One of the four-thousand trailers that ran prior to my “Furious 7” screening Thursday night was for the upcoming James Bond entry “Spectre.” And what a bummer those 96 seconds are. In Daniel Craig’s fourth go-round, the world is still colorless, Bond is still working through his prissy emotional baggage, and the tone is one of oppressive brooding seriousness.
Nevertheless I don’t mourn the loss of a simpler and better era when a new Bond film promised a grand old escapist time at the movies. That, after all, is why God invented the “Fast and Furious” franchise.
The most improbable mega-franchise in movie history launches its seventh chapter this weekend, and it is everything James Bond films used to be: insanely action-packed, exotic locales, colorful cinematography, and a never ending supply of beautiful feminine eye candy.
“Furious 7” picks up not long after the previous chapter. It also ends a trilogy that began with “Fast Five,” which is when the series morphed from the anti-hero car genre to the heist genre. “Furious 7” comes straight out of the Men (and Women) On a Mission genre, and knocks it out of the park — not as far as the previous two installments, but far enough.
Back home in East Los Angeles after receiving full pardons, normal life has returned, along with all the problems that brings after more than a decade of non-stop adrenaline rushes. Dom (Vin Diesel), the patriarch of this extended family, and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are having problems related to her ongoing amnesia.
Brian (the late Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) are enjoying life as new parents. Still, he misses the action, and life in a minivan just isn’t cutting it. DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is plain bored. Everyday criminals are just too easy to catch.
In the form of a bomb, a murder, and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the humdrum gets a massive boost of NOS. Shaw is out to avenge what Dom’s family did to his brother, and he is a one man machine of resourceful, deadly, bloody, determined chaos.
With the help of Frank Petty (Kurt Russell enjoying himself to no end), an old hand in the world of black bags and covert ops, Dom gets the band back together and we are literally off to the races.
We might not even realize that what keeps us coming back to this franchise has little to do with twisted metal. There’s plenty of action movies that supply that. Like the “Lethal Weapon” and original-crew “Star Trek” series, what we love are these characters, who have now been part of the fabric of our lives for — believe it or not — nearly 15 years.
In this era of the intellectual, metrosexual action hero, what a breath of fresh air Dom and Letty and Brian and the rest are. Men are men. The women are allowed to be strong and independent without losing their beauty and femininity.
Do you remember cool? Remember badass? Steve McQueen was cool, so was Eastwood, Bronson, and Lee Marvin. In every line and in every shot, the “Furious” goal is to create something iconic, and most of all cool. This is a nerdgasm free zone. Stoic is back, and that sure beats watching Jason Bourne break down and weep like a little crybaby bitch. Real men feel things. What they don’t do is ever go the full-Oprah.
Better still, the “Furious” themes are freedom, faith and family. That’s what keeps this team of disparate characters together. That’s what keeps us coming back. And with the untimely death of Paul Walker, that theme looms larger than ever.
Maybe at 49 years of age this makes me pathetic, but I absolutely love this franchise, and have since its 2001 launch as a throwaway B-movie. The action is awesome, no question. The cars, the girls — yeah, I’m shallow. The characters and their relationships, though, are even better. A family that holds hands and thanks Jesus before every meal; protagonists, although initially misguided, who just want to be free. Best of all, an extended interracial family that never speaks of race because it just doesn’t matter.
God bless America.
Throughout the series, especially this latest trilogy within the franchise, those themes have only gotten stronger and more poignant. And it is a fidelity to those themes that makes the handling of Paul Walker’s death, not just perfect, but the franchise’s finest moment.
By all accounts, Paul Walker was a great guy who died way too young at the age of 40. This is in no way meant to diminish the tragic loss of a young man and what that means to those who knew him. In our shared humanity, we all mourn such a thing. The truth, though, is that we didn’t know Paul Walker. We have, however, spent a large chuck of our lives with Brian O’Connor, and the imminent loss of that character, especially under these circumstances, is a blow.
I’m not going to even hint at how his farewell is handled. Let’s just say it could not have been handled better.
As far as “Furious 7” not living up to the previous two installments, that’s a small quibble. After bringing down the biggest airplane anyone has ever seen in “6,” and a manic chase through the streets of Rio with that giant bank safe in “5,” the bar is set incredibly high and “7” comes up just a tad short.
Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to see “Furious 7” again.
And again and again and again.
John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC