Casting Review: Furious 7

* CAUTION  – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Furious 7 Casting Rev

 Very few action film franchises have accomplished what the Fast & Furious franchise has since the first film, The Fast and the Furious, debuted in 2001. Although it’s all too common for Hollywood to churn out sequels and spinoffs of successful films, very rarely do you see seven iterations within a 14 year timespan, all while maintaining the original film’s core cast. The closest comparison to this feat is the Harry Potter film franchise, which churned out eight films over the span of 10 years. Although to be fair, that’s hardly a fair comparison since the Harry Potter films were based on seven books, and the filmmakers always had the intention of doing a movie based off of each book from the very get go – with the last film being split up into two separate movies on top of that. Unlike Harry Potter, the Fast & Furious series was literally built from the ground up, with each sequel being greenlit due to the success of its predecessors, and since the franchise isn’t tied to a series of books, the amount of options for sequels and spinoffs are pretty much endless.

 Needless to say, the Fast franchise is pretty unique, with Furious 7 being arguably the most pivotal of the series. Ironically, as special as the series is, narratively, each film isn’t too dissimilar from another. Every Fast outing vaguely revolves around the main cast of characters, for some reason or another, having to use their expert driving skills and overall action prowess to pull off high stakes jobs and missions, which almost always entail high octane racing and over the top action sequences (usually involving cars and or other vehicles). The story in Furious 7 definitely follows the same kind of arc as its predecessors, but will especially stand out in the series due to the fact that one of the series’ original actors, Paul Walker, tragically died in a car crash before Furious 7 finished filming. Walker’s tragic death invariably made a huge impact on the series and lives of everyone close to him, which is why even more eyes will have been geared toward this seventh installment.

 In terms of the cast, the Fast movies have always been ensemble pieces, with the number of actors growing with each installment. Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, and Walker can be considered the original “founding members”, having starred in the very first Fast film in 2001, and establishing their characters ‘Dominic’, ‘Letty’, ‘Mia’, and ‘Brian’, respectively. Interestingly, although their characters have always been pivotal to the franchise, contrary to popular belief, they haven’t been in every Fast movie together. Walker was the only actor to reprise his role in the second film, 2 Fast 2 Furious, while the third sequel The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, scrapped the original four all together and focused on an entirely new story, although Diesel’s Dominic did end up having a surprise cameo. Walker, Diesel, Brewster, and Rodriguez were then reunited in the film’s fourth outing, Fast & Furious, which is when the franchise probably realized the importance of keeping the four together, as well as expanding the core ensemble around them.

In fact, the franchise’s recent outings – specifically the fifth, sixth, and seventh installments, have readily capitalized on having a larger ensemble, and have had a lot of fun playing up the chemistry and relationships between the characters. Beside the original four, new staple characters include Tyrese Gibson’s ‘Roman’ (originally introduced in the second film); ‘Tej’ played by rapper-turned-actor Ludacris (also introduced in the second film); Sung Kang’s ‘Han’ (introduced in Tokyo Drift); Gal Gadot’s ‘Gisele’ (introduced in the fourth film), and Dwayne Johnson’s ‘Hobbs’ (introduced in the fifth movie). Since the aforementioned actors have all worked together on numerous Fast films, you can easily see that they all have great chemistry together, and everyone brings a unique energy and spin to the franchise. Gibson’s Roman is the goofy ladies’ man, Tej is the cool tech guru, Han and Gisele find romance with each other, and Johnson’s Hobbs has some of the best action sequences and one-liners in the entire franchise.

Getting back to Furious 7, the film picks right up after the events of Fast & Furious 6, with our protagonists returning to some semblance of a normal life, before tragedy comes crashing down upon them – specifically the murder of their friend Han at the hands of new villain ‘Deckard Shaw’, played by Jason Statham. Beside Kang’s Han and Gadot’s Gisele (her character dies in Fast & Furious 6), the action ensemble is all present and accounted for. Because of Han’s murder, the gang sets out on another globetrotting mission to stop Shaw and get justice for their friend. Amusingly, the film’s title Furious 7, also refers to the group’s seven remaining members – Brian, Letty, Dominic, Mia, Tej, Roman, and Hobbs!

Naturally, the group comes across a new batch of friends and foes in this outing. Statham’s Shaw is a menacing foil to the group and the action star is readily in his element here. He even manages to go toe to toe with Johnson’s Hobbs in an expertly choreographed fight sequence at the film’s beginning. Shaw isn’t the only baddie here and he is joined by ‘Jakande’ an international terrorist played by Djimon Hounsou and his hired henchman, ‘Kiet’, played by Thai action superstar Tony Jaa (Ong-bak film franchise). Villains aside, the gang is then joined by new characters ‘Mr. Nobody’, a shady black ops government official played by Kurt Russell; and ‘Ramsey’, a beautiful and brilliant computer hacker played by Game of Thrones actress Nathalie Emmanuel. Russell adds an old school sense of familiarity to the franchise while Emmanuel’s Ramsey injects a much needed amount of female badass-ness to the male-centric group.

 Although not necessarily front and center, Furious 7 also features a handful of familiar faces to the mix. Elsa Pataky reprises her role of ‘Elena’, Hobbs’ right hand woman while Gal Gadot and Sung Kang’s presence is made known through quick flashbacks. Luke Evans’ ‘Owen Shaw’ is briefly seen (having been crippled from the events of Fast & Furious 6), and helps provide the motivation for his older brother, played by Statham, to enact his revenge against our protagonists. Other notable appearances include Noel Gugliemi’s ‘Hector’, introduced in the first film, and Lucas Black’s ‘Sean’, the hero from Tokyo Drift.

 Once again, Furious 7 has all the elements fans have come to expect from the franchise – ridiculous amounts of action, snappy dialogue, and the overarching theme of the importance of friends and family. The latter elements will especially be felt here due to Paul Walker’s death and tribute at the film’s end, which is truly heartfelt and emotional – something you don’t typically see in a Fast movie. In case you were wondering how the film managed to shoot Walker’s remaining scenes in the film after his death, a lot of that was a mix between tactful post-production work and the use of Walker’s brothers, Caleb and Cody, who acted as body doubles during the shoot. The entire cast, especially Diesel, have echoed that they view this movie and franchise like a family, and it truly shows here.

 To date, the Fast & Furious franchise is Universal Picture’s most successful franchise, and the release of Furious 7 has already broken numerous box office records with its domestic gross of $146.5 million over opening weekend (the ninth biggest debut weekend of all time). Despite the tragic loss of Walker, the franchise continues to go strong and will undoubtedly spur even more follow-ups and sequels in the near future. Through solid actor chemistry, an ever expanding diverse and international cast, and a good amount of heart, the Fast films are an excellent example at how successful film franchises can evolve with the times to cater to audiences of all backgrounds.

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Kyle