Directed by: James Wan. I had to see this movie for a real publication, and I almost certainly would never have seen this otherwise. And maybe I should start with a summary of my relationship to this franchise (surely that’s not the most self-indulgent thing I’ve done on this blog), if only just to reassure the reader that when I say that this movie is a complete fucking mess of a movie, it’s not for completely snobbish reasons. As you can tell from my real review in the link above, I really don’t understand where these movies are at anymore, but I understand where they came from. When The Fast and the Furious came out in 2001, I was just a mid-pubescent lad like everyone else, and a meathead, fast-cars movie appealed to me as much as anything. (I even had a VHS of it!) And when 2 Fast 2 Furious came out, I thought it was pretty amusing that they made another stupid fast car movie, but I went to see it, and it was about what I thought it would be, but I was starting to outgrow the whole idea, even then. When the third (and most unanimously maligned) movie, Tokyo Drift, came out, I remember being disappointed it wasn’t called 3 Fast 3 Furious, but otherwise it didn’t make much of an impression, other than how dumb it was. That was where I left that world of Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and their whole fast-driving, outlaws-as-heroes mythology in 2006. In the intervening 9 years, as I read in the synopses for the movies, this world has just grown more bloated and farfetched and cartoonish with each passing movie in a grotesque but predictable Hollywood snowball effect: bigger box office, more people, bigger story, bigger stakes, more explosions, extra stars, higher budget, bigger box office, and so on. What I saw in Furious 7 was, as I wrote for the real review, a barely coherent, overly ambitious, teenage boy-level fantasy that actually, objectively bears more resemblance to every other big-budget Hollywood action spectacle than it does to the original 2001 film. This movie has the same stars and characters as the original, the same obsession with fast cars—they’re still fast and still furious—but I was astonished by how completely different the feel of this movie was.
The original movie was actually, on hindsight, a pretty good little movie: small in scope, modest in budget, high on action, and with a strong mythology at its core. I was re-reading my Robert Ray book recently, and his discussions about the official hero-outlaw hero opposition came to mind with regards to Paul Walker and Vin Diesel aka Brian O’Connor the federal agent and Dominic Toretto the gang leader. It’s interesting to look at how that particular dynamic was constructed in the 2001 film—the outlaw Dominic is kind of the moral centre and the interest centre, because he breaks the law in order to preserve and promote family values. Dominic and his gang of outcasts are a surrogate family for one another, and when Brian falls in love with Dominic’s sister while posing undercover in order to break the gang for the FBI, Brian realizes what we’re supposed to realize: that even though Brian nominally represents the “official” values of society versus the chaotic outlaws, in this case the forces of law and order, the suffocating restrictiveness of the FBI, don’t necessarily stand for the interests of the community, and are actually opposed to family and community which is what Dominic and the car hijackers represent, in addition to freedom, mobility, etc. In this gang of car hoodlums, this movie gives us our mutually exclusive values at the same time—the freedom and mobility of the outcast life as well as the warmth and social support of family and community. This was ringing a bell with Ray’s description of his “Left Cycle”, communities of outlaws offering a solution to the suffocation of untrustworthy, stifling institutions and law enforcement—Bonnie and Clyde, The Wild Bunch, the commune scene in Easy Rider. But in the case of this gang, that cohesion to community can remain permanent; there’s no need for Dominic to drive away from his family because they’re mobile too. So at the end of the first movie, when Brian makes the gesture to Dom to give him a head start instead of apprehending him, effectively letting him go, it’s because he’s been converted, he’s been won over to Dom’s family and what he represents. And the stroke of genius here is, when Dom drives off into the sunset, leaving the official hero behind, we know that he can go meet up with his family at any time, because they’re mobile outlaws too. Dom doesn’t have to choose, it’s Brian who has to choose. (It’s interesting to compare the denouement of the original F&F with that of the exemplary gangster flick Angels With Dirty Faces: in the latter, Jimmy Cagney, the gangster and interest centre, sacrifices his individualist, free-wheeling lifestyle and the symbolism of his outlaw status in order to promote the values of the community, giving up his life and his reputation for the community values of the moral centre, the priest; in the former, Paul Walker the cop becomes a hero by abandoning the law-and-order values of the police, and also his individualistic concerns with following the rules, building a career, etc, in order to promote the values of community and family—the values of the outlaw hero in this case.) In the subsequent movies, Furious 7 included, this interesting distinction between two worlds gets increasingly muddled as Brian convinces the FBI to pardon Dom and his friends in exchange for his cooperation in helping with increasingly huge and farfetched and global, James Bond-Mission Impossible-superhero type plots. (Robert Ray would have a field day with the way that this movie conflates and reconciles elements of both Left and Right cycles, by exalting a group of outlaws as the true moral compass of the landscape, but pitting them, in the later movies, against individual, specific, easily personified “bad guys.”) By the time of the current movie, Dom and his friends don’t really represent anything in my opinion, other than a bunch of free-floating mercenaries falling into increasingly outlandish situations that allow them to drive their cars very fast and shoot increasingly large guns at increasingly cartoonish bad guys. The core motivation to everything in this movie is basic dumb revenge: Jason Statham is the (main) bad guy, and he’s seeking revenge on Dom and the team for beating his evil brother, the bad guy in the previous movie. Jason Statham sets off a bomb in Dominic’s house, nearly killing his sister and nephew (Brian’s wife and son), and that takes care of the motivation for the good guys in the film. So there’s a nominal thread of protection of family, etc, that could make for a paltry excuse of a “theme” for the movie, but honestly this movie is just drowning in its action-genre obligations, and the most intelligent thing to be said about it is that it’s a fucking mess. (Or again, in Robert Ray terms, the franchise has basically abandoned its Left Cycle mythology in favour of simplistic, Right Cycle personified problems and direct solutions.) Maybe in 10 years, I’ll come back to this movie and parse out a really compelling negotiation of the culture’s mythology like I just did with Fast and Furious 1. But really, I just hope that in 10 years, I won’t remember that this fucking movie exists.