Between two series that exist on the edge of failing the Bechdel test, one fails it a little less.
Over the course of nine movies, two short films and about 1,000 wrecked vehicles, the Fast and the Furious saga has veered increasingly closer to a super hero series. There’s the impossibly invincible Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s reckless passion for defending his found family is rivaled only by his love for tanktops. And there’s the equally un-bruisable Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the personification of Teflon mixed with a couple dashes of southern fried trash talk and Samoan battle cries.
The movies are best at taking cars and putting them in places cars shouldn’t be. The series has turned four-wheeler automobiles into non-sentient superheroes, flying through buildings and moving massive loads at incredible speeds. At the time of its release, Furious 7 was the biggest and baddest addition to the series, featuring the explanation for Letty’s (Michelle Rodrigeuz) memory loss, showcasing Hobbs’ superhuman regenerative powers, and giving Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) the “Best Moment in Cinematic History,” according to Vin Diesel.
The films, which take place in a Cinematic universe spanning 18 years, beg to be compared to Marvel’s 23-film epoch. I’m not here to argue which is better. But I can definitively say Furious 7 got something right that Avengers: Endgame got so wrong.
The final action scenes in both Endgame and Furious 7 are eerily similar. Both involve a massive game of keep away, one played out on the collapsing remains of the Upstate Avengers facility, and the other across the entirety of Downtown Los Angeles. These aren’t your average games of keep away — both scenes carry the fate of the (cinematic) world on their shoulders. For the Avengers, they are putting as much distance between the Infinity Stones and the ‘roid raging purple grape Thanos as they can, while the Furious Crew are attempting to secure the most powerful and intrusive security system known to man. Both are worthy causes, indeed.
But midway through the Avengers’ fight scene sits a moment so jarring it makes the Furious films look operatic (that might be a stretch but go with me).
As Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is cornered by Thanos’ goons, a shimmering Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), in all her microwave powered glory, comes to his rescue. Upon Parker asking the Captain how she plans to fight off the hordes of baddies, Wanda Maximoff, Valkyrie, Okoye and every other mainline female super from the series drops in at the nick of time.
“Don’t worry,” Maximoff says through her here-one-minute-gone-the-next accent.
“She’s got help,” Okoye follows.
The scene speaks directly to the “girl power” narrative that began when Disney committed to Captain Marvel’s feature length film. For once, viewers get a chance to see that heroes, or heroines, come in all shapes and sizes, among them powerful, self-sufficient women. The film’s writers, producers and cast all agreed that such a scene need to be done. Brie Larson and company have since followed up with Avengers producer Kevin Feige, suggesting the MCU needs an, “An all-female movie.”
All of this is well and good, save for the fact that we never really learn why all of Marvel’s women instinctively know to team up then and there. It’s fanservice for fanservice’s sake, and in a movie as big as Endgame, it’s welcomed. But that doesn’t change the fact that with a little elbow grease and ingenuity, Marvel could have handled the same scene as adeptly as James Wan handled a similar sequence in Furious 7.
Light and Dark
Where Endgame never really sets its women up to thrive narratively, Furious 7 does. The movie features two leading ladies, Letty, Dom Toretto’s amnesiatic love interest and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), a tech wizard capable of hacking any of the planets surveillance systems. The film sets them up to be polar opposites. Letty, is the ride or die tomboy, often seen glistening with sweat following an death-defying stunt or stabbing an assailant in the leg with a hidden pocket knife.
Ramsey, however, plays the damsel in distress. When she’s not hacking, she can be heard screaming, seen crying or being used as general eye candy for either Roman (Tyrese) or Tej (Chris Bridges).
That doesn’t stop Letty nor Ramsey from being the last line of defense during the Furious team’s final stand in Los Angeles.
Each driver takes turns escorting Ramsey as she hacks the pursuing ne’er-do-wells led by Jakande (Djimon Hansou). One by one their cars are destroyed, signaling a chain of vehicle-to-vehicle transfers to keep Ramsey safe.
The final transfer, which flings Ramsey from Tej and Roman’s car and into Letty’s is met with a brief exchange of dialogue, capitalizing on Letty and Ramsey’s opposing natures.
“So, if this car goes down, who’s coming to save us?” Ramsey asks in a panic.
“Save us, honey? We’re it,” responds Letty, standoffish as ever.
Though the show is eventually stolen by a minigun wielding Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Toretto flying a Dodge Challenger through the sky to disable a helicopter, Letty and Ramsey’s moment is a natural, if understated, occurrence of “girl power.”
The Furious films aren’t known for being pristine — the director and camera crew can regularly be seen in the reflection of the pearlescent paint jobs, among other goofs. But the tact with which Wan handles Letty and Ramsey’s (limited) relationship speaks to the film’s saavy. Amidst a nonsensical adventure in which cars fly and bald guys are invincible, Furious 7 manages to make a scene out of a pair of female protagonists that just makes sense.