Vin Diesel is the Sun around which all else in this franchise revolves. Without his warmth sundry characters shrivel up and die. Though I must point out that until The Rock arrived, Diesel shined more because of the uniform snarling dullness surrounding him.
This is indeed astounding. Diesel is of indeterminate ethnicity, of indeterminate age and indeterminate intelligence. He is either very smart or very dumb (I seriously doubt that there are any in betweens), yet he has powered this franchise through humble beginnings and rough intermediate episodes to a point where it is undoubtedly the second biggest ongoing cinematic story currently being told. The King obviously being Star Wars…
Diesel is Dom, the leader of everyone’s favourite illegal drag racing, truck heisting, street justice dispatching crew of multi-national scowlers. If Dom seems sad, we are concerned. If he is roused our attention is piqued. If he is angry our pulse pounds…
That’s the theory, and despite my best efforts to resist it often works.
The Fast franchise is the most sure fire product going. The biggest stars line up to play either villain or sub-hero. Corporates beg for screen time and prominent placement. And the audience lines around the block, with huge box office assured regardless of reviews.
Despite my total disinterest for this series I must admit to having watched a couple films in the past and not being disgusted by the product. With my wife’s urging it was agreed that we would indulge in a weeklong ‘Fastrious’ marathon. One film per night regardless of my octane levels.
In: Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker). Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel). Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Mia Toretto (Jordanna Brewster). Vince (Matt Schulze).
Our first film emerges from humble beginnings, with a plot that is little more than Point Break on wheels.
The perfectly scruffed blonde locks of Brian show more personality than the couple hundred pounds of gorgeous living tissue below the coiffure. Our series initially revolves around his efforts to infiltrate the illegal street racing scene, with the authorities believing that those within the scene are responsible for a series of moving heists, with large container trucks being hijacked of their goods.
Everyone knows that within the circuit Dom Toretto is the undisputed ruler. The races wait with anticipation upon his arrival, and seemingly nothing goes down without his sage nod. This is despite the presence of many gangs, all apparently based upon ethnicities, with the Asians, Mexicans and African Americans (well at least Ja Rule) all represented and implied to be potentially responsible for naughtiness.
As Dom arrives, a calmness is imposed upon kinetic surroundings. He is the opposite of adrenalin, though his life is so full of pressure and action.
In Dom’s world everyone has multiple jobs, and that’s aside from looking physically flawless. There is Mia who is both Dom’s sister and Brian’s love interest. There is Letty who is both surly mechanic and Dom’s love interest. And in this episode Vince, who is the primary antagonist within the group, due to his personal affections for Mia and blind loyalty to Dom.
As happens with such films (Gangs of New York being an embarrassing example) Brian finds favour in this world with ridiculous ease, and sets to uncovering the truth without blowing his cover. They take him under their wing and begin to show him the ropes.
Again, the comparisons to Point Break are inevitable, numerous and impossible to discount as coincidence.
I must admit the car racing and chase sequences hum with undeniable energy, thanks to quick editing and some nifty effects shots – though winning really does seem to be a matter of who triggers the NOS (nitrous oxide) boost at the right time – and the Skittle coloured cars hurtle across the screen at aesthetically pleasing velocity.
While I could happily describe this as effective and worth checking out, nothing here screams ‘get ready for six more of these’, let alone ‘Vin Diesel will be the hub of the biggest franchise thus far in the millennium’.
What is evident in retrospect, are some of the regular traits to watch for across the series;
Best Stunt: A performance car being driven under the trailer of a moving truck. (This is undeniably cool, so it happens not once but twice.)
Cars Totalled: A mere 3! Yawn…
Soundtrack Rating: 4/10. A mix of bland techno and faux rap hardness.
Best snippet of the Wis(of)Dom: “It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning is winning.”
Finishing Position 1 – 7: 3
Out: Dom. Mia. Letty. Vince.
In: Roman (Tyrese Gibson). Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes).
Hangers-on / Bad Guys: Ludacris & Devon Aoki & special guest bad guy Cole Hauser.
And then they all went and forgot about Dom. Like your favourite sports team the alarm bells are already ringing at the news of the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’. Let’s just say Eva has a lot of work to do…
Welcome to 2 Fast 2 Furious, brought to you by Pepsi and Reebok. At least judging from the shameless product placement.
Without Dom we have corny jokes and big beaming smiles all over, even as bullets fly and cars are screaming around corners. Why does no one make room for the ‘fury’? Without Dom we don’t get the Wisdom of Dom. We don’t get the 5 different facial expressions which are all degrees of wooden – no wonder he was cast as a tree. Above all, without Dom the tone of the film veers to the dangerously cheesy.
Without Dom, little did I know that the sight of Ludacris rocking a ridiculously large fro would be the highlight of this entirely tepid and luridly day-glo follow up. The Big Development here might well be that the cars do more than go in straight lines now. Revolutionary.
With true inspiration light on the film moves the focus to a decidedly more ‘street’ bent. There are far more hip black guys, far more bouncing booties, and a series of vehicle mods that Xzibit would be proud of… Do people still reference Pimp My Ride?
After an initial street race that reiterates Brian’s racing bond fides vs less a field than a melting pot of white, black, Asian, Latino – maybe the organisers were ticking off a census? – the action moves to Miami. Brian and Roman, the lifelong friend Roman he never bothered mentioning before and more importantly, a man allergic to sleeves – must first infiltrate, then bust, a gang run by a menacing Cole Hauser.
Monica Fuentes provides Brian with a love interest as well as being important to the plot in other ways beyond wearing a series of outfits that would have her sent home from any office job. Though that skill is important too…
But what of the racing? Well it’s ok, but too obviously cgi assisted too frequently. The damage bill for the vehicles would be quite high this time around, especially in a lengthy highway chase midway through the film, but the velocity and adrenalin levels are very low, and the entertainment value even lower.
Perhaps someone saw something I didn’t, because based upon this film, there wouldn’t have seemed a chance that this film would justify a trilogy, let alone a juggernaut…
Best Stunt: A storm of performance cars leaves a warehouse simultaneously. It’s hardly a dangerous stunt but it looks pretty cool.
Cars Totalled: Over 30 by my count.
Soundtrack Rating: 5/10. It isn’t as noisy as the first time around. Still bad though.
Best snippet of the Wis(of)Dom: No Dom equals no WisDom. In fact I feel dumber having watched this one.
Finishing Position 1 – 7: 7 (The Least and the Extraneous)
In: *gulp* Sean (Lucas Black). Han (Sung Kang).
Hangers-on / Bad Guys: Bow Wow & Brian Tee & Nathalie Kelley (I know, I had you at Bow Wow)
It took only one film to realise that Paul Walker might be pretty but he ain’t a headline act. It is baffling though (and perhaps insulting to Walker) that they thought it fit to replace him with a simple slow-drawl hayseed with a head that looks like an unfinished police sketch. Sure Walker might be a black hole of charisma, but replacing him with Lucas Black and expecting no repercussions?
Sean is a college student who, thanks to a love of fast cars and slow synapses, has run out of chances in America. His single mum decides to make him someone else’s problem, specifically her soldier ex-husband in the neon-saturated tree free wasteland of urban Tokyo, Japan.
It is an instant culture shock for Sean the simpleton, insofar as Japan has some culture, something Sean seems to have no prior encounters with. His dad tells him to straighten up and fly right, issuing a ‘no cars’ ultimatum. That’s that then…
…Within 6 hours Sean has not only taken place in a head to head high stakes race, he’s written off a stranger’s borrowed car, found a best bud named Twinkie(!), met-cute with the girl of his dreams, found the ear of a Japanese insider and picked a fight with the son of a yakuza boss. Some night. Perhaps he should have stayed home with dad, played Xbox and drank some Asahi?
The fact is though, in these few hours we’ve met everyone we will meet, and set up all that will follow. And does Sean learn a lesson from his hectic night? Unsurprisingly, no. Not at all.
Eventually Sean learns of ‘the drift’, a means of navigating tights corners by sliding one’s car. There’s even a ‘drift date’ later where he gets to fall in love with both his date and the concept of sliding around a bit.
Now drifting is an admirable skill and momentarily aesthetically pleasing, but it’s far from being a sturdy enough hook to build your film around. Then again there is precious little to build around when the cast is lifeless and the film has nothing to do with the two that preceded it. To think Lucas Black is the way of the future, or any number of the ‘meh’ supporting cast (lead by a guy named after the sound a small dog makes…) would be folly.
But that said Tokyo Drift sticks to the formula of these underdog films well – it could be Karate Kid in cars, which might make it Car-ate Kid (sorry). It is hardly memorable, but then again it isn’t memorable for all the wrong reasons like 2 Fast 2 Furious.
Best Stunt: C’mon let’s drift again, like we did last summer.
Cars Totalled: Around 16, about half way between the first and second films.
Soundtrack Rating: 8.5/10. Actually amazing. Mostly excellent tracks with precious little mainstream fodder and some genuine gems.
Best snippet of the Wis(of)Dom: He’s Back (just quietly) and in short time gives the prescient “I’ve got nuthin’ but time”
Finishing Position 1 – 7: 6
Out: The willingness to accept mediocrity. Everyone from Tokyo except Han.
In: Dom. Brian. Letty. Mia. Mia’s new boobs.
Hangers-on / Bad Guys: Gisele (Gal Gadot). Campos (John Ortiz).
While it isn’t all superchargers and balls to the wall action just yet, Fast and Furious – I suggested Fast and Fourious but was shouted down – is the moment of epiphany, the two hours which would eventually turn to the realisation that the FFFF (Fast / Furious Franchise Formula) thrives on the concept of Too Much.
More on this later in Fast Five…
Dom and Letty and their multi-ethnic crew (kudos to the entire franchise for having people from all ethnicities in both peripheral and prominent roles) are still jacking trucks down photogenic highways, using increasingly brash methods justified by ill conceived plans. In their downtime they continue necking Coronas and chilling at street races and the same beaches Bodie and Johnnie Utah bro’d down on in Point Break.
A death brings the action back to LA, where Mia and her suddenly larger jumper-puppies await, and where Brian and his ‘Bradley Cooper in an office job’ haircut has rediscovered his love for law enforcement.
Dom and Brian are back on non-speaking terms, but both need to infiltrate the drug traffickers – run by the mysterious Braga and fronted by Campos and Gisele – that are bringing in illicit substances from Mexico. While their reasons differ, it seems that fate will see the pair again on the same team. Even if Dom resents this and Brian sees the need to continually apologise to him for lying about his true identity more than once.
Apologising. To the criminal! The same criminal he ultimately let go free! The same criminal he needed to capture to protect innocent civilians! Civilians that could be hurt by the criminals criminalling!!!
In a bizarre but necessary turn of events, it seems that this film is actually a prequel to Tokyo Drift (and the closing scene in which Dom appears) though for mine it would have been cleaner just to pretend that Japanese sidetrack never existed.
Fast and Furious might be on the right track now but it is far from a perfect product. Still it boasts three good car-related action setpieces that are welcome reprieves from the slightly over-serious and sloppy plot, and a finale that would be more effective if it wasn’t face-stomped into the kerb by Mad Max: Fury Road last year.
Simply saying this is ‘better’ than 2 Fast and Tokyo Drift is faint praise. In truth Fast and Fourious (awesome right?) is merely a decent action film, not transcendent or especially memorable in any way beyond other petroleum fuelled action films. Still, in a series that found its groove with the discovery of Too Much (see below), Fast and Furious is the slightly messy jumpstart that the stalling series desperately needed to avoid the scrap heap.
Few franchises even last four films, let alone find their secret formula this late in proceedings.
Best Stunt: I’ll bet t-boning a car in midair is quite hard to pull off, unless you’re Lindsay Lohan…
Cars Totalled: About 25 by my count.
Soundtrack Rating: 7 / 10. Like the film, a grab bag of good, bad and indifferent. Tracks that were likely the best money could buy in these pre-mega-budget days, with the best tracks strangely all being foreign language.
Best snippet of the Wis(of)Dom: “I didn’t know there were any rules”. There are Dom, as we’ll see in Episode 5.
Finishing Position 1 – 7: 5
In: Hobbs (The Rock – Mr Dwayne Johnson).
(So Many) Hangers On: Roman and Ludacris (2F2F). Vince (TF&tF)
In: Hobbs (The Rock). Vince. Rio De Janeiro as a backdrop. Fatalities. Profanity (a little anyway).
Episode five (‘race five?’) introduces the formula of Too Much but gets the proportions just a little out of whack (as does Speedy Six).
Too Much: Somewhere along the line the filmmakers realised that they weren’t breaking any new ground with the car racing and such, so they decided to provide us with More, regardless of the realism. If someone does an amazing yet unbelievable thing once it is seen as incongruous and silly, if everyone in the film does it all the time, then it becomes an accepted part of this world. Streetracing is no longer the be all and end all. Screeching around corners is so passé. Now anything less than impossible is pointless. Anything less than 120 mph is standing still. With Fast Five the franchise becomes the living embodiment of Ricky Bobby’s motto: “If you’re not first, you’re last”.
So we open with an astonishingly high risk, comparatively low stakes heist that sees the crew steal three performance cars (are there any other kind) from a moving train… An armed moving train… Moving at high speed… Towards a bridge… A bridge over a canyon…
Too Much? Nu-uh.
While the question of how eight adults could justify nearly killing themselves for three cars, and how these same eight people might split the value of those three cars equally, remain valid, the fact remains that it is a frankly awesome sequence – actually a definitive series high point – and unfortunately it dwarfs anything that follows in the film.
The crew flee to Rio De Janeiro in the wake of the heist, leading to aerial shots of Christ the Redeemer appearing so often that the big guy deserves co-star credit – and the decision to bring back almost anyone who has ever been a part of this franchise, regardless of their previous value or impact. Roman, Tej, umm, that chick who was too hot to remain with the Bad Guy from Race Four.
More importantly though is the arrival on the scene of super-soldier Hobbs, the man brought in to bring in those that can’t be brought in. The Rock is always welcome anywhere, but his presence is a no brainer in a film that should be co-sponsored by Red Bull and lobotomy clinics.
The initial foot pursuit across the roof tops of Rio has been done before, but it almost never fails to impress – and it doesn’t let us down here. Unfortunately this sequence ends with what the script probably labelled as ‘Space for Plot’, The Plot being the only object that this series is yet to work out how to leap over. This brings proceedings to a grinding halt with almost sixty minutes that feature a total of zero stunts and somehow the same number of car crashes. It is most definitely not fast, and the only parties who might end up furious are those wondering what happened to the vroom-vrooms and the boom-boom; and the panel-beaters that profit from same.
Consider this: would you pay money to see Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordanna Brewster, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris sit and chat for an hour about how to move forward safely while achieving an end result that satisfies all equally…? Me neither.
Eventually the crew decide on a plan, train for it, then abruptly and very much on the fly scrap the entire thing and wing it(!!!) hoping that the wanton destruction caused by two cars dragging a huge and heavy dice shaped wrecking ball down a freeway will make us forget the fact that we just blew an hour on nothing…
… Now what was I just pissed off about? I can’t remember. But I gotta tell you about how the big wreking cube busted all those stoopid cars good! *Makes crashing noises while spittle flies everywhere*
With Fast Five a Series that became a Franchise demands it be elevated ‘Blockbuster Event’ status, and even if this first attempt is a little bloated, it earns that title through proving beyond doubt that it so desperately wants to entertain. This is no longer a series going through the motions, this is now a Brand brave enough to try to make you spill your popcorn down your front, then dares to imagine more.
(The only thing braver would be to try to pre-sell you the ticket to the Speedy Six as you exit the theatre. But that’s just what they do.)
Best Stunt: I liked the bus flipping over a dozen times. I admired the wrecking ball on the freeway. I loved the train heist.
Cars Totalled: Round 45, with at least 80% getting mashed in the final sequence.
Soundtrack Rating: 7 / 10. Familiarly Fast Foreign and Faintly Funky.
Best snippet of the Wis(of)Dom: “We talkin’ or we racin’?”.
Finishing Position 1 – 7: (Somehow only) 4
In: Letty. Riley, Hobb’s sidekick (Gina Carano). Shaw the Bad Guy (Luke Evans).
Out: Vince, oh how we miss you so…
What to do when your predecessor tries Too Much? You bring in another team of equal power and have them go head to head. That’s what.
With Brian and Mia having a baby named Speed (not really) and the entire team rocking fat pockets and spread all over the globe in extradition free locations, nothing can convince Dom to re-enter the world of driving cars real fast justified by tenuous motives and unlikely events.
It takes Hobbs all of two minutes and one word: Letty.
Using the lame justification of amnesia, Letty has simply forgotten about her ‘family’ and joined the world’s most notorious street car related crime gang, one lead by Shaw and united by… whatever the opposite of ‘family’ is. This enrages Dom, though who could tell?
Nonetheless he shines the Speedometer symbol into the heavens and the crew miraculously heed the call, leading to the film once again falling into the ‘stand around and chat’ strategy while Tyrese and Ludacris vie off for the Lamest Joke Award. Every 47 seconds (the humour here is largely non-humorous).
The only pulse-heightening action amid the posturing and planning comes in the form of a couple confrontations with the New Kids, which gives Gina Carano the chance to strut her considerable stuff, but nothing here jumps out as indispensable to the film or likely to end up in the Fast/Furious Hall of Fame.
The upshot of this saggy middle hour is that the Evil car driving crime guys can match the Good car racing crime guys step for step, that and the awkward hilarity that can only be explained by Dom street-racing his way back into Letty’s ice cold amnesiac heart.
Actually it would be more hilarious if it wasn’t so frustrating. Twice in a row the film tries to cram 30 minutes into an hour without realising that cutting 30 minutes would be far more sensible. Too Much doesn’t need to be Too Long.
In any case this is again redeemed with a finale worthy of the ticket price. This time split into two parts. Which proves if you can have Too Much of anything, make it action.
Part One sees the lads chase down first a huge truck, then a tank, both of which can apparently keep pace with expensive high performance machines hurtling at top speed down a crowded freeway. You’d think such vehicles could catch even the fast tank in a minute or two wouldn’t you? This sequence ends with perhaps the most Too Much moment so far (see Best Stunt below).
Part Two takes place on the longest landing strip seen since Mariah Carey last decided to trim her bikini zone. A dozen cars hurtling at breakneck speed behind a huge cargo plane perpetually threatening to take off – just as soon as this latest fight / stunt / explosion ends. As far as Bang for the Buck goes this is hard to beat, and it is certainly impossible to deride the effort exerted in constructing such an elaborate chain of events.
Again the film ends with the bloodied and bruised crew enjoying BBQ and sipping Coronas (in my view the ‘dirty water of beers’). It’s a well deserved respite, but with two films now unable to ascend the mountain of action hero greatness, let’s see if the arrival of perhaps the pre-eminent action hero of the last decade can’t push this series over the top.
Best Stunt: A car hits a tank. Another car hits a retaining wall. Both collisions impel a single human being across a chasm separating the two freeway lanes. Certain death awaits both humans – unless – they can somehow meet in mid-air and land on something soft and accommodating… like say a car hood. Too Much? Indeed, but also somehow no.
Cars Totalled: Well over 50, plus a huge truck, a huge tank and a huge cargo plane… eventually.
Soundtrack Rating: 5.5 / 10. Instantly forgettable. Too doof via Pitbull for me. (I wish neither of those were words.)
Best snippet of the Wis(of)Dom: “You show me how you drive, I’ll show you who you are”.
Finishing Position 1 – 7: 2
In: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell). Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanual). A bunch of cameos from characters from films 1-6 including Sean from Tokyo Drift and others even less important.
Hangers-On: Henchman (Tony Jaa). Henchwoman (Ronda Rousey)
Out: Han (again… and finally). Gisele.
It seems the couple years since Fast & Furious 6 have seen great transition. With the circuitous plotline introduced by Tokyo Drift finally coming together. (A brief cameo with a weatherbeaten Lucas Black also means we should be permanently waving g’bye to Sean the redneck hayseed.)
Han is finally dead, killed by Deckard Shaw as the first act of his elaborate revenge fantasy that was inspired by his brother’s defeat in Fast 6. D Shaw then quickly moves on to destroy the entire floor of an office trying to kill Hobbs, and while he of course fails Hobbs is nonetheless relegated to a hospital room for most of the film using the justification of a… a broken arm!?! PEOPLE IN FAST & FURIOUS LAND DO NOT HAVE BROKEN LIMBS. THEY ARE IMMORTAL!!!
Moving on. Elsewhere Letty is still in the grip of the dastardly spell of amnesia. Brian and Mia are up to their necks in parenting – with Mia learning of another bun in the oven *HOWEXCITEBALLS* – and it would seem Roman and Tej are cracking awful jokes and being just the right level of ‘inoffensive yet still urban’ somewhere else in the distance.
Frankly this has become less a franchise than a soap opera. Almost everyone has taken a shot at banging each other. Good characters have become bad and vice versa. We have mysterious relatives coming back to avenge bested enemies. Primary characters laid up in hospital traction unable to help. And someone has fucking AMNESIA!
Only Dom is unaffected by all around him. Because Dom is always unaffected by all around him. Because Dom is the centre of the franchise, and the centre does not move even when all else does.
And what does all of this mean? Not much; until Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell in Jack from Big Trouble in Little China mode) arrives from some shady hush-hush government department to offer Dom a means of revenging against the revenger, so long as Dom and the team do Mr Nobody a favour in return (a favour with The Dark Knight Rises parallels). Dom agrees, but only after discussing the refreshing attributes of Corona (look after your sponsors Dom), and expressly demanding that the mission involve ridiculous risks that require everyone must drive a different car for no plausible reason.
Deal. Five minutes later and half a dozen cars are free-falling towards a mountain after being dropped from a huge airplane thousands of feet overhead.
Don’t think. Just do.
We are now far enough into the series that near misses don’t cut it where action is concerned. Now we measure the impact in terms of the severity of collisions. In this film alone there are two games of chicken waged between two key characters, both driving cars with incredible horsepower, and it should not be a spoiler when I say neither swerve. Twice. These films are both a car magazine lover’s dream and nightmare.
The enormous first mission destroys a huge truck and several cars. It yields one small British woman who in another life is an adviser to the Khaleesi. She is Ramsey. She sports a new set of skills that complement those of the team, including the ability to fill a small bikini in pleasingly squishy ways.
With Ramsey almost instantaneously integrated into the team the action moves to Abu Dhabi – where a million dollar car performs numerous base jumps between high rise buildings – and then back to the home territory of Los Angeles for an elaborate (and yes pointless) game of ‘pass the Ramsey parcel’ between high performance motor vehicles moving at high speed.
All the while Deckard Shaw moves toward Dom as relentless and deliberate as the ‘infected’ from It Follows, always a step behind regardless of the nature of the previous escape.
But it isn’t all NOS fuelled frivolity. In between action sequences and fights where you’ll go ‘hey it’s Tony Jaa / Ronda Rousey’, comes the depressing realisation that the team hasn’t really yet found a spot for Roman. Apparently being the Handsome One seemed too obvious, but labelling him the ‘Funny One’ is so far off base it’s perhaps the least likely thing that happens in a franchise where cars parachute into chase scenes and effortlessly leap from skyscraper to skyscraper. The scene where he improvs in a ritzy party might be the most uncomfortable three minutes since you unwittingly watched the Paris Hilton music video.
More obviously depressing is the conundrum of how to deal with the death of Paul Walker, who died half way through filming. His role was completed with body doubles and CGI (you can try to guess which bits but you’ll probably be wrong). This could have been handled any number of ways, and since he died in a car moving at high speed, sensitivity was certainly required here. The good thing is they nailed the ending and his exit, which would obviously please the devoted F&F fans worldwide, without compromising the future direction of the franchise.
Brian’s driving toward big blue skies now, but Fast and Furious remains angry, expensive and jam-packed with possibilities.
Best Stunt: So many parachuting cars. So much car flying from building to building.
Cars Totalled: I counted almost 40, but they include an ambulance, a truck, a helicopter, a drone and a big bus.
Soundtrack Rating: 6 / 10. Keeping with the tone of the films, big and loud and not very dangerous or threatening. (Think autotuned generic blandness.)
Best snippet of the Wis(of)Dom: “You might have to put your helmet on for this one”.
Finishing Position 1 – 7: 1
Speaking of the franchise, Dom might be in the driver’s seat for all missions, but Vin Diesel seems to be in the driver’s seat for all decisions regarding where the Fast and the Furious goes next. It is a little ambitious and perhaps a little daunting to hear that he things of these films in terms of ‘trilogies’, but it’s fair to say that thus far this confidence is indeed earned.
Here is a franchise that is desperate to appeal. It wants to put bums on seats and have those bums leaving the film feeling entertained. That’s important, and a key distinction between this and (say) your Transformers or recent superhero films, which just do enough to get you in, then don’t care about how you feel as you leave.
The Fast and the Furious has fistfights, shootouts, chases, and cars – always the cars – with a liberal smattering of jiggling bodies, (attempted) humour and an indecent amount of respect for the former films in the series. Film Four discovered the concept of Too Much, films Five and Six built on it. With film Seven they have nailed it. This is now a series that does almost everything at least well, and fills every frame, every second, with pleasing distractions.
If something respects itself and wants to succeed this badly, it’s hard to begrudge it and point out small failings.
I can’t say I’ll be lining up for FF8 next year dressed as a Pit Girl or my favourite carburettor, but I won’t cringe at those that do, and will inevitably make time to catch the film once it hits Netflix or similar…