The improbably long lasting Fast & Furious films soldier on with signature excessiveness and goofy sincerity in Furious 7. The last instalment to star affable surfer bro Paul Walker in the face of the actor’s untimely passing, Furious 7 admirably manages this unforeseen hurdle and pays tribute to him in a mostly satisfying entry that amps up the action, emotion and one-liners to near unsustainable levels that nonetheless proves to be a mostly smooth ride despite some bumps in the road and a surplus of passengers.
It may have seemed unfathomable 14 years ago, but the Fast series has been reborn in recent entries as a resilient ensemble spy series that cherry picks elements of Ocean’s Eleven (comraderie and sunny locales), classic James Bond (outlandish stunts and one-liners) and even Bourne films (brutal hand-to-hand fights and government plots), while retaining a heavy emphasis on sleek cars, slow-mo shots of butts, and above all, family (as Vin Diesel’s Dom reiterates over and over until you can’t but feel the love). It’s not rocket science, but beginning with 2011’s franchise rebirth Fast Five (which brought together many characters from the disparate entries that preceded it) the Fast series has continually raised the stakes and stunts while maintaining it’s mantra of family above all amongst this team of lovable criminals.
Picking up directly after Furious 6, this 7th entry finds Jason Statham’s relentless baddie seeking vengeance on Dom’s crew after his brother (Luke Evans) was crippled in London at the end of 6. There’s also a MacGuffin in the form of the God’s Eye, a surveillance device that Dom’s crew is charged with obtaining for a shadowy government agency led by a fun Kurt Russell. Here more than ever, the plot exists as a flimsy excuse to string together a series of increasingly insane action sequences (ably helmed by new-to-the-series director James Wan) broken up by witty banter and groan-worthy one-liners.
Highly touted in the ads leading up to Furious 7‘s release, the first major action sequence finds the main members of leader Dom’s crew (including Paul Walker’s genial Brian, Michelle Rodriguez’s hard-edged Letty, and Tyrese Gibson & Ludacris as the bickering duo Roman & Tej) being launched from a cargo plane in reinforced muscle cars that parachute onto the mountainside road below to catch the bad guys unaware. The scene features clear geography and blessedly few overly shaky shots, allowing the insanity to unfold in clear view of the audience. It even introduces Thai martial arts superstar Tony Jaa as a nimble henchman that battles Brian in a heart-stopping scene.
From there the crew heads to sunny Dubai for a heist set in a posh penthouse that proves despite Brian’s protests to Dom that “cars can’t fly!”, the rules of gravity, logic and physics apply to the Fast & Furious world in only the most perfunctory manner. After some stirring speeches and naked appeals to brotherhood and honour amongst these reformed theives, the whole crew heads to L.A. for a final showdown against the enemies that hunt them. The epic climax juggles multiple fights and characters along with an epic chase scene that incorporates all manner of vehicles, from attack helicopters and drones to an ambulance and even Dom’s classic Dodge Charger. It escalate nicely and is given some weight due to the series’ proven willingness to kill off beloved characters.
Every member of the cast gets a chance to shine throughout which creates a true ensemble feel. Tej and Roman’s chemistry is fun and playful, and newcomer Nathalie Emmanuel slots in nicely as the mysterious Ramsey. Vin Diesel’s Dom does gets excessive screentime while the character works better as fudge – a little goes a long way. Dom’s romance with Letty is also posited as the heart of the film, despite little chemistry between the two. They work well in the fight scenes though, with Dom battling Statham’s unstoppable Shaw and Letty and UFC star Ronda Rousey engaging in a bawdy kickass fight fought entirely in formal evening wear. Dwayne Johnson’s sweaty Hobbs has a reduced role here, sidelined for large stretches of time but making up for it with the best lines of the film told in that inimitable style that’s led folks to dub The Rock “franchise viagra”.
The big question hanging over the film is how big is Paul Worker’s part and how did the filmmaker’s handle his silver screen swan song? The needed rewrites that sidelined the film for a year are clearly evident in some disjointed plotting and Walker’s role was necessarily reduced (and touchingly completed by his two brothers with an assist from some occasionally spotty effects), but the heart of Brian’s character is evident yet already missed in his truncated role here. Characters seem to talk about and around Brian – even when he shares scenes with them – lending a weird surreality to Walker’s final role. Overall though, it’s an effective bit of wrangling with a tragic situation and (without spoiling anything) Furious 7 gives the character of Brian O’Conner and the actor Paul Walker a stirring sendoff that’s absolutely in line with the series and what’s come before.
There’s a lot to laugh with (and sometimes at) in the knowingly goofy Furious 7 and at one point Roman even comments that their plan is the craziest yet in a sly wink to the audience that seeks to address criticism in advance. The occasionally stilted dialogue and heightened tone is mitigated by the fact that The Fast & Furious films have, in their last 2 entries, featured some of the best action choreography in big budget filmmaking with Furious 7 continuing the trend. The story, such as it is, is flimsier than ever and the film unwisely sidelines some of the more likeable characters, but you can’t help but be pulled along in Furious 7‘s powerful draft.
If these movies are your cup of tea (or more appropriately your 500ml Monster Energy Drink) then you’ll likely squeal with delight at some of the ridiculousness put on screen here. If you weren’t won over by the admittedly superior 5th and 6th instalments then Furious 7 will do little to sway you. And if you don’t like the sound of Kurt Russell playing a besuited badass named Mr. Nobody sporting night vision sunglasses and shooting faceless enemies then maybe don’t see this. Furious 7 is about cars that go fast and go boom, it’s about horrible/amazing lines like “The thing about street fights… the street always wins”, but most of all it’s about family. And living your life a quarter mile at a time.
Furious 7 (2015)
Director: James Wan
Runtime: 137 minutes