Culture

I Love the Fast and Furious Movies, and I’m Not Ashamed

The latest installment in the movie franchise is a critical and commercial success and affirms a traditional value.

Editor’s Note: To mark the release of The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment of the Fast and Furious series, we are re-posting this appreciation of Furious 7 and the entire series.

I’ll just come out and say it: Furious 7 is my favorite film so far this year, and I love the series it’s a part of. If that makes me a philistine, I couldn’t care less.

Evidently, moviegoers and film critics nationwide agree. Not only did Furious 7 have the largest-ever box-office opening weekend in April (and the ninth-largest ever, period), it’s expected to keep its place at the top this coming weekend and holds an 82 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie is incredibly fun. In this latest installment, we get to see street racer Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) & Co. parachute cars out of cargo planes, drive them mid-air through one Abu Dhabi skyscraper into another, and dodge the attacks of a rogue predator drone on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. I’ve never been in a screening where the audience has cheered and burst into applause throughout more than in Furious 7 — in addition to its electrifying action, it’s chock-full of priceless one-liners delivered by stars like Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at just the right moments, and in just deadpan enough a fashion that they don’t come off as too ridiculous.

REVIEW: Furious 7: A Trip to Action Movie Utopia

It’s been remarkable to watch how this movie series has developed over the nearly 15 years since The Fast and the Furious first hit theaters. On screen, Toretto and his crew have gone from being small-time L.A. crooks stealing consumer electronics to an elite international team that works with law enforcement to take down drug cartels, rogue Special Forces agents–turned–terrorists, and just about everything and everyone in between. Over the course of the series, the locales have grown more exotic and the action sequences more thrilling and over the top, but, most important, the characters have grown in depth and transcended their two-dimensional roots (warning: spoilers ahead).

The plot setup of the first Fast and Furious film basically boiled down to Point Break with cars substituted for surf boards. LAPD detective Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) goes undercover and joins Toretto’s crew to penetrate the street-racing world of Los Angeles in order to discover the identity of criminals stealing DVD-player shipments from truckers. When they turn out to be the very crew he’s befriended and become a part of, O’Conner makes the decision to let Toretto escape and drive into the Baja sunset, his future (and the franchise’s) uncertain.

Diesel didn’t return for 2 Fast 2 Furious, the sequel, set in Miami, in which O’Conner and childhood friend Roman Pierce (played by Tyrese Gibson) go undercover to help bring down a drug dealer. This is probably the weakest film in the series. It made less than the studio had hoped for, and was followed in 2006 by a third film, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Aside from a brief cameo by Diesel at the end, Tokyo Drift had a standalone plot and cast and would end up the lowest-grossing of the franchise despite some well-shot racing scenes. Most action-movie series would have ended right then and there. Why didn’t this one?

Answer: because Vin Diesel signed on as a producer, and he and director Justin Lin (who would be at the helm for the third through sixth films) had some creative tricks up their sleeve that would eventually make the series one of the highest-grossing of all time. Rather than make yet another standalone film, they used the fourth movie as an opportunity to both bring back the original cast and start connecting the previous three films’ plots and characters in deeper-layered ways. In short, they wanted to begin creating a Fast and Furious universe in which fans could immerse themselves. What helped inspire this move was unexpected, to say the least. “Vin [Diesel]’s a big Dungeons & Dragons guy, and we talked about what this franchise lacked: a mythology,” Lin told the Los Angeles Times. New emphasis was put on developing the characters, probing their motivations, and examining their relationships with one another.

The filmmakers also recognized that focusing every film’s plot around street racing would be monotonous, so they decided to subvert audience expectations by injecting plot elements from different genres that would keep the franchise fresh. The fifth film (Fast Five) is essentially an Ocean’s Eleven–style heist movie in which the crew decides to rob an evil drug lord in Rio de Janeiro. It’s widely regarded as the critical favorite in the series and is considered by many to be a modern action classic. The sixth film, set mostly in London, feels like a James Bond movie as it pits Toretto’s crew against a sophisticated team of international criminal mercenaries.

#related#Equally refreshing is the manner in which the movies are shot. Too many recent action blockbusters have been content to beat down their audiences with seemingly endless sequences of mindless shaky-cam CGI in which it’s often impossible to tell what’s even happening on screen. In welcome contrast, the Fast and Furious movies tend to use live-action stunts and effects wherever possible, and the result leaves their action sequences feeling all the more thrilling.

But beyond any plot device or shooting style, what’s most refreshing about the Fast and Furious movies is their unashamed emphasis on the importance of family. Toretto and his crew consider themselves one big one. It’s a theme that has been present since the first film, but it has grown in richness as the characters have grown throughout the series. (The sixth film even ends with the main cast holding hands and saying grace around the table, thanking God for one another.) It’s especially evident in Furious 7, which gained attention before shooting was even completed owing to the tragic death of Paul Walker in a high-speed car crash. The movie ends with a touching tribute to the late actor, and the filmmakers choose to retire his O’Conner character by having him make the most heroic decision of anyone in any of the films: to return home to be a loving father and husband to his young family. In a popular culture that too often wavers between self-referential irony and straight-up nihilism, Furious 7 stands out in its unabashed embrace of so traditional a value. And for that I can only give it my unabashed praise.

Nat Brown — Nat Brown is a deputy web editor at Foreign Affairs and a former deputy managing editor of National Review Online.

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