Director: James Wan
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson
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A man walks into a hospital. He talks to his sick brother. Then, he orders a doctor to look after him – before blowing up half the hospital. Does it make sense? No. Is it fun? Absolutely.
That’s the credo that this unlikeliest of franchises has been fuelled by, getting bigger and sillier with every entry. Ever since the realisation that they didn’t have to be about cars (and could be action movies with cars in it), the Fast films have exploded – literally – into life. Director James Wan, recruited fresh from the Saw series for this sixth sequel, seizes the immediate horror of the spectacle with both hands, chucking about his camera like the cast do their vehicles. Cars float in mid-air, waiting to crash into things; people flip upside down, smacking through tables at umpteen miles per hour.
It’s an exhilarating approach, but one that occasionally gets taken too far: some sequences are hard to follow amid the visual chaos, the movie’s structure takes all kind of detours to fit in more action, while Wan, determined to stay faithful to Fast’s testosterone as well as its tension, spends half the screen time ogling bottoms as much as bonnets.
In other places, though, it all comes together with the precision of a Mission: Impossible heist: the women are given a welcome chance to beat each other to bits like muscly blokes, cars parachute from the sky mid-chase, and Jason Statham relishes the chance to play the villain as Deckard Shaw (brother of the last film’s villain, Luke), throwing himself off cliffs in pursuit of Vin Diesel’s Dom.
The sheer stupidity of the carnage is undoubtedly well-judged, with one Dubai set piece recalling the Tom Cruise flicks in more ways than one. But the joy of Fast & Furious comes from its characters’ reactions: here, fast-talking Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and wise-cracking Tej (Ludacris) gawp at their surroundings, while a new hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) is appalled by the danger of it all. In the modern cinema landscape, this is 007’s streetwise cousin; M:I’s rowdy brother. Even with The Rock sitting half the film out, the addition of Kurt Russell as a government agent boosts The Expendables-like vibe of the ever-growing ensemble, which remains entertainingly self-aware.
At the centre of it all, though, is the relationship between Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor and his adopted brother, Toretto. Even in the series’ weaker entries, the pair have always raced alongside each other with a finely-tuned chemistry; the kind of star wattage that simply makes cars look cool. The passing of Walker during the film’s production is a sad loss to the genre, but also a loss to his friends on and off-screen. It gives events an unintentional sense of real peril: when you see him trapped in a bus hanging off a cliff, you realise just how risky the seemingly reckless driving is. Rather than kill O’Connor off, though, Chris Morgan’s script takes a different route to celebrate what Walker was good at: the movie accelerates through the blockbusting, allowing our Hollywood heroes to cheat death again and again, right up until a surprisingly moving montage that immortalises Brian (and Paul) on the silver screen.
The word “family” has been mentioned countless times across the past six outings, but Fast & Furious 7 finally earns that heavy-handed sentiment, using it as the engine for its plot, from Statham’s vengeful sibling to Brian’s doting dad. The result is an absurd but touching piece of cinema, which sees its stars take flight, while remaining emotionally grounded; sometimes, it realises, the most powerful thing you can do in a car is simply take a left turn. It is fun? Absolutely. But, for the first time, it makes sense too.