My knowledge and understanding of the F&F franchise is patchy at best. The Fast and The Furious was my high school’s wet weather video, so whilst it was pretty decent the first five hundred times I saw it, if I never have to see it again I can die happy. I know I have seen the second and third but can’t remember a thing about them, and vaguely recall parts of the fourth. It was with this knowledge that I walked into a film that I had no intention of ever seeing had it not be Paul Walker’s final legacy.
Now I don’t know whether because I’m not exactly the target audience (contrary to popular belief due to my age, economic background and interests of my peers), cars do absolutely nothing for me. My wheels are neither fast nor particularly furious, but for that matter I don’t really care either. It’s with that attitude that I sat through the first 30 minutes of F&F7 both bored and confused. Between the constant references to the previous entry in the franchise (to be fair though, I heard is quite good, even though I didn’t understand the relevance), the epilepsy-inducing skip-frame/slow-motion editing, dialogue so bone-headed that I actually felt dumber afterwards, a pointless Iggy Izalea cameo more awkwardly placed than her rhyming schemes (personally I didn’t think that was possible), and an audience that actually cheered every time a car did a siqq burnout, I felt that I had made a critical error of judgement.
However, as the plot unfolds, I must say, I got into it. Between Dwayne Johnson brawling Jason Statham in an office full of glass walls (actually anything with Johnson in it is just pure gold, wait for the arm cast scene), Walker, Diesel and co. reversing modified cars out of the back of a Hercules chopper, and jumping cars between towers in Abu Dhabi, I felt like I was back in the 90’s and it was GREAT. Director James Wan, supposedly out of his comfort zone, gleefully and masterfully flaunts the conventions of the series and suddenly, particularly in the third act, injects it with an unexpected weight and drama that genuinely had me enthralled. Having missed a large chunk of the catalog between the third film and this, one must marvel at the scope of the series at this point compared to a relatively small film about illegal street-racing on the backstreets of LA. It’s a tremendous accomplishment for any series approaching this kind of longevity (apparently there are another two films planned regardless of Walker’s passing) and financial success, one which I can only place responsibility and praise on the charisma of the leads, and the series as a whole just fully accepting and unashamedly embracing what they are.
So is Fast and Furious 7 an appropriate sendoff for Paul Walker? For the most part, yes. It’s continuously pre-empted that this is meant to be his character’s last job (no joke, they beat you over the head with it at least five times), and given the actor’s fate, there is actual genuine tension as to whether his character will survive the many impossible scenarios presented to him. Alas, instead of doing the character a major heroic moment of potentially sacrificing himself to save his friends, he more or less survives everything unscathed and instead, the last ten minutes descends into a saccharine backslapper (cue simultaneously awkward yet melancholic flashbacks to previous films). It borders, perhaps intentionally, on breaking the fourth wall, and for that matter is actually quite touching, as you actually forget you’re meant to be watching Dom Toretto as a character and realise that you’re actually hearing Vin Diesel speaking of his real-life friendship with Walker. It almost makes you forgive the sheer number of times that Diesel says the word “Family” and actually momentarily believe it.
This week saw the release of Leviathan; a Russian drama film that purportedly parallels contemporary issues faced by modern Russia with those from biblical stories, most notably from The Book of Job. Respected film critics are dripping with praise for it, award nominations are flowing in en masse and Russia’s Ministry of Culture (who funded a third of the film) are attacking it, claiming that the film portrays Russia in a poor light. A bold foreign film surrounded by praise and controversy, not only would seeing it broaden our cultural horizons, it would also give us heaps to write about in our reviews. So of course we went and saw Fast and Furious 7 instead.
Disclaimer, I don’t obsess over cars, I don’t get a hard on for fast machines, the purr of an engine fails to send shivers down my spine, hell I don’t even have a licence. I have previously seen only one movie in the series and it was so insubstantial that I couldn’t even remember the broad strokes of the plot, I know it had something to do with cars and the driving thereof. This was the attitude I carried into a Fast and Furious movie on opening night.
Upon entering the cinema I began judging my fellow man. The first specimen I saw was bald, heavily tattooed and wearing mustard stained singlet, he looked like the type of person who would talk loudly during the dialogue scenes of an action movie (which he totally fucking did). With smug satisfaction my eyes fell upon the next group who turned out to be… a group of ladies all wearing hijabs. “Wow, the film obviously has broad appeal.” I thought “perhaps if I could stop being such a judgemental dick for a night I could actually enjoy this movie.” So I did, I purposively turned off my higher functions, and around the part where they were parachuting armoured Subaru’s out of a military plane, I felt myself actually smiling. Amazing, I was finally on board with the bat-shit lunacy that is a Fast and Furious movie and enjoying the ride.
This isn’t to say that it is a perfect action movie, far from it in fact. The dialogue is at times beyond clunky at times, and you better believe that there are gratuitous slow motion shots of bikini clad women. The car action scenes work for the most part, however it is the hand to hand fights that let the film down. I’ll never understand why Hollywood insists on cutting on every hit in a melee, if you cut on every hit, it looks as though there is no weight or impact behind the punches. This is further exasperated by bloody shaky cam. Also when two muscled shaved monkeys (The Rock and Vin Diesel in this case) get in a fist fight, and both walk away unscratched it takes away any gravity that the scene may have had. If a character seems invincible it takes all the tension out of the story, Imagine in Game of Thrones if every named character couldn’t die, I mean people would still watch it for the ample naked tits, but I doubt they would be talking about it at work on Monday.
Ultimately what makes Fast and Furious 7 work it its earnestness, much in the same way that Airplane! (1980) would have been ruined if Leslie Nelson winked to camera, the cast never camp it up or break character no matter what OTT insanity happens around them. This utter sincerity does begin to grate near the end of the film however, when it turns into the Paul Walker: What An Awesome Guy Hour. I never met Walker (who died during the filming) but I’m sure he would have preferred me to watch another car chase than fifteen minutes of his heavily muscled friends getting all sugary and weird on me.
Despite its failings (and there are many), if you can turn your brain off for the duration of the movie you should enjoy the ride. If you cannot feel joy at the idea of The Rock flexing to break his plaster cast before crashing into a predator drone with an ambulance only to strip its mini-gun for his own use, then get a job in accountancy because you are dead inside.