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Silly Brian, have you even seen a Fast and the Furious movie? This is just natural evolution, baby.

The Fast and the Furious is the most bizarre beloved franchise since there were franchises to be bizarre and be beloved. Much commentary has been made about the odd trajectory of these films, which started out as earnest but mostly braindead “car movies” and evolved to become a sequence of mythos-laden homages to unexpected and awesome cinematic sources. Each Fast movie is like what they’ve been doing with Marvel’s Phase Two: an experiment in pseudo-genre riffing within a consistent fictional world with its own rules. Also like Marvel, each entry evolves the world and its rules, so that we can go from street racing undercover cops to street racing, globe-trotting, drone-fighting superheroes without ever doubting that consistency. Just as Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political/techno-thriller within the superhero framework, Furious Seven is basically Mission Impossible/G.I. Joe within the Fast and the Furious framework.

But is it a good movie? It would be very difficult indeed to surpass Fast 6 as the pinnacle of the franchise (although many would say the best one is Fast 5), and I’m sad to report that Seven doesn’t quite get there. What’s lacking is the sense of “surprise! we can do this stuff too!” which charactized both 5 and 6 and basically reignited this franchise with a renewed sense of momentum and fan appreciation. The Fast movies keep you with them, totally non-judgemental about the cheesy machismo, ridiculous physics, and earnest inclusive themes. I once compared them to friendly puppy dogs. If that’s what they are, collectively, then Seven is the dog having a bit of a sad day. That sadness, sense of finality due to Paul Walker’s untimely death, hangs over the movie in both good and bad ways. What they managed to craft out of the wreckage of both Walker’s death and the movie they were making ends up being perfectly great on its own merits, but lacking just a bit of that special something that makes each of these movies stand out from each other, for good or bad. It’s basically a direct sequel to Fast 6, and one with a familiar and somewhat unfitting theme for this franchise: revenge.

That Seven is a revenge movie somewhat conflicts its big cast, global scope, and huge action. At the same time, Fast 4 was basically a revenge movie and its lack of a big diverse cast of people we know and with relationships we’re invested in made that film suffer. Seven is a much better movie mostly because it still contains the sense of camraderie, fun, and yes: family which has characterized the franchise both on and off-screen.

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Fans of the series live for shots like this.

As a direct sequel to Fast 6Seven picks up basically right where the plot and conflict of that movie left off. Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), the anti-Dom Torretto (Vin Diesel), is in a coma while his big brother Deckard (Jason Statham) comes out of the woodwork to get revenge. The spectre of what happened in London, the people that the team lost and what they managed to save, hangs over Seven just as much as the death of Paul Walker (Brian O’Connor). Statham’s character is best understood as a walking, talking and too-present manifestation of all that.

In the movie, he appears at every juncture as if my magic, to add a weirdly artificial-feeling hazard effect to whatever Dom’s team is trying to accomplish. It’s an odd way to use the immensely charismatic Jason Statham and I think most people are coming away from the film feeling a little disappointed by how he’s used. It strains logic in a way even these movies shouldn’t attempt that he magically keeps appearing, and he never allowed to develop into a real character the way Owen Shaw did. He feels more like the series’ earlier villains, just badass craggy faces stacked up against the heroic badass craggy faces.

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Hobbes (The Rock) is seldom in the film, and just itching to become a full-fledged member of the main crew at this point. He even refers to Dom as his brother!

On their way to figuring out how to deal with Deckard, they take a big step into the world that they flirted with in Fast 6, a world of superspies, James Bond-level criminal masterminds, and so on. This is a world of superhackers like Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) who create Orwellian spying tech that provides a MacGuffin the way it would in a Mission Impossible film (which is the series I’d say is most like what Seven is doing). A world of private military companies so powerful that they can fly a stealth chopper into the middle of L.A. and use that and a fucking reaper drone to wreak havoc on the city and our heroes. It’s a whole new level, even from Fast 6, but feels pretty consistent with what that movie was building up to.

In some ways, it feels like Seven is confirming the direction of the rest of the series, where rather than just trying to do their thing and stay a step ahead of the law, Dom’s team is going to become a full-on asset to some shadowy branch of the United States’s shadowy pseudo-military apparatus. It’s a weird possibility to entertain. It’s starting to feel like the only logical direction for this series to take is underwater superlabs or moonbases and jetpacks.

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Their storyline nicely follows from the previous film.

The more pivotal question of the movie’s characters and their inner lives is whether Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is going to remember who she is. Though it feels like some the drama in all this was better in Fast 6, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good here. It’s a bit less raw, and a bit sidelined and awkward here and there (the gravesite scene cheapens the conclusion of Fast 6 somewhat), but it’s treated as a big deal for these characters that they get back to where they were, or at least find a way to move forward.

Brian’s major issue is settling into family life, and they wisely avoid fridging Mia (Jordana Brewster) and baby Jack, but due to his “missing the bullets”, the potential for the character to die is telegraphed. It’s somehow not a crass way to use Walker’s real life death as a way to inject pathos into the relationships, and tension into pretty much every fucking scene the guy is in. In my opinion, this tension was kind of a best-case use of what happened. It enhances the film in some ways, making the stakes feel pivotal and inserting a sense of anticipation and fear for the character that connects the level of the movie’s fiction with the reality. It’s a bit surreal and the movie is classy in how it handles it, and the eventual reveal of what fate awaits Brian O’Connor and how it might differ from that of Paul Walker.

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Brian’s hyper-competence in no way makes the character feel safe after what happened to Giselle and Han.

One of the things I said in my preamble was about the “surprise” factor of the Fast series. These movies may be dumb, but they seldom treat you like you’re dumb. No one expected Fast 5 to be as fun and respectful to the audience as it is, and they probably didn’t expect well-written scenes of character interaction and quiet drama. Then came Fast 6 where Justin Lin must have asked himself “how do I push this further?” and settled on ramping up the quality of the action, the gunfights fistfights and car-fu, to a level way beyond the obligatory and adequate state that I would say characterized the action in these movies all along (yes even the cars). Fast 5 began the embrace of the truly ridiculous and Fast 6 fulfilled it by adding in gunfights and fisticuffs that stand up on their own merit. In terms of these latter elements, Seven offers little new or exciting, but in terms of the cars… well, they really decided to take that to the next level.

Early in the film, Jack and Brian discuss (as you do) the fact that cars don’t fly. Not only is this foreshadowing for all the fucking flying cars in this movie, it becomes a running joke as these characters find ways to make their cars fly (or glide if we’re being technical) again and again. Everybody has seen the trailers that show the cars dropping out of the cargo plane, and they’ve seen the wonderful shots of Dom driving a sportscar through an Abu Dhabi tower… but these scenes are far more effective in context (especially the Abu Dhabi one) so I urge you not to feel like you’ve already seen the best stuff. Plus, there’s an amazing homage to The Transporter in here… just because!

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Kurt Russel delivers, by the way. He brings tons of fun to the film.

Another point about the sort of pall hanging over the movie is the shrinking cast. The crew is way down from the robust numbers featured in Fast 5 and it’s about time they start recruiting some fresh blood. Ramsey is okay, but isn’t given much to do in the film besides be eye candy and provide exposition/MacGuffining. Hopefully the next movie pairs her with Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) a lot so she gets a chance to shine. A better standout here is Kurt Russel’s “Mr Nobody” who acts as a sort of M or Nick Fury to the team. Interestingly, they at one point fully expect him to betray them and play his own angle (and we the audience expect it too) only for Nobody to turn out to be a pretty genuine fella who is kind of an earnest fan of Dom Torreto and his team in his own right. This stuff is some of the best interaction in the movie, and Russel even gets a great badass action moment.

Speaking of action, the two fights that really stand out are Tej’s brief moment of skills-revealed (it’s seriously a nice bit for the character) and the final fight between Statham and Diesel which really fucking delivers. Honestly, if that fight had been weak or as contrived as some of their other interactions in the film, the whole exercise of pitting badass against badass would have fallen on its face. Instead, not only is their fight the best shot and coolest staged in the film (sorry Walker and Tony Jaa), it features a fucking dual-wielding sword fight with literal pieces of cars as weapons.

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I mean, this shit is why we watch these movies.

So if Seven is a bit more uneven, a bit messier or less confident than its two great predecessors, it’s an understandable and forgiveable shortcoming after what happened during production. I try to be a “good” amateur critic, and I know I’m not supposed to regard outside factors when analysing a film. It should stand on its own merits. In this case, I have to forgive a little roughage under the circumstances. Mostly this is just the way Statham works in the film, and the relative weakness of Djimon Hounsou’s alt-villain (barely in the movie, barely does anything). At two hours and seventeen minutes long, Seven is already a little too long. Next time around, I hope they make a more concerted effort to mix up the roster, show us something new, and ramp up the escalating ridiculousness to still greater levels. I also hope they go back to the smaller, more intimate character interactions of Fast 5 and to break up the more bombastic scenes where someone says “One more funeral” or “One more thing” and then pauses before saying something like “His” or “Don’t miss” (thankfully there’s a self-referential joke about this in one of Russel’s scenes!).

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