This poster for the seventh “Fast & Furious” movie has been all over town for the past month or so. It depicts a downcast Vin Diesel seen in an over-the-shoulder profile, and a stony-faced Paul Walker standing across from him.
For a franchise that has always thrived on fast cars and pyrotechnics, the posters for the past several sequels have often been much more understated and less showy than one would expect, and the solemn tone of this one is consistent with what has come before. Any poster for this movie would have been tinged with sadness, of course, given the untimely death of key actor Paul Walker in an auto accident in 2013. What I find odd is the strange disconnectedness of Walker’s gaze in this composition; he seems to not be actually looking at Vin Diesel. Or, put another way, he doesn’t really seem to be there at all, which he almost assuredly wasn’t; the poster was very likely composed in Photoshop long after Walker’s death. If that’s the case, it leaves a lot to be admired in terms of craft, but it’s also a strangely appropriate acknowledgment of his passing. The way that Diesel doesn’t seem to see Walker, and the way that Walker doesn’t seem to be there with Diesel, makes it clear that Walker is a kind of ghost.
All the same, it doesn’t deter me from wanting to see this movie. When a film franchise hits its seventh installment, it’s a safe bet that it’s also entered the territory of the absurd. This is certainly true for “Fast & Furious”—it’s been true since at least the third sequel. But these films have a strange, visceral allure. They’re resoundingly nonsensical, blithely retrograde, and embarrassingly simplistic. Yet, at the same time, they’re still remarkably heartfelt and unabashed in their depiction of a makeshift family that genuinely cares for one another, even if that family is possessed by a sociopathic need to put themselves and others at extreme physical risk, usually inside or in close proximity to speeding automobiles. These characters are monsters, in truth, but they are so loving in their monstrosity that they’re irresistible.
It’s also worth noting that the “Fast & Furious” series is the first monumental film franchise of the 21st Century. Sure, we’ve had “Harry Potter,” “Hunger Games” and others. But this is the first franchise that has a decent shot of being a mainstay for the next several decades, even when its core actors have moved on. It seems likely that there will be “Furious” entries long past Vin Diesel’s tenure, just as there have been countless James Bond movies since Sean Connery left the role.
More to the point, “Fast & Furious” is the first major film franchise to actually look like the 21st Century. Its ever-expanding cast is practically a model U.N., full of non-white characters who are often of unidentifiable descent. They spend their time in the kinds of places that more traditional Hollywood characters don’t like to go: East L.A., Brazil, the Dominican Republic, the U.S./Mexico border, among others. And, behind the camera, the films are helmed by a surprisingly non-white roster of directors: John Singleton, Justin Lin and now, for “Furious 7,” James Wan. That’s an unprecedented record of directorial diversity—it’s also the only instance I know of that a major Hollywood franchise has been handled by not one but two Asian directors.
I have to admit that I was very dismissive of these movies for a long time. I’m not a fan of Vin Diesel’s mealy-mouthed school of acting, and I found their lizard brain approach to storytelling to be not a little offensive. But somehow I ended up watching each of the six movies to date and getting caught up in their convoluted contemporary mythology and their genuinely inventive action choreography. They are base entertainments, it’s true, but like the best genre movies they don’t settle for merely hitting their expected marks. They work very hard to deliver the kinds of things you want most from film: action and thrills, yes, but also the sense that the people on the screen and the people behind the camera genuinely care about their work and about each other.