I will apologize up front for the length of this review. I love this franchise and frequently use it as an example of a franchise that is doing it right. “It” being summer popcorn action flicks. This is the best movie of the year so far (Avengers has not yet come out). The Fast and Furious Saga is a worldwide super-hit. Inevitably you are friends with some “film snob” who loves the award festival-films and is befuddled as to why these movies keep getting made.
The answer is exceptionally simple, feel free to state this to your snooty and close-minded friend. These movies are fun, silly, over-the-top action movies that do not take themselves too seriously, have an amazingly multi-ethnic cast, pass the Bechdel test, and always hammer home the central theme that nothing is as important as family - whether that’s your family by blood, or your family by choice. That’s it – nothing too complicated; just a really effective formula for popcorn entertainment.
The original movie in this series, The Fast and the Furious, was released in 2001, and was directed by Rob Cohen. It featured the simple tale of Brian O’Conner, an undercover cop in the Los Angles underground street racing scene tasked with finding group of thieves who were committing highway robbery – literally – they were robbing trucks on the highway. During the process, he meets Dominic Toretto, his sister Mia, and their extended ‘family’ of racers, including Vince and Letty. O’Connor gets in too deep, falls for Mia, and decides to help Dom escape capture.
In 2 Fast 2 Furious from 2003, O’Conner heads to Miami, still working undercover, and meets up with his high-school buddy, Roman, to bust a Cuban drug lord who is using cars to smuggle his drugs. Here he meets Monica, another undercover agent, and Tej – a tech wizard.
In the Fast and the Furious; Tokyo Drift from 2006, director Justin Lin took over, and we head to Tokyo, in the future (that will make sense later). We meet Sean, who is suddenly going to school in Tokyo, and gets involved in the street racing scene there with his buddies Twinkie, and Han – who does get killed at the end (which is why this is the future).
Tokyo Drift was not well received (because no one can understand Lucas Black? Because no one was ready for BowWow as a movie star? Because no one knows what 'drifting' is?), mainly because none of the original cast was in it – except for a Vin Diesel cameo at the end. Justin Lin then realized perhaps it was time to head back to the drawing board, and released Fast & Furious in 2009. In this one, we reconnect with Brian O’Conner, who is now working with the FBI in LA trying to bring down Mexican drug smugglers. In the process, Letty (who was working for Brian) gets killed, and Dom sets out for revenge since someone killed part of his family, once again teaming up with Brian – who gives up law enforcement for good by the end of this movie. In this one we meet Gisele, Han shows up to help (not dead, because Tokyo Drift is the future), and funny guys Tego and Don Omar are introduced.
The fourth one was incredibly well received, and Justin Lin immediately moved forward with Fast Five in 2011. In this one, we find Dom, Mia and Brian working in Brazil – where they run into Vince, who they haven’t seen since the first movie, and come up with a plot to steal the money from the biggest drug lord in Rio to permanently get out of the game. Brian and Mia are expecting, and because nothing is as important as family – they need to settle down. But to do that, they need help, so they call in almost everyone from the previous films. Roman, Tej, Han, Gisele, and Tego and Don Omar all come back. We also meet Hobbs, and his partner Elena – two big time cops trying to bring them down. The gang gets away with the money, but not before winning over Hobbs and Elena – then disappearing. In this one, we get a post credits sequence in which we learn that Letty is still alive and helping out a European thieving team.
In Fast & Furious 6 from 2013 – which Justin Lin declared would be his last entry into the series, Hobbs recruits the crew to go after Shaw, a high class criminal who uses street racing skill to steal weapons pieces, so of course, our street racing crew is the only plan Hobbs can come up with to get him. Also – he has Letty on his team, so Dom is in to get back Letty, because she is his family, and nothing is more important that family. The team succeeds, but Letty has amnesia – and Gisele is sadly killed during the final fight, finally giving Han the motivation to head to Tokyo, where he is killed (hey – we finally caught up to the future of Tokyo Drift!). Here the post credits sequence lets us know that Han was killed by Shaw’s older brother, and he’s after the rest of our team.
Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious, the Conjuring) has stepped in to direct Furious Seven. This one started shooting immediately after the previous entry was released and became a huge hit, but tragically, when Paul Walker died suddenly in a car crash in December of 2013, production shut down temporarily to allow the cast to grieve. This was an impressive move by Universal, who proved to actually care enough about their cast and crew, who had grown into the family they portrayed, and many were unsure how to continue without him. After waiting, Wan and the crew used Walker’s two brothers Cody and Caleb as body doubles as well as some CGI to finish the film. The ending was changed to give him the sendoff that was appropriate, and the film was released this past weekend.
Plot-wise, we catch up on Owen Shaw from the previous film, and see that his brother Deckard is there with him in the hospital. The pull back as the elder Shaw leaves the hospital so that you see what he did to get in to it is outstanding, and sets the tone for the whole story. Our ‘family’ has basically retired from crime, and is enjoying the hard-earned pardons and money from the previous film. Mia and Brian are raising their son Jack, and Mia is expecting their second baby, but is afraid to let Brian know, since he’s still craving the adrenaline of past exploits. Dom takes Letty out to Race Wars in the desert in an attempt to bring back her memory, which fails terribly and in fact results in Iggy Azaela giving her a panic attack. She heads to her tombstone, and tells Dom she needs time to figure out who she is, or was, or whatever. Meanwhile, Shaw heads to Hobb’s headquarters to get the names of the team that brought down his brother. Hobbs battles him, and barely escapes out a window while saving Elsa, who is still working with him – despite the fact that he is still calling her “woman”. Of course, he calls every woman, “Woman”. Maybe he’s just terrible at remembering names.
Dom gets a package from Tokyo, and assumes Han has sent him some Japanese engine parts as he gets a phone call from Shaw. Shaw reveals that he has killed Han, and is coming after the rest of them. The package blows up, destroying the house (not the house!?! Where will the family have their barbeques?) Dom decides to go on the offensive, visiting Hobbs in the hospital for information, where he meets Hobbs’s daughter (what?). He then heads to Tokyo, where we get the post-credits cameo from Tokyo Drift as he asks Sean for details about Han. Sean gives him Han’s personal effects, and Dom heads back home, where Shaw shows up at Han’s funeral. They race, and then crash headlong into one another, but their standoff is interrupted by Mr. Nobody, a government spook with a government team. Shaw takes off, but Mr. Nobody needs Dom’s help. He wants Dom and his team to track down the “God’s Eye”, a program created by a hacker named Ramsey that uses every cell phone/camera/listening device on the planet to find someone. Nobody promises that Dom can use it once he gets it to find Shaw (nevermind that he just had Shaw right there a minute ago).
Dom assembles his crew, and they rescue Ramsey from an international bad guy named Jakande and his band of mercenaries, led by Kiet, in an incredible mountain-pass car chase.
Shaw magically shows up during this chase to make it more incredible. You’ve seen parts of it in the trailers and it is still a mind-blowing stunt sequence. Once rescued, Ramsey lets them know she hid the God’s Eye on a drive and sent it to her friend Safar who is in Abu Dhabi (of course).
He sold the drive to a Jordanian Prince, who put it in a car, which is in his penthouse at the top of the Etihad towers in Abu Dhabi. And not just any car, the Lebanese made Lykan Hypersport (which really does cost $3.4 million, and there were only 7 made). Shaw magically shows up at the tower (why do they need the God’s Eye to locate him if he just keeps showing up where they are?). The crew gets the drive, and hands it over to Nobody, then uses it to find Shaw.
They all go on the offensive to attack him in the automated factory he’s hiding in; however, he has partnered up with Jakande and Kiet, and was waiting for them. He gets away, Jakande gets the God’s Eye, and Dom and crew head back to LA to prep for the final fight. Spoiler Alert – they win, mostly. They hatch an elaborate plan that incorporates them switching Ramsey from car to car as Jakande hunts them with a drone as Brian battles Kiet trying to get to the top of a cell tower, and Dom fights Shaw on a parking garage. Just as everything seems to be heading downhill, Hobbs shows up to help eliminate Jakande, and our heroes prevail.
The last five minutes of this movie (no spoiler here, you have already heard about this) is a tribute to Paul Walker. Essentially, all the characters are sitting on a beach watching Brian play with Jack and Mia. Each actor is given their own moment to mourn, and then Dom drives away, giving us a voice over about family – and the bonds of friendship while they play clips of Walker from the other movies. Brian drives up next to Dom, chastising him for trying to leave without saying good bye, and the last scene is the two cars from above, as Walker’s car splits off, and drives off alone. It’s beautiful, and simple, and the perfect send off for his character. The theater I saw the movie in was filled, and just about everyone was crying at this point. All credit to the cast and crew for creating the perfect tribute for a man they all loved and respected.
The direction on this one is just as good as the three previous (4, 5, and 6 were better than the first three). I was a little worried because really James Wan has only done horror movies previous to this, but he really kept in the vein of the originals, and managed to yet again up the action sequences. The point of these movies is the insane over-the-top action, and this one really delivers. The chase through the mountains was amazing, beginning with the parachuting cars (sure, why not?) and including that run-up-the-bus-on-the-edge-of-the-cliff bit by Walker that you see in the trailer. The sountrack drops out at just the right moment, so you can hear the gasps in the audience as he just makes it to the back of Letty’s car. The action sequence in the Etihad Towers is spectacular from the fight scene to the Hypersport jumping between buildings (again, sure – why not?). The final sequence, with the multi-action fronts in LA was fantastic. The movie is pure fun, and really delivered exactly what it promised.
- Vin Diesel is absolutely the lead, and this is hilariously
pointed out by Ramsey when she meets the crew, and refers to him as the
‘alpha’. Vin continues to growl his way through his
portrayal of Dom Toretto, going after anything and everything that would
threaten his family.
- Paul Walker is wonderful in these movies – he was pretty
good in everything, but in these, especially the last few, you can really see
the friendship between the actors on-screen, which is always a good thing. There are a couple of tough scenes with him
because you know that he’s gone. The
conversation he was with Mia to say goodbye before the last big fight is tough
to watch, as well as the scene where Roman begs Brian to ensure that there will
be ‘no more funerals’. And yes – there
are times you can see that it is clearly not him, but a CGI conglomeration of
one of his brother’s and his face – but honestly, that works, and it’s never
enough to take you out of the movie. The
tribute at the end was incredible, and I cried all the way through it.
- Jason Statham was the perfect addition to this franchise as the new big bad. In the previous movie, Luke Evans’s Owen Shaw was a rather bland bad guy with a whole team of baddies. In this one, Statham employs his vicious charisma to make a way more interesting villain. The fight between he and the Rock was incredible and the fight between he and Diesel was really entertaining.
- Michelle Rodriguez plays Letty, still struggling to get her memory back. She has an amazing fight sequence in this movie against Ronda Rousey, but I think I prefer her fight in the previous movie with Gina Carano. Either way, Rodriguez is pretty amazing. She also had some really good scenes with Diesel as she struggles to remember herself the way he sees her. Also – I really loved that she encounters Iggy Azaela at Race Wars, and promptly gets a panic attack. Hey – we’ve all felt that way about Iggy Azaela at one point or antoher.
- Jordana Brewster has been getting progressively less and less to do in each of these movies as they go on. Remember, in the first one, she was also a street racer. In this one, she mainly does some big time hiding out in the Dominican Republic, but to be fair, she was shooting Dallas at the time. She’s just fine, and I would imagine it was a bit harder for her to do romantic conversations with Walker’s character when he wasn’t there.
- Tyrese Gibson plays Roman again, and this time gets to use his skill of ‘talking’ to interrupt the party at the top of the tower, to hilarious effect. The comedy back and forth between he and Ludacris was fabulous, although I did miss him constantly looking for snacks in this one. Maybe because Han wasn’t around to steal them from?
- Chris “Ludacris” Bridges plays tech wizard Tej, and I particularly loved that he got his own little fight sequence in this movie. He and Roman work together to come up with the mountain car-parachuting plan, and the execution is just fantastic.
- Dwayne Johnson seems to be getting even larger, and dominates the screen when he is on it as Hobbs. The fight with Statham was incredible, but even better was when he determined that Dom and crew needed his help, so he simply flexed his way out of his arm cast. Seriously. Flexed right out of it. Because he’s the Rock. The addition of a daughter was a little confusing, we had heard nothing about that in any of the previous movies, but hey – it humanized him.
- Lucas Black shows up briefly as Sean Boswell again – and it was extremely noticeable that his first scene was a clip from Tokyo Drift, but then there is a newly shot scene where he and Dom have a conversation, and he is clearly 10 years older than he was in the previous scene, 5 minutes ago. It’s jarring, but it was nice to see him back.
- Kurt Russel joins the crew as Mr. Nobody (which was originally offered to Denzel Washington – but scheduling conflicts). I would assume if there is another one, we’ll see him again. He was great, so nonchalant, and very winky with Dom and crew. Although, really, not sure why he needed Dom and crew, or why they needed him. Shaw literally just kept turning up everywhere, they did not need help locating him.
- Nathalie Emmanuel – who you recognize from Game of Thrones (she’s The Mother of Dragons’s Bib Fortuna) plays Ramsey, and she does just fine being astounded by the crew she has suddenly joined, but especially loved the quick identification of the roles of the group when she first meets them.
- Elsa Pataky (Mrs. Thor) is back as the “only-clean-cop-in-Rio” who is now working international cases with Hobbs. She gets a little action sequence at the beginning before jumping out a window with Hobbs.
- Djimon Hounsou plays mercenary Jakande who is very serious about getting and keeping Ramsey and the God’s Eye. He is a fantastic bad guy, and very menacing. I particularly love the scene of him just looking over the edge of a cliff in surprise after losing Dom after having him clearly pinned down.
- If you have never seen Tony Jaa in action, look him up. He’s incredible, and known for his speed. He gets two major fight sequences with Paul Walker in this movie, and while Walker holds his own, there is no chance he could really take Jaa, but the fight sequences are amazing! And yes, there is a sequence where Jaa quickly moves through some small spaces – which is his speciality.
- Bollywood superstar Ali Fazar joins the cast in a small role as Ramsey’s friend Safar. He basically gets them invited to the super-fancy part at the top of the Etihad towers, then provides a quick scene of comedy relief. He was hilarious and charming, and I hope to see more of him.
- Ronda Rousey plays Kara – the prince’s bodyguard, and she has two lines – and in a movie not known for its acting talents, her bad acting really stands out. That’s fine, she doesn’t need to be a great actor, she’s there to kick some ass. And that is something she does really really well.
- Noel Gugliemi is back at Race Wars as Hector from the first movie. If he’s back, why wasn’t Rick Yune back?
Again – it’s fantastic. It’s the only major movie franchise to have a cast this multi-ethnic, which is wonderful. If only other filmmakers would realize that the world loves to see someone who looks like themselves on screen. That multi-ethnicity is one of the main reasons for the success of these movies. Also – what are the odds that this is a franchise that repeatedly passes the Bechdel test? That’s the test of whether or not a movie has decent female characters – Are there at least 2, do they have a conversation, about something other than a man? In this movie, yes, yes, and yes – although two of them have a major fist fight. And yes, there is still the gratuitous plethora of shots of hot chicks dancing next to hot cars. In this one it is at Race Wars, and tons of girls writhe in tiny shorts and bikinis next to fancy cars. That’s a pre-requisite in these movies, it’s annoying, but I will let it go. Go see it – and see it in a full theater so that you can experience it with a big group, and go with your family. Because, seriously, nothing is more important than family.
9 out of 10 – taking away one point for the gratuitous ass-shaking scenes during Race Wars. I know they are part of the franchise and have been there from the beginning, but still. Gained points for everything else – the cast, the action, the fights, the cars (so fancy!), the over-the-top crazy, and the amazing tribute at the end. I loved it!
Bonus Video 1: Takers – Paul Walker was really good in this.
Bonus Video 2: Pitch Black – the first thing that really introduced us to Vin Diesel.
Bonus Video 3: The Transporter - why Statham only drives cars in movies now.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews: