I’d never seen a Fast And Furious film before the surprise premiere of Furious 7 at Austin’s SXSW, but I’d seen enough clips that I thought I knew what to expect. Nope. There were way more cars flying out of planes than I’d imagined and The Rock and Jason Statham fight in a room full of windows. It was fantastic.
[With the release of Furious 7 today, we’ve decided to bring back our early review as a refresher of what to expect. - Ed.]
The best place to pick up a storied franchise is probably not its seventh installment, but circumstances for the first-ever public screening of Furious 7 at SXSW — a screening that was supposed to start at 12:07 (get it?) but which ended up getting pushed to 12:22 (but if you add all those numbers up, you still get seven) — were unusual.
The filmmakers hadn’t considered premiering their film at the Austin festival until late in the day on Saturday, and somehow by Sunday afternoon the screening was announced, leaving qualified reviewers unable to attend and pressing someone who was entirely unfamiliar with the Fast and Furious franchise — and cars generally — into service to describe what the hell it was he saw in the middle of the night in a big Texas theater.
Furious 7 is ridiculous, but you probably knew that from either the first six films, the trailer, or the fact that it stars Vin Diesel, The Rock, and Jason Statham all in the same movie. And ridiculous is a great thing in the context of a movie like this: do you go see a movie like Furious 7 expecting them to not drop multiple cars (5!) out of an airplane onto a mountain road? Do you go in hoping that there won’t be scenes in which our heroes drive off of cliffs — more than once!— on purpose? This is a film where the primary question at work in determining if something might happen on screen is “is it completely outside the realm of physical possibility?” and maybe “will it look cool enough to be worth it anyway?”
The film pits Jason Statham, playing a Jason Statham type (bald, tough, British), against the intrepid band of car thieves or whatever it is Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, and the rest of their pals are, in a globetrotting adventure, the stakes of which are literally the safety and security of the entire planet.
Is this a real thing that happens in real life? Are there bands of do-gooding Robin Hood-style car thieves? Can I join? Please?
And because it’s the seventh film in a franchise, there are subplots galore: Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez are in love! But she has amnesia or something, and keeps flashing back to what I assume are moments from earlier films, and this unsettles her. Vin knows she has amnesia, but he thinks it’s romantic to talk to her like she’s got all her memories anyway.
Meanwhile, The Rock is apparently a cop and he and Jason Statham decide that they should fight in a room full of glass windows, so they can punch each other through those glass windows over and over again, which is very exciting and was also probably tough to clean up. And while all that is going on, Paul Walker (RIP, sir) seems like a mostly-happy family man, driving a minivan and being eaten away by a barely-concealed dose of ennui.
The fact that Walker drives a minivan is significant, because for what is purportedly a franchise all about cars, there’s not a ton of car stuff in Furious 7. Early on, Michelle Rodriguez does a brief drag race, resulting in an appearance by Iggy Azealia for some reason; besides that, Walker’s minivan is the most significant car moment in the first half hour of the film. Furious 7 is part of a car franchise, but it’s mostly a movie about punching.
But there are car things, too. Specifically, there’s a twenty minute stretch in the middle of the film that highlights the perfect kind of ridiculous that Furious 7 offers. After Jason Statham brings all of our heroes together to stop him, they’re recruited by the U.S. military — represented here by Kurt Russell — to pull off a rescue mission/heist in the mountains of Eastern Europe. In exchange, Russell will help them take down Statham.
If the implausibility of that situation bothers you even a little, you’re really going to hate the chase sequence that follows: When the Furious Friends drop out of the plane in their customized, armored cars to complete their mission, it’s only the start of the absurdity. The enemy cars are armed with machine guns! The enemy buses are armed with bigger machine guns! The good guy cars have torpedoes! When the chasing gets dicey, they drive off cliffs in order to escape, suffering nary a scratch! It’s a thrilling, batshit stunt show full of crashing and chasing and shooting and punching. It is downright furious.
The rest of the film never quite reaches that level of manic, destructive joy — there’s a second crazy-ass sequence involving a stolen car that is probably very famous among people who know about cars, as our heroes claim that only seven of them exist in the world, and our man Vin Diesel threatens to top the airplane stunt by driving it from the window of a penthouse suite in an Abu Dhabi highrise to a slightly lower floor of another Abu Dhabi highrise to, you guessed it, yet another high-up floor in yet another Abu Dhabi highrise. But that glorious moment of automotive absurdity is the cap on a sequence that is otherwise mostly built around people punching each other. Fine, but perhaps not what you paid for.
What you may have paid for, at least in part, is curiosity about how the film handles one of the larger elephant-in-the-room situations: Namely, the fact that Paul Walker died midway through filming the movie. Before the screening, producer Neil H. Moritz introduced the film, and begged the audience not to reveal how Walker’s character’s story resolves itself in the film.
That’s a reasonable request— if you give a shit about the franchise, sating your morbid curiosity now is less interesting than seeing how they addressed it in the film (and they certainly do address it) — so we won’t go into detail there. But it’s safe to report that, while Walker’s death may have left a void in the hearts of those who loved him and future installments of the franchise, Furious 7 is largely unscarred by it. If you didn’t know that Paul Walker had died during the time they were filming, you’d probably have no idea that it happened.
But that’s heavy talk for a movie that is mostly about big, tough people punching each other in the head a lot, or context-free images of pretty girls in small clothes washing cars, or brief-but-incredible images of cars doing things that cars probably can’t really do. Furious 7 is a ridiculous movie, and most of the time it walks on the right side of ridiculous — we’ll suspend any amount of disbelief if it means Vin Diesel is going to drive a car onto a helicopter in mid-air.
Occasionally, it gets preoccupied with the wrong things, like plot points it’s hard to imagine even the most serious of Fast and Furious fans give a shit about, but it also has slow-motion footage of Jason Statham and Vin Diesel leaping toward one another in slow motion. Ridiculous or not, all movies should probably have that.
Dan Solomon is a writer for Texas Monthly and Fast Company: Create. He agreed to do this review at the last minute because he’s a cool guy.