make money off of the conflicts he tries to stop
Appendix C: Stunt-coordinator Spiro Razatos
Remember when I reviewed the MANIAC COP movies and I talked about stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, and how he did all these insane stunts in the middle of New York City, like the Maniac Cop driving a car while on fire? He’s also the stunt coordinator on FASTs FIVE, 6 and SEVEN. My buddy Aaron Stewart tipped me off to this video of teenage Razatos’s crazy backyard stunts on Super-8: