Furious 7 continues the story of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) who must reunite once again after a close friend is murdered in cold blood. It doesn’t take long for the mystery killer to be revealed as Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a man seeking vengeance on Dom’s crew – the ones responsible for hospitalizing his brother at the end of the previous installment. The plot is complicated by introduction of a few new players: the secretive government man, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell); hacker-extraordinaire Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel); and Djimon Hounsou as another non-descript villain in Deckard Shaw’s camp.
As can be expected from the seventh film in a series, there is a lot of backstory for all the characters and relationships at play here, but it’s mostly rushed over in order to get to the new story and heft of set-pieces here. Although it’s not overly complicated – the heroes and the villains are clearly defined, with the story playing out largely the way one would imagine – it is recommended that you’ve seen the last two films (Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6…you know, the films in which this series finally knew what it was and embraced its inherent ridiculousness).
So what can be said about Furious 7? The movie is pretty much critic-proof and is sure to be a massive success, pleasing audiences and studio-heads alike. Whether I think positively or negatively about the movie, you (yeah, you) already know your taste and whether or not this will be the movie for you. Did you think the trailers were dumb and over-the-top? Well, they didn’t mislead you. Furious 7 is dumb and over-the-top, and that’s either a good/bad thing depending on how you view it.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the Fast and the Furious series has really grown into itself, which has been a fascinating process to watch. Starting out much like a newborn, The Fast & Furious (2001) was something new and fresh, if underdeveloped. Then to the surprise of many came the sequel, 2 Fast, 2 Furious (2003), or “the terrible twos.” Featuring a naming convention as comparably vapid as its plot and characters, 2 Fast, 2 Furious managed to do just well enough financially to have higher-ups thinking another sequel was necessary. Focusing on completely new characters and a new location, the threequel, Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), is what I like to think of as the awkward teenage years of the franchise – confused, undergoing personality development, obnoxious, awful…you get the idea.
Then came Fast and Furious (2009), introducing familiar elements to hopefully steer the series back on course. This marks the “moving back in with parents, after experimenting and learning life lessons in college” phase. Using the original’s name and the established characters of Dom and Brian, the fourth film played out to fine results. It was nothing spectacular, but it was a step back in the right direction.
Sticking with the metaphor (I’m going to be very bummed if some other critic beats me to the punch), Fast Five (2011) is when the series finally got its act together, landing the career, meeting the right partner, buying real estate, etc. It did several key things that helped steer the franchise into becoming the juggernaut it is: bringing aboard the always charismatic Dwayne Johnson, finding an excuse to team up all of the disparate characters from previous entries (a bro Avengers, or “Bro-Vengers,” if you will), and focusing on creating many over-the-top and spectacular set-pieces. Any fan of the series will tell you that this is when the series started getting good again, and the critics seemed to agree. The majority of the praise belongs to Justin Lin, who did a tremendous job directing the film and its follow-up Fast & Furious 6 (2013).
Furious 7, with new director James Wan (The Conjuring and Insidious), manages to maintain the bar set by its two predecessors. I wouldn’t say it’s a better film than the fifth and sixth installments, but it is more or less on par with them, which is to say it’s a very good, entertaining action film with very absurd, yet unforgettable set-pieces.
The same flaws are still carried over. The story is simplistic and isn’t worth putting too much thought into. The characters are written so flatly that there aren’t any surprises. The good guys remain good through and through, and the bad guys are mustachioed-twirling villains serving as punching bags/cannon-fodder.
The new villain, Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), was surely a last minute addition, thrown in to add another level of complexity to the action scenes, but only clutters up an already convoluted plot. More so, his character is completely flavorless and uninspired. I challenge anyone to tell me what his motives were, or better yet, to simply describe his personality or characteristics. I have trouble remembering exactly what his goal was (aside from wanting the “God’s-Eye”, this film’s MacGuffin), and I’m writing this after having seen the film within the last twenty-four hours.
So it all remains completely predictable and flat, allowing the heroes to hop from one set-piece to the next. There is no nuance, there is no subtlety…but there’s also no pompousness or pretensions, which is refreshing in a film featuring “The Rock” driving an ambulance off of an overpass into a low flying predator drone to dramatic fanfare.
Actually, the biggest flaw is the film’s reliance on excess. At almost two and a half hours, the film is too bloated and long. Maybe instead of three massive set-pieces, all over twenty minutes in length a piece, we have two. By the time we get to the final set-piece, which hasn’t been prominently featured in trailers, I was fatigued and ready to be done. Being an avid movie-goer, I pride myself on being able to follow most films pretty easily, but found myself forgetting what was happening. For instance, we follow two characters fighting and cut away to a different action beat before the first one has resolved, and then do not cut back to that first fight for at least ten minutes, after seeing several other storylines and characters. When your action scene has five different threads running across a thirty minute time window, it starts to become too much to process. I started to lose interest and any tension that had been built up was lost.
As for the overly long runtime, I have a solution that would trim at least ten minutes, though it might be an unpopular choice with the masses…remove every fetishistic shot of the scantily-clad women. The first portion of the film is so loaded with gratuitous close-ups and leering takes all focused on the mostly bare, backsides of the droves of sexed-up extras. I understand that sex sells and am not the type to get easily offended, but it’s so juvenile and blatant in Furious 7, that it almost becomes parody. It’s one example of many instances in which the film panders to its audience – the other being the mostly jeer-worthy “jokes”.
However, when the film works, it really works. The first two set-pieces are simply fantastic and worth the price of admission alone. The first main set-piece involves a half-dozen cars parachuting onto an isolated mountain road, only to immediately lead into an impressively staged and creative chase scene.
And then there’s Kurt Russell, who wound up being my favorite part of Furious 7. In a film filled with characters spouting dreadfully self-serious “revenge” and “family” talk, it’s refreshing to see Russell having fun and embracing the absurdity surrounding him. He plays his character, Mr. Nobody, with the perfect amount of high-energy, positivity, and mystery, setting him apart from many similar “government higher-up” roles. The downside to this is that it becomes noticeable how ordinary and uninteresting the other characters really are.
Finally, I must address the elephant in the room: Paul Walker. Details about his death and the behind-the-scenes efforts to work around his unfortunate passing have been well-documented, so I am not going to get into that here. That said, if there was any CGI used to digitally replicate Walker, it was impossible to notice and the effects team should be given standing ovations if that truly is the case. Admittedly, one of my biggest curiosities about Furious 7 was how they would handle the loss of Paul Walker as one of the main characters. I have to say, I’m impressed with the maturity and grace given to his character’s exit. It is handled superbly and it’s the most touching thing the series has been able to accomplish, even if that does happen to be a low bar.
Furious 7 embodies everything you would want from the franchise at this point, but struggles with the same issues that have been plaguing it from its inception. It’s preposterous and laughable, but also manages to be immensely entertaining in the process. While not doing much to rise above its predecessors, it remains another solid entry in the series, and serves as a surprisingly touching send-off for Paul Walker.