It’s tough to claim one cast member of Fast & Furious 7 as the definitive scene-stealer. The whole franchise is really just a scenery-chewing contest, a metatextual battle of bravado, and the competition only gets fiercer with each passing sequel. Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, even Ludacris – all of these actors are talented scene-stealers in their own right, but they’re up against hall-of-famers now: Dwayne Johnson, Kurt Russell and, of course, Jason Statham.
The Stath makes quite the entrance to the series, and immediately announces what he’s here to do: kill the Fast and Furious crew and walk away with the whole goddamn movie. We open with Deckard Shaw (great name) looking out from the hospital room of his comatose brother Owen (Luke Evans, villain of Fast and Furious 6). Shaw goes on to deliver an insane monologue about revenge and stealing from the corner shop, before leaving a machine gun on Owen’s chest and making his way out of the hospital – well, what’s left of it. The hospital looks like it’s been hit by a tornado made of bullets, although the destruction isn’t complete until Shaw hands one more grenade to a SWAT officer as he strolls out to his Jaguar.
Two things to keep in mind about this sequence: it’s all in one take, and it’s pretty much all Jason Statham actually says in the movie. Sure, he has a brief chat with Dwayne Johnson before he puts him in the hospital as well, but from hereon in he basically just grunts and murders people. And it’s awesome. He blows people up with mines, grenade launchers, oversized delivery parcels – and of course tries to murder Dominic Toretto (Diesel) with his car, over and over again. Statham embodies a Terminator-style focus and drive that naturally counters the superhero theatrics of the Fast and Furious crew. In a franchise that is all about wisecracks and one-liners, Statham stands out with his no-frills, maximum-kills physical performance.
Shaw’s plan is pretty simple: wait until “the family” are in the middle of whatever scheme they’re working through, and stroll in, grinning, to wreck their shit. Statham’s cheeky smile as he rocks up to the Caucasus mountains to run Toretto and co. off the road is a thing of beauty, and the stakes go up every time Statham drops his stoic facade to show just how much Shaw loves wreaking havoc.
Look, I know we’re all tired of the “villain gets themselves captured on purpose” trope – and I know we’re all tired of articles about this topic – but Shaw’s version is amazing, and Statham plays it so beautifully. Toretto, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell, who almost takes the scene-stealer title himself with his cavalier attitude towards hipster beers and advertising Corona) storm the building where Shaw is hiding. They and their army of soldiers find him casually enjoying a pleasant dinner, fancy table setting and all.
It’s not clear how he convinced Deliveroo to visit a warehouse in the desert at four in the morning, but it sets him up perfectly to reveal his alliance with Djimon Hounsou’s terrorist cell and make his escape. Shaw is ice-cool, tucking into his pre-breakfast roast dinner and wiping his mouth daintily with a little napkin. Except he’s not wiping his mouth – he’s pulling the pin on a secret grenade with his teeth and he’s out the door. Shaw has spent the movie up unto this point hounding the crew, and this sequence wouldn’t work if Statham didn’t nail the switch-up in energy from relentless assassin to casual diner. He throws his pursuers and the viewer completely off-balance, creating a rare moment of actual tension in a franchise that normally sticks to easily-telegraphed thrills.
The final fight in F&F7 is insane: cars, helicopters, ambulances and drones collide in “vehicular warfare” on the streets of LA. But the true climax comes in a moonlit multi-storey car park, where Shaw and Toretto collide yet again. This fight has plenty of cool moments, but Shaw’s final weapon of choice has to be the best. Toretto comes at him with two giant wrenches for a street brawl, and Shaw grabs two twisted shards of his own car to fight back.
The sequence is mesmerising, mostly because it’s hard to see how it will end. Shaw has made it clear that he will kill Toretto, and Statham’s indomitable performance really makes that seem possible. Statham is an unstoppable force, hitting harder and harder as he is knocked back again and again – but Toretto is the hero, and it’s an industry legend that Diesel’s contract stipulates he cannot lose a fight. Even if it’s on a level outside of the film itself, the stakes feel genuinely high – and in the most glorious cop-out in cinematic history, a missile hits the car park and the ground literally splits between them. Toretto wins – technically.
Cementing a precedent set by Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five, Statham appears to be joining the series as an unlikely ally for the crew in The Fate of the Furious, while Charlize Theron becomes the latest villainous scene-stealer in the franchise. She may have scary dreadlocks and a submarine, but it’s going to be hard to top Jason Statham’s jagged metal car swords and murderous glare.