When the original THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS was released in June of 2001, I had no desire to see it. I was a 21-year-old falsely sophisticated, wannabe film student who was working at a Borders Books & Music. I dismissed the movie as a big, dumb car movie for the plebeians. When 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS came out, the title alone lead to easy, hacky jokes, even with a prestige director, John Singleton, joining the fold. By the time the third entry, TOKYO DRIFT came around — with the absence of any of the previous entries’ star power — I was convinced that this was a film series destined for the direct-to-video trash heap.



However, as Universal continued to crank out FAST & FURIOUS in 2009, FAST FIVE in 2011 and FAST & FURIOUS 6 in 2013 at the clip of every two years, something changed. People whose opinions in film I trusted at websites I frequented began speaking highly of these films. I was told that this was the rare case of a franchise that actually got better with age. When the opportunity came up to see an early screening of FURIOUS 7, I decided it was time to catch up with what the rest of America already knew.



After watching the first six entries in the series, I had picked my favorites. I liked TOKYO DRIFT, since it was a different style of film than the previous two; it was a ‘50s B-movie with a bad boy coming to town and changing things up. It was FOOTLOOSE with souped up Nissans. Along with the rest of my trash film gurus, I also really enjoyed FAST FIVE and FAST & FURIOUS 6. Again, like TOKYO DRIFT, these films changed the game for the series. They were heist movies that relied on a big team dynamic consisting of characters that were basically caricatures, but the charm of the film relied on the actors in these roles and how they interacted with each other. I couldn’t truly call myself a big fan of the series, but I saw what people liked about them and had a very good time watching them.



FURIOUS 7 continues the franchise in the style of the previous two entries with a new director, James Wan. (Justin Lin helmed the previous three entries) The film picks up right where FAST & FURIOUS 6 left off with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) exacting revenge on the team that put his brother, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) in the hospital in the previous adventure. Shaw begins picking the team off one. Dominic Torretto and the surviving members of the team including Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Ludacris) are recruited by a black-agent, Mr. Nobody, portrayed with superb glee by newcomer to the series — and Daily Grindhouse favorite — Kurt Russell. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Agent Hobbs sits most of this one out after he is hospitalized by Shaw, but any FAST & FURIOUS fan knows that he’s eventually going to come around and kick some ass. What follows are a series of over the top set pieces and McGuffins galore, the details of which really don’t matter. The whole goal of the movie is to get our heroes to the big bad at the end, and what an exciting journey it is.



There’s not much to say about FURIOUS 7. It does what it does, and it does it well. Once you accept that cars can fly and gravity doesn’t exist, you can just sit back and enjoy the B-movie that it is. FURIOUS 7 is an exhausting movie to watch, and that’s a good thing. As the viewer follows the team on their many adventures throughout the movie, the viewer starts to feel like you’re right there with them. By this point in the series, the film plays out like a James Bond-style adventure with the gang wisecracking their way around the world from the Caucasus Mountains of Eurasia, to Abu Dhabi all the way back to the streets of Los Angeles. To go into any real detail of the action sequences is to do them a disservice; they really have to be seen to be enjoyed. The CGI and live action stunt work is seamlessly blended and thrilling to watch. I would honestly recommend that J.J. Abrams and his crew crib some notes for the new STAR WARS trilogy from FURIOUS 7.



The real heart of this movie, and the series in general, is the interactions of the characters. By now, those who have been following the series have fallen in love with Torretto and the gang; they feel like friends. The actors all bring a natural charm to their archetype; Tej as the geek, Roman the joker, Toretto the leader. The team almost feels like G.I. Joe team members they’re so broadly drawn, but the actors give them some basic gravitas.



One of the reasons these films appeal to so many people is their emphasis on family. A more subtle filmmaker like a Michael Mann would imply that this team had became a family over the course of seven movies, but James Wan and the crew bang it over the audiences head at every turn. Still, what else would you expect from a FAST & FURIOUS movie? They’re big and blatant, and that’s part of the fun. Also, the FAST & FURIOUS saga attracts a large female viewership, and I would attribute that to two factors. The men in these movies are generally doing what they’re doing for  love, be it Brian O’Conner for Mia Toretto or Dominic for Letty. Even more so, the women in these movies don’t just sit on the sidelines. Michelle Rodriguez’s fight scene in FURIOUS 7 with UFC superstar, Ronda Rousey, is chock full of excellent fight choreography and big hits. There is a tendency to play women fighting in big action movies as fodder for boys hoping that they kiss. This is not the case and the fight is as brutal as anything you’d see in man-to-man, hand-to-hand combat but the women are still allowed to be feminine at any turn in the movie.



It may sound like I’m doling out left-handed compliments, but next to KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, this is the most fun I’ve had at the theatres this year. FURIOUS 7 is a genuine thrill ride that will leave you exhausted and probably teary eyed by the end. The ending serves as nice wrap up of the previous films, as well as a touching tribute to Paul Walker at the end. I don’t believe this will be the last entry in the series, but if it is, it ends on a high note.




Mike Vanderbilt
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