The Story-telling Genius of Fast and Furious 7

I saw Fast & Furious 7 on the weekend, and it’s one o the best movies I’ve ever seen in my whole life. I’m going to have to rewatch it several times and study it, because it’s one of the best examples of storytelling I’ve seen in ages. Off the top of my head:

It gave the viewer what they wanted. People like the Fast & Furious series for two reasons: Fast car chases and amazing fight scenes. Not every movie has fulfilled this, there were a couple that were very heavy in plot development and character development, and not in a good way (I’ll get to that in a point below). Director James Wan provided this to such an extent that Bloomberg showed the film is mathematically the fastest and most furious in the entire franchise. The car chases were not only fast and dangerous and aggressive in a way that Cars Wars only dreamed of being, they put cars in the air. Completely unrealistic but also completely awesome, and nobody watches these movies for realism. The fight scenes were also amongst the best I’ve seen in western cinema. Normally fight scenes either use moves that would completely fail in a real fight, or have the combatants clearly not attacking/striking each other. In F&F7 we had western style fighting with moves that looked brutal and effective and which looked like they connected. Plus, the scenes were exciting to watch, which I normally only expect in Asian films. The lesson here is quite clear – if your fans like a movie because of particular aspects or features, any sequel should maintain and expand on those aspects and features rather than heading off into a completely new genre.

Efficient character exposition. There’s not a lot of character development in the Fast & Furious franchise, but people do remain in character. In F&F7 the motives of the characters were explained effectively and – most importantly – efficiently. Aside from Letty’s amnesia, each character gets 1-2 minutes max of back story and motive explanation, but which covers everything you need to know to explain their actions in the movie. That opening scene with Deckard Shaw was brilliant; his motives and his character demonstrated in the most effective manner imaginable, in mere minutes. A lot of stories try to flesh out their characters into “well-rounded individuals”, which is great if the story is all about people or relationships. However, if the story is about car races and fist-fights, you really only need to know why the characters are driving and throwing punches, everything else is extraneous and can be cut. You can go too far in the other direction and have characters doing random things for no discernible reason, of course, which is also bad. The key is efficiency in character exposition.

Fat-free plot development. In the same way characters and their motives were introduced efficiently, the plot of F&F7 was full on and lacked any extraneous filler. I was so excited by each development I didn’t notice the movie ran for two and a half hours. As an example I’ll use when Deckard Shaw showed up at the tower. How did he know where everyone would be? How did he get there? We don’t know, and we don’t really care. We don’t really need to know how he got his information and made his travel arrangements, all we need and want is to see him show up and cause mayhem for the protagonists.

Good meta ending. One of the stars, Paul Walker, died in a car crash during filming. The movie was finished using Walker’s brothers and some CGI. At the end of the movie Dom, when asked if he is going to say goodbye to Brian, replies “It’s never goodbye.” (Then there’s another scene which struck me as being put in to give Diesel a chance to farewell Walker). The words spoken by Dom work on a level that says that an actor’s body of work is their legacy, and in that sense they never leave us. That as long as we remember someone they are still with us. It also works on the meta-level that a movie can include an actor’s likeness even after that actor is dead – technology is reaching the stage where at no point will we have to say “this actor will be in no more movies”… which raises concerns about the legalities of using an actors likeness. I don’t think that applies to this movie, as such, but it will be relevant in the future.

My primary goal in writing is to have some finish reading my novel and feel about the book the way I feel about this movie.

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