It’s difficult to put down in words the feeling of anticipation you can get from something you’re about to experience that you’ve been looking forward to. Moments before your favorite band comes on stage, all you can feel is the electricity formed from the buzz that’s in the air. When that special someone has almost arrived at your front door, the butterflies start fluttering all around your stomach. And for many, when the movie theater goes dark and the opening credits begin to roll, the excitement can be felt throughout their entire body. But not every movie makes you feel that way, just like not every band or person visiting makes you feel the same. Some are special. Some stand out. And when it comes to true fandom, we all know how selective and specific that movie-lovers can be.
For me, the Fast and the Furious series is one of my all-time favorites. I was there for the first film in 2001 as a mere freshman in high school. I survived the awfully good 2 Fast 2 Furious but couldn’t get myself to check out Tokyo Drift when it first came out. After Fast and Furious reignited the franchise, I caught up on Tokyo, and waited expectantly for what they would do next. Little did I know that the franchise was going to kick into a completely different gear, changing from small-time thievery and street racing to full-on heist films, getting bigger and better each step of the way. Infusing a little Dwayne Johnson into the series also helped, making Fast Five and Furious Six the most successful (and best) films in the franchise.
Then tragedy struck.
In November 2013, Paul Walker, the leading man for five of the first six films, died in a car accident just outside of Los Angeles. The filming for the seventh film in the franchise had been underway for awhile, but they weren’t quite finished yet. After Walker’s death, the filmmakers, including best friend, co-star, and executive producer Vin Diesel, scrapped parts of the original idea, delayed the film by a year, and took a break from filming. They came back several months later, armed with a new twist on the story and an aim to honor their fallen brother with whatever they put on screen. The overriding theme of the importance of family in the films was going to be brought even more to the forefront as the series drew to a (possible) close.
All that context… for what? As I’ve said before (and likely in this space) trying to separate what’s going on in the world outside of a film and what happens within the confines of the 140 minutes of screen-time (yes, Furious haters, the movie is over two hours long) is a difficult thing to do. It’s necessary, though, to give a true objective take on the values of a particular work of art. So it makes it tricky for me because, as a fan, I want to gush about how awesome the film is and tell you in a sentence that if you’ve enjoyed the series up to this point, you won’t leave the theater disappointed.
But then I think to myself that that’s not fair to you, the reader. You deserve to hear someone tell about the pros and cons of a film, describing details of the plot and explaining how the action scenes are expertly shot. But then I think to myself that that’s not fair to me, the writer. Why do I have to separate myself from a series that I’ve come to truly love just to appear objective when comic book nerds get to make a mess all over reviews of whatever the newest Marvel film is (I can’t keep up with them all). But then I think to myself that that’s not fair to you, the reader. You should want to be entertained by these reviews and at this point, isn’t your mind pretty much made up about whether or not you’re gonna see this thing? Do you really need me to tell you that it’s shout-at-the-screen fantastic, cheer-in-your-seat ridiculous and when-did-it-get-so-dusty-in-here emotional? No, no you don’t.
You’re either in or you’re out at this point. You either think of Dominic Toretto as a legitimate character, one who places family above everything else… or you don’t. You either find the idea of Tyrese doing, well, anything as funny… or you don’t. You either think that the coolest thing ever is The Rock simply flexing his cast off… or you don’t. You either think a street fight between Vin Diesel and Jason Statham sounds like a climactic battle that is rivaled by no other… or you don’t. Either the sight of a Diesel-driven car literally flying from one skyscraper to another gets you about as revved up as anything else you’ve seen on screen… or it doesn’t. You get the point.
I’ll say this much: truthfully, the film rests a solid third or fourth in the franchise. The story is not as solid as either of the previous two films. The action set pieces, while bigger and badder than anything we’ve seen yet, don’t feel the same as when they did the first time we saw that bank vault being dragged through Rio or Dom leaping through the air and saving a free-falling Letty. And dammit, if the trailers didn’t give away a bit too much of those action scenes, showing off the most exhilarating moments of the film before we even got into the theater. But all in all, it’s still impossible to be let down by the totality of the efforts here by newcomer-to-the-series James Wan and the incredible cast of characters that we’ve come to know and love.
But what sets the film apart is the final moments, a fitting tribute to the late Paul Walker. It doesn’t spoil anything to say that they treat the loss of this on-and-off-screen brother in a perfect way and those who have followed the series will undoubtedly have to fight a losing battle against the emotions as the final credits creep closer. I can actually see how someone might find the end a bit cheesy, but to those who have invested the time in these characters, in this family, it’s everything that we could have hoped for in what hopefully is the final film in the franchise. The events of this film could certainly allow for more to follow, but for me, I can’t imagine ending an eighth or ninth film any better than how this one wraps everything up.
And in the middle of it all drives Dom, leading the family at every twist and drifted turn. After re-watching Furious 6 this past week in preparation of this film, I tweeted the following: “You comic book dorks can have all the superheroes you want. I only need one: Dominic Toretto.” He may not be the hero that we need or deserve, but I’ll take him over any of those other guys and gals in masks and spandex.
Lucky for me, he’s a package deal with his whole family. And after all these films, I know deep down that I’m a part of that family too.
Ride or die.