The distillation of all that Pop movies can and should be, in a flawed but irrepressibly enjoyable film that is also a fitting and heart-breaking tribute to Paul Walker. Tears of joy and grief will be shed.
There are lots of different types of Pop movies. There’s Pop, POP!, pop, and Po(o)p. The Fast & Furious movies began as low key pop movies about street crime, but have now debatably swerved into the fourth kind of pop film, and have reached their culmination with this latest entry: fully-formed and overblown POP! Cinema at its most exemplary. Not necessarily its best, but the best example of it. Because even when Fast & Furious 7 does not work, when it is too self-involved and (one dares say) boring, at its finest it is ludicrous and by God does it know it.
Jumping from the blatant ‘Point Break with cars’ of the first film to this seventh instalment, would give you a headache. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) starts to hunt our heroes for putting his brother Owen (Luke Evans, Fast 6’s villain) in a coma. He hospitalises Luke Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) in his pursuit of information, kills Han (Sun Kang), and blows up the Toretto’s home, nearly killing Dom (Vin Diesel), Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Brian (Paul Walker). But before Dom can go after Shaw, he and his team are approached by Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody to retrieve a super (stupid) MacGuffin that can track anyone on the planet by hacking into literally everything with a lens or a microphone. If they recover this, Russell says Dom can use it to find Shaw (who is following them anyway) and take him out with it. The crazy part is that the plot is nothing more than an excuse to put our death-and-physics defying heroes in even more crazy scenarios across the globe.
These scenarios have been promoted heavily in trailers but that doesn’t take away from seeing them on the big screen in all their glory. Cars fall out of planes and float down to a mountain road supported by parachutes. A bus falls off a cliff as Walker sprints back to ground along its side. A supercar leaps between three skyscrapers. Statham and Diesel beat each other with spanners and pipes, as the machismo threatens to drown the entire audience. These aren’t just fun sequences that carry you away with their ridiculousness, they are exceptionally well-made. The set-piece that begins with parachuting cars turns out to be the franchise’s greatest sequence, and one of the strongest in recent years. Like all the action, it feels familiar, but more inventive, or perhaps just more insane than you have ever seen it before.
James Wan directs this instalment, taking over from Justin Lin. He made his name with horror films Insidious and The Conjuring, as well as the original Saw. That genre’s influence can be seen in his treatment of Statham’s character Deckard Shaw. He just turns up to create more problems for the team; a cooler, tougher, handsomer Jason Voorhees. Magically appearing wherever they are, there is no justification for it. There also should not be. Wan is returning to that genre with The Conjuring 2, but one hopes he returns to action again. His own style melds extremely well with the established tenets of this series, without feeling homogenised. There are so many rapidly flashing shots of scantily clad women in bikinis gyrating that epileptic misogynists will be put into both figurative and ‘literal’ heaven within seconds. Yet there are also dizzying moments when the camera spins with characters as they fall or are thrown. Wan completely understands what fans want from the series, and delivers way more than any could have asked.
Of course these films are secretly about enjoying the characters. If Roman’s (Tyrese Gibson) stupidity and bickering with Tej (Ludacris) does not make you smile then you will not enjoy these films. If you find yourself gagging at Dom’s heavy-handed earnestness over the issue of family, and his romance with Letty (Michele Rodriguez) then you will really not like this one. The real-life tragedy of Walker’s death has undeniably impacted the film. Does Diesel believe that audiences buy or care about Letty’s memory-loss? Or are their scenes together a way of dealing with Walker’s absence? Because there is no denying that the most believable and most enjoyable relationship of these films was Brian and Dom’s bromance. Walker’s easy charisma and likeable persona is greatly missed, and the question of how Wan will resolve Brian’s fate hangs over the entire two hours and seventeen minutes. Yet what they do about it is not only a fitting conclusion for the character, it feels entirely in line with the man and his work. It is a reminder that the cast and the characters are a real family. With Fast & Furious 7 you feel more than ever before that it is the truth.
Fast & Furious 7 (2015), directed by James Wan, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures International, Certificate 12A