1. The Fast & Furious series is very conservative. The foundational iconography is mid-century Americana, a brand new car and the open road, a small family business, the utopian notion of a car culture where nobody talks about gas prices. Family values? Vin Diesel says the word “family” every five minutes. (Make a drinking game out of it; everyone else has.)
2. The Fast and Furious series is very progressive. The films looked like Barack Obama’s America before Barack Obama had an America. The Toretto “family” is a family of outsiders. In the films’ weird world, “driving a car real fast” is a mutant power, and car thieves are hated and feared by the world at large. The films imagine a shadow world where cops are the enemy (in Fast 1, 3, 4, and 5) or just ineffectual bystanders who frequently need rescuing (in 2, 6, and 7.)
3. Imagine if American Graffiti and Rebel Without a Cause were the same movie. Imagine James Dean and Ron Howard racing each other.
4. Now imagine James Dean and Ron Howard and Tyrese Gibson attacking the flying fortress from the boss levels of Super Mario Brothers 3 because they need to save Dark Phoenix from Evil James Bond. That’s the end of Furious 6.
5. As Luke Hobbs, the (supposedly) Republican Dwayne Johnson plays an all-powerful super soldier: a World Policeman who works for Team America. Actually, he works for the Diplomatic Security Service, an actual government organization that probably doesn’t gift its employees Under Armour uniforms. This is a man who interrogates prisoners by bodyslamming them; calling him “Diplomatic” vibes Orwellian.
6. The great thing about Fast Five is that Hobbs is clearly a villain who is just as clearly the hero of his own movie. The Rock could’ve played Hobbs as the star of an early-mid-2000s action movie, back before every big action movie needed to be based on something, back before the Rock started selling himself as an alpha-male utility player and joined the Fast franchise and the Journey franchise and the GI Joe franchise and the DC Movie franchise.
7. He could’ve made the Hobbs movie right after The Rundown. Call it Diplomatic Security, or Global Bounty. Hell, just call it The Rundown.
8. Dwayne Johnson starred in Hercules in 2014, which is an interesting movie for two reasons. First, Hercules marks maybe the first time in the history of the western world, post-Ancient Greece, that the Myth of Hercules has been interpreted as an allegory about teamwork—or the importance of family, if you’re inclined to read every movie starring a Fast & Furious star as a spiritual franchise spinoff. Second, Hercules is a movie directed by Brett Ratner that isn’t terrible.
9. But World Policeman Luke Hobbs is the bad guy in Fast Five. And he’s a very specifically American kind of bad guy: the high-powered military guy who goes to a foreign city with a lot of firepower. He thinks he’s in charge of the situation; then all his men wind up dead, killed in an ambush.
10. That ambush gets replayed in Furious 7. (NOTE: I’m going to dig into some minor spoilers for Furious 7. You can recognize them because I’ll write the words “Furious 7.”) Hobbs gets sidelined for quite a bit of the movie, recuperating in the same hospital where Anthony Edwards spent Revenge of the Nerds II. In his place as the Government Guy, we get Kurt Russell, who plays a character named Mr. Nobody.
11. Mr. Nobody is a shady all-powerful government agent with a limitless budget and a penchant for the finer things in life. He’s what Nick Fury was before Nick Fury looked like Samuel L. Jackson.
12. I’m actually shocked that Furious 7 doesn’t give Russell an eyepatch, since that would’ve been a Nick Fury ripoff hiding behind a Snake Plissken homage. Maybe they’re saving that for Furious 8. Or maybe not: At one point in the process of making Furious 7, Russell thought his character might be getting killed.
13. No spoilers here: Maybe Kurt Russell does get killed. Couldn’t he still come back for Furious 8? Letty died in Fast & Furious, then came back two movies later. Gisele died in Furious 6, but Diesel hinted on his Facebook page that she might come back. Han died in Tokyo Drift, then spent a whole trilogy gradually going to Tokyo. Everyone’s career died, and then Fast & Furious brought them back to life.
14. At one point in Furious 7, Mr. Nobody goes, guns blazing, into a situation he is clearly going to dominate. It doesn’t work out like that—a terrorist with a private army intercedes. Just like it didn’t work out for Hobbs in Fast Five; just like all the cops in 2 Fast 2 Furious are useless against the terrorist-level scourge of Carter Verone’s drug empire.
15. Terrorists, insurgents, local boys with bazookas taking down trained US military personnel: This could be Vietnam, or it could be Iraq. In Fast Five, it’s Rio, but Fast Five‘s Rio is a city ruled under the totalitarian thumb of a drug lord who resembles Saddam Hussein crossed with nefarious corpo-fascist tiger Shere Khan from TaleSpin.
16. Fast Five’s Rio is either the complete opposite of real-life Rio (a cosmopolitan global city hosting the World Cup and the Olympics back-to-back) or a weirdly accurate allegorical depiction of real-life Rio (a dystopia of decadence built atop post-apocalyptic wealth disparity).
17. TaleSpin is a Disney cartoon where the characters from the Jungle Book star in a mash-up of Cheers and Wings, set in a retro-future Casablanca where the Nazis are Sky Pirates and a Dickensian orphan named Kit Cloudkicker flies a boomerang like a hoverboard. TaleSpin ran for one season a quarter century ago, and it’s one of the great weird works of aesthetic anachronism.
19. But there’s a moment in Furious 7 when a top-secret all-powerful government agent asks a drag racing car thief to rescue a beautiful computer hacker from a supervillain terrorist with a private army, because the beautiful computer hacker has invented the machine from The Dark Knight that lets you track everyone everywhere all the time using cell phones, and the only way the drag racing car thief can save the computer hacker is to parachute a fleet of sweet cars into a mountain range so somebody can fight Tony Jaa on a moving car. At that moment, you realize that the Fast & Furious films have created their own weird retro-future universe. It’s like how every Wes Anderson movie is set in the modern-day ’70s, how every David Lynch movie is a ’50s perversion, how every element of a Quentin Tarantino movie builds on some piece of trash cinema.
20. Quentin Tarantino is a fan of the Shaw Brothers, a film studio that produced some of the great early martial arts films. Tarantino is never shy about his influences; Kill Bill Volume 1 kick off with a Shaw Brothers logo.
21. In Furious 6, Luke Evans played Owen Shaw, international car terrorist. In Furious Seven, Jason Statham plays Deckard Shaw, British super-soldier turned vengeance machine. They are the Shaw Brothers.
22. When I mentioned this to Furious 7 director James Wan—another student of film history—he laughed gleefully. So I don’t think this was an intentional homage.
23. But that’s the weird thing about Fast & Furious. It seems to stumble into intertextuality almost by accident; it does without trying what post-modern auteurs like Tarantino or universe rebooters like J.J. Abrams struggle mightily towards.
24. The most famous example of what I’m talking about is the weird timeline of the Fast & Furious films. Everybody knows that Tokyo Drift takes place after the three films that followed it. At the end of Fast Five, Han meta-jokes that he’ll get to Tokyo eventually. The end of Furious 6 returned to the middle of Tokyo Drift, watching Han’s death from another angle.
25. This return was weirdly resonant, if you knew the story behind the story. Tokyo Drift was the debut Fast film for Justin Lin, the director who defined the franchise’s ascendance from spinoff dumpster to blockbuster megamovie. Before Tokyo Drift, Lin was best known for his breakout indie film Better Luck Tomorrow, which starred Sung Kang as a character named Han. In Tokyo Drift, Kang plays a character named Han. It’s possible to see Han as Lin’s onscreen surrogate. So it makes sense that the final Fast & Furious scene is the death of Lin’s onscreen self, and it makes there-and-back-again saga sense that this final scene is a loop-de-loop return to where Justin Lin began.
26. When Lin was working on Better Luck Tomorrow, he had financial problems. His company was going under. MC Hammer sent him money; apparently, he liked the script. This is a vintage Hammer story—the man never met a check he couldn’t write. I bring this up partially because Hammer probably relates to Dominic Toretto, and partially because, in Furious Seven, Ludicrous is driving a bulletproof car, and he taunts the villains shooting at him with a brief rendition of “U Can’t Touch This.”
27. Han’s death scene happens again in Furious 7, from yet another angle. In Tokyo Drift, we saw Han die. In Furious 6, we saw Jason Statham walk away from the wreckage, calling Dom Toretto. In Furious 7, we see the other side of that call. Han has died three times in Fast & Furious.
28. But that’s not how the movie starts. Furious 7 goes back to the start, too: The film’s first sequence sees Dom and Letty going to Race Wars, the big desert drag race autotopia.
29. Race Wars was nearly the climax of the first movie, the Big Race before the Big Heist. It’s a testament to how hyperbolized the franchise has become that Race Wars is now just the prologue.
30. Imagine if that’s how the every franchise worked. Imagine if Return of the Jedi started with them destroying the second Death Star. Imagine if Rocky V started with Rocky winning the heavyweight championship of the world and then getting hired by the British Secret Service to punch Saddam Hussein on a truck driving over a sinking submarine.
31. Letty has amnesia, still. This is noteworthy. Michelle Rodriguez has played Letty in four films—four and a half if you count Los Bandoleers, the heartfelt and abstract and amateurish and utterly endearing short film prequel to Fast & Furious, written and directed by Vin Diesel. Letty has had amnesia for two of those movies.
32. When you consider that Letty barely talked in Fast 1 and was only in a couple scenes of Fast 4, you realize that this is a “character” who is only really defined by the fact that she is Michelle Rodriguez.
33. I’ve been reading a lot of issues from Chris Claremont’s ’70s run on X-Men. I grew up reading comic books, so I feel comfortable in saying that we, as a geek culture, tend to praise comic books for the wrong reasons. Because for many years comics were perceived as an overlooked medium, we liked to stress how important they were. “Important” usually equaled “dark” or “adult” or “mature,” which in turn equaled “violent,” which generally resulted in “pretentious” at best or “offensive” at worst.
34. Claremont’s X-Men wasn’t any of that. I quote from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, the essential book by my former EW colleague Sean Howe: “It was the soapiest saga ever put forth by the House of Ideas, filled with agonized romances, self-confidence crises, lectures on morality, psychic scars, and worrying.” Throw in cars and that’s Fast & Furious.
35. While Claremont was writing X-Men, doormat-bland Jean Grey transformed into the vivacious Phoenix, then decadent sensualist Black Queen, and finally the power-corrupted Dark Phoenix.
36. Claremont killed Jean Grey. Later on, a different writer brought her back to life; later on, yet another writer killed her again. Letty’s arc across the Fast & Furious movies is in that ballpark—moreso when you consider that, when we met her, she was a vaguely realistic kid from vaguely realistic mean streets.
37. There’s a moment early in Furious 7 when Letty stares at her own gravestone—that’s the kind of moment comic books and soap operas and horror movies love.
38. That scene in the graveyard is one of the first times you feel Wan putting his stamp on this film. The Fast & Furious films aren’t like the Mission: Impossible movies, where each iteration feels definably unique to their director. To the untrained eye, Rob Cohen’s Fast and John Singleton’s Fast and Justin Lin’s many Fasts might not look too different from Wan’s fast. But the trained eye notices how Wan shoots every interaction between Statham and Diesel with Leone close-ups and grounded cameras staring upward. My single favorite moment in the movie is when Djimon Hounsou steps out of a car. It’s his first appearance; Wan dissolves between three different shots showing three angles of his arrival. It’s funny, and it also leaves you with the impression that Hounsou is playing the demon lovechild of Hitler, Galactus, and Gus Fring.
39. There are so many movies based on comic books now. But Furious 7 actually feels like the comic books I grew up reading—much moreso than any superhero movie.
40. And I think I’ve figured out why. So many superhero movies have action scenes that are out of this world, but the actual drama of the movies is always human-sized, down-to-earth, “real.” There was a moment where this seemed like a good thing—where the idea of making superheroes “realistic” felt like a natural maturation for the medium.
41. But this “realism” also makes a lot of superhero movies just feel small. In the worst superhero movies, any scene without a fight feels about as essential as an in-game cinematic for a videogame.
42. Like, look at the Iron Man movies. In three movies, what happens to Tony Stark and Pepper Potts? Well, they banter. And they banter. And Tony saves Pepper a couple times. And they banter. And then they get together, and they become a completely functional couple. They work together. In Iron Man 3, Pepper dies, comes back as a superpowered being—but then she gets “cured” into normality, and they kiss.
43. In a roughly equivalent amount of movies, Dom and Letty have been a thrillseeking racer couple staging automotive heists. Then Dom went on the run. Then Letty died, and Dom avenged her death. Then Letty came back to life, with amnesia, and shot Dom. Then Dom flirted with her by dragracing through the streets of London. In Furious 6, there’s that moment when Letty is flying through the air to her death, and Dom crashes his car so the momentum can send him flying through the air to catch her. “How did you know there would be a car here to break our fall?” “I didn’t.”
44. Now there’s Furious 7, which features a moment in the Dom-Letty relationship so insane that it feels like two years of Chris Claremont narrative got mashed into two minutes of screentime.
45. It’s all heightened, is what I’m trying to say. The action scenes are crazy, but so are the scenes without action. In Fast Five, Dwayne Johnson is never not sweating. In Furious 7—MINOR SPOILER ALERT—Jordana Brewster is pregnant again.
46. So many recent superhero films are all about bringing the superheroes down to earth. Just look at the posters: broken Batman mask; tarnished Captain America shield; Iron Man literally falling to Earth. The Avengers is a movie that imagined the most powerful people ever as a funny-annoying workplace family. The Fast & Furious movies are the exact opposite: These are movies that take people who are supposedly normal and make them look like gods.
47. When I talked to Chris Morgan a couple years ago, he described the Fast heroes as “blue-collar superheroes.” And in a weird way, the hyperbole of the last few Fast films has more in common with early Marvel Comics than any of the recent Marvel movies. It’s that old Stan Lee tone, where everything’s an exclamation and a mock-Shakespearean soliloquy.
48. Seriously, don’t half the things Dominic Toretto says sound like they could’ve been written by Stan Lee? “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility!” “You don’t turn your back on family, even when they do!”
49. Imagine if, in the late ’60s or early ’70s, Lee decided to cash in on the car-movie craze and demanded that Marvel launch their own comic book about a badass with a cool car. Imagine the opening expositional text: “Dominic Toretto—The Man Who Lives A Quarter-Mile At A Time!”
50. Every Fast movie is a different genre. The Fast and the Furious was an undercover-cop thriller, which is a roundabout way of saying it was Point Break with driving instead of surfing.
51. 2 Fast 2 Furious was the mismatched-buddy action comedy, 48 Hours where everyone thinks they’re Eddie Murphy but nobody is actually Eddie Murphy.
52. Tokyo Drift was the high school drama— Rebel Without a Cause Goes To Japan.
53. Fast & Furious was the revenge movie, darker and unfun—the only Fast film that feels vaguely Nolanized.
54. Fast Five is the heist movie: Ocean’s Expendables.
55. Furious 6 is the James Bond movie, with Letty reimagined as the Bond Girl archetype who works for the bad guy but winds up with the good guys.
56. What is Furious 7? I think it’s the cartoon.
57. And I mean that in a couple of different ways. Jason Statham’s role in the movie is nominally “the bad guy,” but he’s used in the weirdest way. Deckard Shaw and Dom Hobbs actually face off almost immediately: They ram their cars into each other. The entire middle part of the movie is about Dom doing an entirely different job to track Deckard down: He’s going to pick up the God’s Eye, aka the Enemy of the State/Dark Knight/Person of Interest device, and then use it to track down Deckard. Except that Deckard keeps on appearing, all of the time. Whenever there’s an action scene that has become a five-ring circus, Jason Statham suddenly appears with a rocket launcher. It’s like an old Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon, except everyone’s a Roadrunner.
58. Furious 7 also feels a bit more animated than the previous films. All big movies use digital effects, but the Fast films under Justin Lin also focused on stunt work and practical effects. (One of the best half-hours of my life was when I talked to stunt coordinator Jack Gill about the Fast Five bank vault scene.) Furious 7 moves the series into the stratosphere. Literally, the stratosphere. Cars jump, out and off and through. When a car jumps out of a building, Wan shoots it like a spaceship .
59. And, of course, one of the main characters in Furious 7 is partially animated.
60. Paul Walker died midway through making this movie. When I spoke to director James Wan, he described the movie as “a tribute to Paul.” The film makes that tribute explicit, but only by finally confirming that the whole idea of “family” espoused by Fast & Furious is open enough to encompass anything. The last two movies have turned on the idea that the greater Toretto “family” is so important that Brian can leave his wife and child behind to chase car terrorists; this film circles around to the idea that Brian’s own “family” is where he really belongs.
61. Now, Universal was always going to finish this film. You could be extremely cynical and say all this talk of “tributing” is nonsense. They wanted to make money.
62. I dunno. I think Furious 7 is pretty much as sincere and humane as a $250 million Q2 corporate investment can be. Walker’s career was defined by Fast & Furious. He starred in six of them, one more than Vin Diesel as of now. He worked with some of these people for a long time. His death clearly had a real effect on Michelle Rodriguez and on Diesel.
63. So some scenes in Furious 7 are awkward. It’s not quite Plan 9 From Outer Space, where somebody “played” the late Bela Lugosi by covering his face with a cape. But there are scenes where Brian O’Conner is out of focus in the background, and there are scenes where Mia seems to mainly exist to talk about how Brian is feeling. If you’re looking for it, you can spot how old scenes got nip/tucked into new scenes, with Walker reaction shots playing off new close-ups on Diesel saying “You have to go now, Brian, your home planet needs you.”
64. Conversely, there are scenes of Paul Walker onscreen where he is clearly and undeniably Paul Walker. There’s a long action sequence where he fights Tony Jaa in a bus. This is in the trailer. The bus flips over, hangs off a cliff; Walker runs up the side of the teering bus, jumps into thin air, and lives. I’ve seen Furious 7 twice; both times, the audience applauded. He’s dead, but he survived.
65. Is it weird watching Paul Walker drive fast cars? I really don’t know. Is it weird watching Humphrey Bogart smoke cigarettes?
66. There’s a tendency to describe the Fast movies as “bad” or “dumb.” This is true even among people who like the movies—you read a lot about how Fast Five is “one of the best bad movies” or how the series is “dumb in the best way.”
67. When I was trying to explain to someone why they should watch Fast Five recently, I actually used the word “dumb,” in the context of saying it is “one of the best and most entertaining dumb movies ever” etc. I wish I hadn’t said that; I don’t know why I did; I don’t really believe that.
68. Because I think it’s a cheat, a way to diminish the genuine pleasures and thrill-drunk kineticism that all the movies tap into. What makes the Fast movies dumber than any other franchise of the moment? When did we all decide to treat superhero movies like Gospel? Like, when did we, as a culture, reach a point where we actually have profound opinions about Ghostbusters—a franchise that produced one very good movie and one kinda meh movie and one pretty-okay Saturday Morning Cartoon?
69. I think a better word for the Fast films is “unabashed,” or “unashamed.” Or just “good.”
70. Conversely, Modern superhero cinema is an abashed cinema; the trailer for Ant-Man ends with a gag where one Ant-Man asks another Ant-Man if they can call the movie anything but Ant-Man. Modern blockbuster genre cinema is vaguely ashamed of itself; Interstellar and Gravity are two thrilling outer-space movies that feel the need to add utterly boring plotlines about how the outer-space travelers really really love their kids.
71. People who backhanded-compliment the Fast films by calling them “good bad” or “funny bad” tend to gravitate to Dwayne Johnson’s influence on the movies. The films have undoubtedly gotten bigger and wilder since he joined in Fast Five, and Johnson brings a sly wink to pretty much every punch he throws.
72. But the Fast movies are what they are because of Vin Diesel.
73. Diesel has one of the strangest career arcs of any actor in Hollywood today, and it’s an arc defined by Fast & Furious. Back in 2008, when Diesel was starring in Babylon AD, he was talking a lot about returning to the Fast & Furious films and doing another Riddick movie. This sounded insane in the context of 2008.
74. The next seven years are a story of magical thinking run amok: Every Fast movie has grossed more than the last, and earned steadily rave-ier critical raves. The third Riddick movie made almost $100 million worldwide, which isn’t huge but is an impressive amount for a movie that opens with twenty minutes of Vin Diesel walking half-naked around a greenscreen desert declaiming off-brand Terrence Malick narration.
75. The first Fast movie was conceived as a star vehicle for Paul Walker, coming off a turn-of-the-millennium run in Varsity Blues, She’s All That, and The Skulls. In all those movies, Paul Walker plays the golden-boy superstar. But weirdly, Walker is the star of none of those movies: His golden-boy alpha male always functions narratively as the beta-male second banana, a foil or support staff for James Van Der Beek, Freddie Prinze Jr, and Joshua Jackson.
76. That happened in The Fast and the Furious, too: Walker’s the protagonist, but Diesel is Diesel.
77. Who is Dominic Toretto? What is Dominic Toretto? Is he young or old? In The Fast and the Furious, he’d coded both ways: He’s an outlaw roustabout with a penchant for throwing Corona parties and flirting with babes and talking about his daddy issues, but he’s also an ex-con who looks like he lived a couple dozen lifetimes of crime before Brian O’Conner found him.
78. Some of this is the residual Point Break-ness of that first film—Patrick Swayze in Point Break is either an endearingly sincere bank robber or an incredibly cynical hippie—but that carries forward through all the films that follow. Dom is the “father” of his team, the guy who brings everyone together in Fast Five to construct an elaborate plan to steal a lot of money. But he’s also the guy most likely to say: Screw the rules, let’s just steal the bank vault. In the immortal words of Xander Cage, the guy Diesel played when he didn’t want to do 2 Fast 2 Furious: “Stop thinking Prague Police, and start thinking Playstation.”
79. Diesel thinks Furious 7 should win Best Picture. I dunno, guys. Of the four movies nominated for Best Picture in 2014, maybe four of them were better than Furious 7, and that’s if you pretend the last half-hour of Birdman never happened. I know, the Academy doesn’t like genre movies: Welcome to forever! I’m an avowed Oscar skeptic, so let’s set aside the question of the variable qualitative merits of Argo and The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire and Crash. It’s more interesting that Diesel cares about the Oscars. It reminds me a little bit of Kanye West, the only man alive who thinks the Video Music Awards actually matter. There’s a sincerity there, unabashed.
80. In a weird way, Diesel and Johnson in the last three Fast movies have become a latter-day version of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, albeit in the very specific context of a single franchise. In action-hero terms, Schwarzenegger was the ultimate opportunist: A self-parodying strongman who allied himself with smart directors. I prefer Schwarzenegger’s movies, but I prefer the idea of Stallone: The guy who always wanted to write and direct his own movies, the guy who so wanted to end the Cold War that he turned a franchise fourquel into a movie about ending the Cold War with his fists.
81. Diesel is the Stallone in this equation: He could play Dominic Toretto for the rest of his life. Johnson is the Schwarzenegger. Like, put it this way: The Rock will never write/direct a dreamy, romantic, semi-abstract twenty-minute prologue spinoff about Hobbs.
82. There’s a quiet moment in Furious Seven where Dom and Letty are all dressed up, riding an elevator up to the top of a skyscraper in Abu Dhabi. Dom’s rocking a tux, Letty a glamour gown. Diesel whisper-swallows a throwaway line: “I feel awkward.” This is a guy who once crashed his car out of a crashing plane, who saved Rio from evil by weaponizing a bank vault, and he feels awkward wearing a suit.
83. Diesel was 33 when The Fast and the Furious was released in theaters. Jesus Christ was 33 when he was crucified. Admittedly, we don’t know either of those guys’ precise ages—one of them keeps their private life very private, and one of them is Jesus Christ.
84. I bring this up partially because death and resurrection are a weirdly constant motif in the Fast films, and partially because I was watching Fast Five for the hundredth time on television the other day, and I paid special attention to how often that film cuts to statue of Christ the Redeemer above Rio, and then I watched the scene where Diesel says “THIS IS BRAZIL!” and I noticed this and now it’s all I think about:
85. Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa, Jason Statham, and Ronda Rousey are all in Furious Seven. Kurt Russell is one of the great action heroes. So is Tony Jaa, if you’re inclined towards martial arts cinema. Statham isn’t a superstar, but he’s a good earner; most of his movies are halfway decent, and Crank 2 is freaking great. Ronda Rousey is a real-life fighter, the kind of personality that used to star in action movies before capital-A Actors started taking all the good roles; she has to settle for ensemble Expendables work and filling the Gina Carano role of Woman For Michelle Rodriguez To Fight.
86. So although the Furious movies are always about Dominic Toretto, they are also weirdly democratic—they keep adding in more international action stars with every movie.
87. The counter-argument is that the Furious films keep adding more international action star for our American heroes to pummel. Tony Jaa is one of the world’s great onscreen martial artists, and in Furious 7 he’s evenly matched with Paul Walker. Joe Taslim from The Raid is ultimately no match for the heroic stylings of Tyrese Gibson. Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey are actual real-life fighters, and Michelle Rodriguez kicks their butt.
88. It’s that old dissonance: The Furious films are globalized, but only to the extent that Our Guys win in the end. This means the movies appeal equally to internationalists and isolationists. Tokyo Drift treats the local atmosphere seriously and features genuine Japanese movie legend Sonny Chiba—does Tarantino love these movies or despise them?—but it’s also a movie about the white kid with the dirty south accent becoming Drift King of Tokyo.
89. In Fast Five, Dominic Toretto is a hero for the underclass in Brazil, which also means that the Brazilian underclass needs an American savior—an American savior who steals bloody money from a dictator and buys a sweet house in a different country.
90. The Terracotta Army sculptures are about two thousand years old. In Furious 7, they appear to be located on the 120th floor of a building in Abu Dhabi, and Dominic Toretto drives a fast car into that building and straight through the Terracotta Army.
91. Have you ever heard the phrase “The Great Game?” Roughly, it’s the idea of Central Asia as a place where the Great Powers of the world battle each other for dominance. It’s the Middle East as a setting—a gamespace, the equivalent of a Grand Theft Auto open-world—with all that “civilization” just a colorful backdrop. The Furious films have this instinct, too.
92. But the Furious films are equal-opportunity. The final sequence of Furious 7 sees the characters return to Los Angeles. They’re going to arrange a final showdown. “I don’t even have a gun!” complains Tyrese. You don’t need a gun, someone says: We have a whole city. So the end of Furious 7 basically turns downtown Los Angeles into an elaborate videogame mission, complete with Brian O’Connor climbing up a Far Cry radio tower.
93. Of course, some of the great car-crash movies used downtown LA as the backdrop: Walter Hill’s The Driver, Nicolas Winding Refn’s pseudo-remake Drive. Collateral ends in downtown LA—and not to continue to get weird about Collateral, but there’s no evidence to deny the fact that Jason Statham plays the same character in Collateral that he plays in Furious 7.
94. Kurt Russell has a lot of scenes in Furious 7. It feels a little bit like this was a cameo that became a supporting role in the post-Walker rewrite. Russell is great—so great that you wonder why he hasn’t had smaller roles like this in other big movies. He overdelivers on this material—a stark contrast to the Oscar winners who tend to play these roles in blockbusters, who deliver their lines like they’re slumming and they know it.
95. Think Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner in Man of Steel: two Oscar winners playing two boring Superman dads. A prestige actor’s instinct is to make pulp sound important; Russell makes it sound fun.
96. Furious 7 is more over-the-top than the last few movies. Its spirit oddly feels aligned with 2 Fast 2 Furious, the only film with no Diesel. 2 Fast gets a bad rap. I won’t say its underrated—this whole saga is underrated; it belongs in a museum!—but I do think it contributed more to the series than it gets credit for. Its the least brooding of the films, the most candy-colored. 2 Fast 2 Furious is the movie where everyone drives a bright-neon car. It’s the movie that ends with Brian and Roman flying a car into the bad guy’s boat. That moment is the Mitochondrion Eve for half the action scenes in Furious Seven.
97. Drink every time Djimon Hounsou says “WHAT???”
98. “When I first met Vin at his house, we talked about many things, but the one area that we focused on was the showdown between Dominic Toretto and Deckard Shaw. And I remember saying to Vin: ‘I’m a big fan of Filipino Martial arts, Kali and Escrima, where they smash each other with big sticks.’ Vin says: ‘You know what, James? I’ve been practicing that martial art. Just wait here a second.’ He brought me these two fighting sticks, given to him by a grandmaster in the Philippines, and he proceeded to show me these really cool moves. ‘Oh my god, Vin,’ I said, ‘That’s what we have to do for the ending!’ ‘Yes, except we’re gonna do it the Fast & Furious style,’ he said. ‘Dom is gonna fight with giant wrenches and pipes.'” —James Wan, in conversation.
99. This is what it looks like when Vin Diesel steps in front of the crowd at the world famous TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre in Hollywood to introduce Furious Seven:
100. And this is what my mom texted me when she heard I went to the world premiere of Furious Seven at the Chinese Theatre: