It’s with great regret that much of the focus in the build up to the release of the latest instalment out of the popular Fast & Furious franchise concerns the death of the prominent, and central figure Paul Walker. Yet it’s that very theme of loss and mental strength in the face of adversity that grounds this blockbuster, making for a strikingly intimate and profound offering from a franchise otherwise concerned with fast cars, explosions and women wearing barely any clothes.
Following on from the events of the preceding endeavour, the feared assassin Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is now seeking vengeance on the collective that murdered his brother. He shows he means business by hospitalising the seemingly indestructible Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) – but the others are willing to stand up and fight back, as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and co. set out to get to the nefarious antagonist before he can reach them.
Despite the tenderness to this narrative, the more moving elements don’t detract from the sheer irreverence and playful nature that has illuminated and defined the Fast & Furious franchise from the offset. Though over two hours long (which is far too long for a film of this ilk), you barely notice the running time, such is the fast pace, and unrelenting approach to action. The set pieces are impressive too, with memorable sequences in Dubai that will ensure even the most hardened of critics are jumping out of their seat in applause. This picture can be accused of being somewhat contrived in parts however, and though Walker’s passing in real life has evidently altered the tone of the feature in a touching way, it’s a little mawkish in parts, and perhaps a more palpable line between reality and fiction is needed. Though at least director James Wan can’t be accused of complacency, as this picture is over-the-top in all areas, and if anything, completely thrives in such a notion.
On a more negative note, there isn’t enough Johnson nor Statham – easily the two most intriguing characters in this instalment; while the amount of close-up shots of half-naked women dancing seems entirely superfluous. But the picture can’t be accused of being too sexist, and despite one scene whereby both Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) literally rock/paper/scissors for a woman, Rodriguez is close behind, scalding them for their objectifying – and it’s this knowing sense that lets the feature off the hook; not to mention the inclination to have strong female leads who can really pack a punch.
Talking of which, there are few franchises that pack a punch quite like the Fast & Furious collection. Though sometimes inconsistent, it’s certainly hit a high point now, and it’s of real commendation that we’re into the seventh offering – which is a rarity in cinema. The most striking thing of all is that this can easily go to an eighth feature and beyond – and even more surprisingly, is that it completely deserves to.