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The Fast and Furious franchise has got to be one of the most unusual franchises ever. For starters it can’t decide on what we should call it. The Fast and The Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, and now Furious 7. Various words in The Fast and The Furious come and go with each entry, as does the use of numbers. Make up your mind guys. It’s confusing.

But what is even more unusual is that it didn’t hit its stride until the FIFTH ENTRY. The Fast and The Furious came out fourteen years ago (!!) to middling reviews and then every two or three years a sequel came along that adhered to the tried and tested rules of diminishing returns. The series all but seemed dead after the third one. All of the major players had abandoned ship and the critical response was at it’s lowest. But for whatever reason the gang got back together and made a forth. It made enough money to warrant a fifth, and the fates and stars aligned (as well as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson signing on) and somehow Fast Five, the fifth entry in a silly cars and crime series, became a box office smash and, even more surprisingly, somewhat of a critical darling.

Fast Five will probably always be the high point for the franchise. It was the film where everything clicked, where everyone involved realised what they could do with this large, sprawling mythology about a bunch of people so good behind a wheel they are essentially superheroes. Fast Five went big, and it went crazy. And it is really, really fun. The next film took that torch and ran with it, going even bigger, and now Furious 7 tries to step it up once again. Does it succeed?

It’s definitely bigger.

Though not necessarily better.

Plot wise the film is complete nonsense. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is the big bad brother of the villain from the last film and he wants revenge on Dom and the gang for taking out his brother. His introduction is gloriously over the top and had me smiling from ear to ear. He takes out Han (which was seen at the end of Fast and Furious 6), and then comes after the rest of the gang. Simple enough. But then the film dumps a whole other plot on top of it that is only there as a flimsy reason to get the gang travelling the globe. There is some computer program they need to retrieve that can find anyone in the world, which they can use to find Shaw (except he turns up literally every five minutes), and then a host of other villains want it back and yada yada no one cares. Which is fine, as even when the films are at their best, the plots are still largely inconsequential if not incomprehensible. But in the other films the stakes are always clearly defined and it is clear why the gang’s goals need to be achieved. That is not the case in 7.

The other problem the film can hardly be blamed for. And that’s the lack of Paul Walker and the over reliance on Vin Diesel’s Dom. In the other films there is Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) as the bickering comic relief, and then Dom, Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) as the so serious its cheesy types who go on about family and brotherhood. Walker’s Brian was the connective tissue between the two. Funny enough to wink at Dom’s over serious nature, but enough of a straight man to play well against Tej and Roman. Without him there is too much of Dom acting like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. None of this is really the film’s fault. The tragic passing of Paul Walker left the film without its anchor and it had to work around the loss as best it could. In all fairness it didn’t do a bad job. The only thing I don’t understand is why, after losing Han and Gisele in the last film and having less of Brian in this one, they decided to sideline Hobbs (Dwanye Johnson) for much of the running time. The Rock is this series rocket fuel and he elevates every scene he is in. His appearances may be limited this time out but when he does turn up the film makes the most of him. Hobbs breaking off his arm cast by simply flexing his muscle will undoubtedly be the coolest thing you’ll see on screen all year.

And that is pretty much all the film doesn’t get right. Everything else is exactly what you would want from a Fast & Furious movie. The cars are turbo charged, the stunts are insane, the ladies are scantily clad, and every line of extra strong cheddar cheesy dialogue seems to be competing to get into the trailer (The Rock delivers these with aplomb). It’s the type of film where every wall and surface in an office is made of glass just so bodies can smash through it when a fight breaks out. It’s the type of film where a car’s suspension can absorb the impact of falling from a plane. It’s the type of film where an Iggy Azalea cameo isn’t all that weird. It’s the type of film where Kurt Russel wears night vision sunglasses to blast away at bad guys. It’s the type of film where “Would you believe I knocked him out with my charm?” “You’re not that charming, bitch!” (awkwardly delivered by MMA star Ronda Rousey) is not even close to the worst line in the film. It’s the type of film that is just good fun.

Someone I went with (who had never seen any of the previous entries) commented that he didn’t understand why these films are praised for the exact same things Michael Bay’s movies are lambasted for. Which is complete bullshit. Bay’s films are typically mean spirited, homophobic, casually racist, wank fantasies that feature poorly staged, mind numbing-ly boring action scenes that are impossible to follow. The Fast films don’t have a mean spirited bone in their bodies. The cast is racially diverse. The action is crisply shot (the sky dive and ensuing sequence in this film is superb). And yes, there are shots of women in bikinis. But that is representative of the culture the film is based upon. There isn’t a close up on Megan Fox’s rear end for no reason while she delivers exposition. The films may still be fantasies but having a kick ass car and a close bond with your friends is hardly a harmful one.

Nothing sums these films up better than the  extended tribute to Brian, which is really to Paul Walker, that creeps up on you and has you openly weeping in the cinema. The final ten minutes are essentially a goodbye to Walker and the film handles it perfectly. It’s clunky but emotionally honest, which is why this series works as a whole. For as dumb and over the top as these films are, they are not powered by a souped up V8 engine, but by heart.

This series has been going for fourteen years, to the surprise of pretty much everyone. If they can remain this fun, I wouldn’t mind it sticking around for another fourteen.

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