There’s a slight problem inherent in reviewing a Fast & Furious film: by any conventional measure, they’re dreadful. The scripts are preposterous, refusing to make any concessions to logic, believability or even the laws of physics. The dialogue’s awful. Characters are so badly sketched they barely even qualify as caricatures. And in Vin Diesel, the series has a leading man who struggles to deliver more than three consecutive words – fine when your lines consist solely of “I am Groot”, but a touch more problematic when you’re delivering actual dialogue.
And yet, it works. After the patchy early instalments, Fast & Furious turned itself around with part five. By turning its weaknesses into strengths, this is a series that now revels in its own batshit craziness, inviting audiences to suspend believability and just go along for the ride. And they have, in great numbers. This latest instalment is currently the fifth highest grossing film of all time, to the tune of $1.5 billion.
From the opening moments of part seven, it’s clear that any lingering concessions to reality have been casually discarded. Jason Statham’s big bad, Deckard Shaw, walks through the wreck of a hospital past cowering doctors, nurses, and the corpses of the SWAT team who unwisely tried to enforce visiting hours for his brother (Luke Evans, the villain of the previous instalment). And it just gets sillier from there.
Shaw travels to Tokyo and kills a member of Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) team; an event which places the third film, Tokyo Drift, as occurring between parts six and seven (and whose star, Lucas Black, briefly returns here). Naturally Vin Diesel isn’t thrilled about this and, alongside the rest of his team, vows to track down Shaw. Since Shaw’s looking for him as well, you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be fairly straightforward.
But the Fast & Furious movies have their own warped logic. Enter Kurt Russell as a shady government type - a man so cool he has infra-red sunglasses to help him fight in the dark. He offers to help Toretto track Shaw down in exchange for recovering a sophisticated surveillance system called God’s Eye.
This leads to the series’ now customary globetrotting, first tracking down the hacker who created the device (Game Of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel, meaning the list of franchises not employing Thrones actors is now down to Jurassic Park and Paul Blart: Mall Cop) and then the device itself; a journey that takes in Azerbaijan (looking suspiciously like America) and Abu Dhabi.
Throughout their journey they’re hotly pursued by Statham, who has a habit of turning up mid-action scene, snarling and blowing things up. A more thoughtful franchise might consider this a slight plot hole considering the gang are on this mission to obtain a device so they can track a man who is generally about two minutes behind them. But this is a film where, upon deciding on a location for their final showdown with Statham and his private army, decide that Los Angeles would be perfect, leading to a swathe of destruction (and presumably a matching civilian body count) that Man of Steel would be proud of. Like we said, just go with it.
Over the course of the series, the films have gained an ever growing ensemble cast; the latest instalment sees Vin Diesel promoted to sole lead following the tragic death of Paul Walker during filming; Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris are still the misogynistic comic relief; Michelle Rodriguez is more or less back to normal following her death, resurrection and amnesia of the last few films; Jordan Brewster has literally nothing to do whatsoever; and Gal Godot, although billed, isn’t even in it (she was killed off in part six, although that’s never held anyone back in this series before). F&F’s never been the most progressive series in terms of female roles, so it’s little surprise than the female characters are sidelined. What is surprising, however, is that Dwayne Johnson joins them. After being the best thing about the last two movies, he spends most of his limited screen time confined to a hospital bed following an early encounter with Statham. It’s an odd choice, considering how much fun he brings to the franchise – although we’ll give them this: when he does finally return to the action, it’s glorious. You just wish it’d been sooner.
Director James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) proves just as adept at action as he is with horror, offering up one ridiculous set-piece after another; cars parachute out of planes and leap between skyscrapers; drones pursue our heroes through LA, destroying half the city in the process; characters run along buses as they fall off cliffs, all without anyone getting so much as a scratch. At this point, the series more resembles a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon than anything else. With Bond currently stuck in introspective mode, Fast & Furious is the current franchise to look to for larger-than-life action, and for a series that’s always had a tenuous grip on reality this is next level silliness.
Fast & Furious 7 is big, ridiculous and, in its final moments - which see the retirement of Paul Walker’s character - oddly poignant. Put your brain into neutral and enjoy the ride.
Special Features: Back to the Startling Line featurette
FAST & FURIOUS 7 / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: JAMES WAN/ SCREENPLAY: CHRIS MORGAN / STARRING: VIN DIESEL, PAUL WALKER, DWAYNE JOHNSON, MICHELLE RODREIGEZ, JASON STATHAM / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 7TH