The Fast and Furious series has become one of the miracles of modern blockbuster cinema. What started as a decent pulp thriller about youth street racing that made Vin Diesel into a star has become a globe-spanning genre-busting soap opera featuring the most multicultural cast you’ll find at cineplexes. After its splashy start, the series muddled along until The Rock joined the cast in Fast Five as some kind of an international police officer or something, and then it went absolutely nuts. And now Furious 7 is here and it’s the craziest, most nonsensical, most action-packed film in the series.
I mean that as a compliment.
You’ve probably read X-Men comics with less of a convoluted backstory than Furious 7: a vengeful killing machine named Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) targets Dominic Toretto (Diesel, who seems to learn his lines phonetically,) his amnesiac girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodgriguez,) his street-racing compatriot Brian (Paul Walker, who died as the movie was being filmed,) and his whole crew (Ludacris, The Rock, Tyrese Gibson) for putting Shaw’s brother in a coma. Happily, you don’t have to watch any of the previous Fast and Furious movies to get what’s going on in Furious 7—hell, I’ve seen all the movies and I barely get what’s going on in Furious 7. It’s a global cat-and-mouse chase, stretching from LA to Tokyo to Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi and back again. And it co-stars a very game Kurt Russell as a secret government agent named Mr. Nobody. What’s not to love?
Admittedly, the plot of Furious 7 is as sturdy as a cobweb. It revolves around Toretto’s team acquiring an NSA-style surveillance program called “God’s Eye” so they can find Shaw. But every time they come close to getting their hands on the Eye, Shaw shows up to foil their efforts. Uh, why did they need the technology to find him again? This is a question that can only be answered with an exaggerated shrug, or a broom closet full of cocaine. (The film also features one of the most blatant product placement shots in cinematic history, in what can only be described as an outright interstitial advertisement for Corona.)
But you don’t watch the Fast and Furious movies for the plot. You watch them for the hot beefcake-on-beefcake action, for the acres of bouncing booty, and especially for the action sequences, which seem to erupt from a single burning question: what if we took a normal Hollywood action sequence and then added cars to it? In Fast Five, the question was, “what if we made a heist movie, only with cars?” Fast & Furious 6 asked what would happen if people in cars tried to stop a giant plane from taking off. And Furious 7 has two main premises: what if we remade the Dubai heist sequence from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol with a car instead of Tom Cruise; and what if people took cars skydiving? You will literally not find the answers to those questions anywhere but in Furious 7.
I’m not generally a proponent of shut-your-brain-off-and-enjoy-it filmgoing. You shouldn’t ever shut your brain off, because need your brain for tasks like breathing and not soiling yourself. But the Fast and Furious movies are so cheesy, and so mindful of their own cheesiness, that I find it impossible to hate them. James Wan’s direction is nothing special, but it’s not Michael Bay in-your-face, either. You get the sense that Wan put a bomb on the cameraman’s leg and told him that if he stopped moving, the bomb would explode. The cameras spin around characters as they talk and when a fistfight with a Valkyrie goddess security woman (Ronda Rousey) propels Rodriguez over a couch, the camera follows her right over the couch and slams onto the floor behind. “Kinetic” isn’t always a compliment when it comes to direction, but Wan at least keeps the shots fun and smooth.
These movies are designed to coax you onto their team: the intricate mythology, the laid-back cast, the endless stream of holy-shit-this-is-ridiculous stunts, the absurd dialogue delivered with painful earnestness. These lines are spoken by real human beings:
“You just earned yourself a dance with the devil, boy.”
“The white picket fence is like an anchor on him.”
“There’s a war going on between shadows and ghosts.”
Is Furious 7 dumb? Sure. Does it know it’s dumb? Uh-huh. Does it try to dazzle you with every minute of its runtime? Oh, yeah. There’s a point where the cast dresses up in tuxedos and evening gowns to sneak into an exclusive party. Inside the party, four barely dressed women painted from head to toe in gold gyrate in the center of a room full of beautiful people. And it occurred to me then that at one point, before blockbusters became all dour and self-conscious and irredeemably dark, every James Bond movie used to include at least one glamorous scene like this. But now James Bond is busy doing his best grim-faced Batman impression, and it’s up to Diesel’s band of merry men and women to bring good-natured eye-popping gaudiness back to global multiplexes.
In that moment, my heart opened to what the Fast and Furious franchise has become: it’s got the coolness, the production values, and the desire to entertain of a 60s or 70s Bond movie. It takes you places you’ll probably never go, allows you to spend time with personalities you’ll definitely never know, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously as it goes about its business. In other words, it’s a fun movie. If you want to complain about that, you’ve probably got too much free time on your hands.