By Cleaver Patterson.
Occasionally a film comes along which, though what unfolds on-screen is far from erudite, the final result manages the difficult feat of combining heart and spectacle to an equal degree. Fast & Furious 7 – the latest instalment in the worldwide cinematic phenomenon – will likely be considered as inferior mass fodder by more serious scholars of the medium. However, if you see the film, you may well agree that dismissing it in this way would be a mistake.
Continuing where the previous instalment left off, Fast & Furious 7 sees Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew, being hunted by the shadowy terrorist Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who blames them for injuring his brother and leaving him in a coma during the previous film. But Toretto and the gang have other problems to concern them as well, when a mysterious government agent known simply as Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell), enlists them to help stop the theft of a groundbreaking computer programme called ‘God’s Eye’, which could have far reaching benefits for all involved.
Part of cinema’s beauty – one of the principle elements that has lent the medium its longevity for more than one hundred years – is its broad appeal. Generally there is something for everyone, from family entertainment and topical drama to insightful documentary or something which caters to minority, niche markets. More recently however, mainstream cinema releases, particularly during holiday periods or the long summer months, have veered towards the modern penchant for the franchise blockbuster – films which, for the most time, favour a bigger and brasher bang for your buck, over any resemblance to soul or content. The question is whether these two aspects – frivolity and depth – can be combined successfully? After all, with a large percentage of audiences going to the cinema to see these big budget extravaganzas, why shouldn’t they be offered something with meaning too. Well Fast & Furious 7 – or simply Furious 7 as it’s being called in America – probably comes as close as you could hope to achieving this fine balance.
Is it really fair to dismiss films like the Fast & Furious series as mere pop-corn entertainment, something which no serious cinephile would take under their notice? Admittedly some of the dialogue and set-pieces of Fast & Furious 7 frequently verges on a descent into the farcical – as when at one point Dwayne Johnson’s ‘He-Man’ like character Hobbs (an associate of Toretto) comes to save the day with, quite literally, all guns blazing. Consider though that other cinematic marvel, the James Bond franchise, which – after years in the doldrums and constant rumours of its terminal demise – has in recent years resurrected itself, culminating in Skyfall (2012), the most successful entry to date. Now no-one could ever accuse Bond movies of being examples of serious, insightful cinema. Nor though, with their clever plots and glossy production values, are they films to be dismissed out-of-hand. In the same way neither should films like Fast & Furious 7.
Here is something thats storyline twists together a number of thematic threads and subplots – high-octane entertainment and the deeper subtext of the strength of family ties – resulting in a big, brash extravaganza, which draws you in and takes you along for the ride. Visually what unfolds on-screen is a slick combination of the elements which have come to be expected from the franchise – car chases, explosions (a lot of explosions) and a large amount of realistically, wince inducing, hand-to-hand combat. Dig deeper though and this film’s cartoon attitude to death and destruction is balanced by some genuinely heartfelt references to the strong bonds of personal friendships and loyalty, mirrored in the relationships between the central characters of Diesel’s Toretto, and his brother-in-law Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their extended circle of family and friends, resulting in one hundred and thirty odd minutes of celluloid spectacle with soul.
There will always be those who claim that films which favour spectacle over form are not as legitimate as those that aim for something more substantial. Possibly. However, though finding common ground between the two is a difficult objective, if achieved – as Fast & Furious 7 comes so close to doing – the result can be a fun yet meaningful experience.
Cleaver Patterson is a film journalist and critic based in London. He is News Editor for the website Flickfeast, and regularly contributes to a number of other publications and websites including Rue Morgue, Starburst, Film International and The People’s Movies.
Fast & Furious 7 opened in the UK and USA on the 3rd April, 2015.