Remember when the Fast And The Furious movies were terrible? Movies made by douchebags, for douchebags? We've come so far since the 2001 original. I never thought I'd say it, but Fast And Furious 7 is damn near perfect.
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Spoilers for previous Fast movies below.
All your favourites are back: Vin Diesel, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and, for one last ride, Paul Walker. New additions include Kurt Russell as a nameless suit and Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei in Game Of Thrones) as a sassy British hacker named Ramsey.
After defeating international bad guy Owen Shaw in Furious 6, our team of street racing anti-heroes think they can return to their lives in Los Angeles. That's before Shaw's brother, Deckard (Jason Statham), vows revenge on the team for their role in crippling his brother. You may remember they threw him out the back of a plane last time, so he's likely to hold a bit of a grudge.
Deckard Shaw goes on a rampage, attempting to pick off the Fast family one-by-one. Following the funeral of one of their own, Groot in his human form meets with a new shady government agency that contracts the team to recover a hacker and her Snowden-esque surveillance program that allows a user to hack into any phone, mic or camera on the planet to track someone down.
From there, the agency helps our team of drivers track down and best Deckard Shaw in action scene after action scene after montage after action scene. Seriously: everything explodes in this movie.
The story is standard action movie-faire, but the way it's executed is perfect. Every few minutes there's something new. Whether it's a joke from wise-cracking Tyrese or a bonkers action scene like being dropped out of a plane to take on an army of mercenaries or a cool gadget like a VTOL predator drone that tears the Fast team to bits.
Then there's the sprinkling of new stuff into a franchise that probably should have got old a few movies ago. There's the arse-kickingly untouchable MMA champ Rhonda Rousey fighting Michelle Rodriguez's character, a second hacker character to keep the film fresh and gadget-heavy, an amazing action star in the form of Jason Statham and so much more.
There's also a lot more diversity in terms of cars: Shaw brings the gorgeous European motors to the table, while Paul Walker's character brings Japanese imports, leaving Vin Diesel's character to focus on American muscle. There's something here for every car fan. Unfortunately Furious 7 still packs in skimpy clothing shots every five minutes between the action scenes. It would be nice if the representation of women was as broad and respectful as the representation of cars in the movie.
Other than that, it's shot well with a few fun camera moves to highlight the more bonkers action stunts, but it can suffer from the Transformers effect at times. Between the explosions, gunfire, cars drifting and jumping and people shouting at each other, it can be tough to keep track of 100 per cent of the time. When the dust settles slightly you figure out what's going on and catch back up, but given how much action is in the film you might find yourself needing to shut your eyes every so often just to give your brain a break.
Speaking of noise, there's a lot happening in the Fast universe these days. It's not widely known but the series isn't actually meant to be viewed in release order for it all to make sense.
For some reason, director Justin Lin who worked on films three to six decided to make them all out of order.
Here's the order it was released in:
• The Fast And The Furious (2001) • 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) • The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) • Fast & Furious (2009) • Fast Five (2011) • Furious 6 (2013) • Furious 7 (2015)
And here's the order it's meant to be viewed in:
• The Fast And The Furious (2001) • 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) • Fast & Furious (2009) • Fast Five (2011) • Furious 6 (2013) • The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) • Furious 7 (2015)
The through-line for the whole series is the character of Han, who died in Tokyo Drift but was magically alive again in the films released after that. That means we've been building to 2015's Furious 7 for three whole films: it's the first film set after the death of Han in Tokyo at the hands of the now-revealed Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), and technically the first new piece of Fast canon to screen since 2006 when Tokyo Drift came out.
For this reason, you kind of have to watch a few movies to really understand what's going on. There's very little "previously on..." or even any explanation as to who certain characters are. At one point in the movie the protagonist from Tokyo Drift — Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) — makes an appearance to discuss the death of Han. If you haven't seen that particular film, that whole scene is going to be baffling.
Even if you only watch Fast Five, Furious 6 and Tokyo Drift (in that order), you'll get more out of the new film than you would if you hadn't taken the extra time. They're fun movies in their own right and they don't require you to pay a huge amount of attention to them to understand it. It's interesting actually to see how there's more action and less dialogue in these films as the franchise progresses. None of them are Rhodes scholars so that's probably for the best.
Of course the whole movie was almost cancelled following the death of lead actor Paul Walker. His character, Brian O'Conner has been the audience's vehicle into the world of underground street racing and international bad guy-hunting since 2001's The Fast And The Furious.
Walker was tragically killed in a car accident while attending an event his charity was running, and it was unclear whether Furious 7 — which was still in production at the time — would make it to our screens.
The filmmakers decided to go the Tron Legacy route and use computer trickery to finish the film with "Paul Walker". They actually used his brothers as body doubles in the final scenes of the movie and digitally masked them with Paul Walker's face.
As a result of Walker's death, the studio decided to "retire" the character of Brian O'Connor and give the actor and his fictional incarnation a touching tribute at the end of the film that just about brought a tear to my eye. I know I'm not the only one, too. Our own Campbell Simpson messaged me a few days ago and said he was moved, as was steely-hearted Triple J reviewer and friend of Gizmodo, Marc Fennell. It's brief, beautiful, and not at all over the top like it probably could have been. It's a really nice send-off for an old friend.
What's amazing is how the Fast series has evolved with time. Go way back and look at clips from 2001's The Fast And The Furious (like the incredibad one above) and it's almost embarrassing in retrospect. It's the same as looking at photos of yourself from high school and wondering why anyone let you wear your hair that way or dress the way you did. Like you in school, the early films took themselves too seriously, but with age comes knowledge and now we all know that it's good to laugh every now and then.
The franchise has more jokes these days, fewer slurs, better cars, more diversity, better female characters and a platform that sees our protagonists thrust from scrappy street racers into a life of fighting international bad guys. It gives the whole thing more weight and makes it all a joy to watch.
The characters still aren't as smart as they should be and the dialogue is far from Shakespearean (there's hardly any, in fact), but it doesn't matter. It's not going to win any Oscars (sorry, Vin Diesel) Fast And Furious 7, but that doesn't make it a bad movie. It's a masterpiece. The perfect thrill ride.
Furious 7 is in theatres now.
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