Leave it to an over-the-top action movie to bring tears to my eyes, but Furious 7 achieved just that. Naught but ten minutes before its emotional epilogue they managed to destroy a helicopter in spectacular, unexpected fashion only to go on to make sure there wasn’t a single dry eye in the house with a well-crafted tribute to its late star Paul Walker…but that’s a testament to what this series has become in its almost 15 years on screen. Not ashamed to wear its heart on its muscle-flexing sleeve, over time the Fast and the Furious series became less about the cars and more about the people in them.
It defies the odds that a franchise like this should make us feel, right?! I mean, it features cars fighting a tank, cars fighting a giant planes, cars parachuting out of a giant plane, and cars flying between high rises at breakneck speeds! These are heights that were never imagined when it began in 2001 as a one-off film about an emerging underground street racing culture, based on an article in a 1998 issue of Vibe Magazine. But here it is now, still truckin’ after seven films and a decade-plus, not to mention many high highs and low lows. After 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious didn’t quite cross the finish line, the franchise seemed destined to be doomed to the straight-to-video bin. But it was then-unknown director Justin Lin who came in and restored it with 2006’s Tokyo Drift — a film that doesn’t feature any of the previous characters aside from a seemingly small yet course-changing cameo by Vin Diesel that made it the Marvel Cinematic Universe of car movies.
It was only up from there with 2009’s Fast & Furious, 2011’s Fast Five, and 2013’s Fast & Furious 6…until the unthinkable happened. In 2013, mid-way through production on Furious 7, Paul Walker was killed in a car accident — an event that felt somehow even more tragic than it already was considering how closely it resembled the franchise that made Walker both a star and a racer himself. But director James Wan (who took over for Lin) and the cast endured just as the series always had, vowing to finish the film for their fallen brother along with the help of Walker’s two brothers and modern movie magic. The question on everyone’s minds was “How?”
It’s rare (meaning it has never happened) for a massive, multi-billion dollar franchise to pull back the curtain in such a way as to allow its characters and the actors that fill the roles to simultaneously say goodbye to both a beloved costar and his character on screen. I don’t want to spoil how its done if you haven’t seen the film, but I will say that I can’t imagine it being any more perfect or fitting. Moreso, to be so open with its audience and acknowledge the real world outside of its reel world, allowing fans the same opportunity to say their so longs. But this is one franchise that wouldn’t exist without its fans. I should know…I’m one of them.
Lets go for a little ride. The Fast and the Furious franchise has always, unabashedly, been one of my favorites (no guilty pleasure tag needed). I’ll provide you with some personal context; The Fast and the Furious came out when I was a newly minted, recently legalized by the state of Texas 17-year-old with a driver’s license and a need for speed. While I didn’t grow up in its street racing setting of Los Angeles, the import car scene was not foreign to me by any means. I went to a high school in a middle-to-lower class suburb of Dallas that has as many tuning shops as it does churches — one of which being a world-renowned garage for the Mazda RX-7, the cherry red “holy grail” tuner Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto first appears in…which also happened to be a model my car-guy dad owned at the time. Granted my dad’s was black and didn’t have a giant robot decal streaking down the side, but it was dangerous just the same for a kid who loved cars and wanted to impress his friends. Going to the movies was not only a thing for us, but so was meeting up in an empty parking lot at night, parking our cars, blaring our music and, yes, racing (don’t tell my parents).
But it wasn’t just about the cars. The characters in the film felt like my friends. I was that white kid amidst a culturally diverse group of car, movie, video game, and comic book nerds (yes, somehow there was crossover there). Cars were our sports you could say. And then the series matured as I did. Its characters got married, had kids, and went through other major life changes over the films and coincidentally, over the years, so did I. So, in a way it felt like I kind of grew up with the characters.
It seems as if I’m not alone in feeling a odd emotional attachment to an unexpectedly emotional series like Fast and the Furious; over the course of the series it has grossed over 2 billion dollars and Furious 7 is on track to add even more money to the pile, currently sitting at an 82% ‘Certified Fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s more there than wanting to see cool cars that has made it one of the most profitable, longest-running modern franchises. Sure, we all like the cars and the action but there’s more than that under the hood.
Family, friends, loyalty. That’s a big part of what made the Fast and the Furious franchise so truly unique as an actioner with a heart and soul. As an audience, it felt like we were welcomed into the family. And that’s what makes parking it in the garage and throwing on the car cover so bittersweet. There hasn’t been one like it and likely never will.*
As we say goodbye to these characters on screen, and unfortunately once again to Walker off screen, it raises feelings that seem as if they should be reserved for a different type of movie. But that’s the thing, isn’t it….a Fast and the Furious movie is a different type of movie. It’s to the point where it doesn’t so much feel like we’re saying goodbye to a film as much as it does a group of friends.
And so for one last time, let’s raise a glass (just as long as it’s a Corona) to the series that has defied both the laws of gravity and our hearts. Salud mi familia.