Given how woefully uncool it seemed to be in critical circles to like the first The Fast and the Furious, it’s something of a miracle that we’re up to the sixth sequel, and there’s a huge swath of movie writers who are completely in the tank for the franchise and whatever it chooses to serve up. Yes, there is still a resolute segment for whom anything with CG and fast-moving vehicles is anathema, but if you’re reading this site, odds are you never paid attention to what those people think.
If you’ve bought into the series overall thus far, you’re not going to want to miss Paul Walker’s final ride. Realistically, he was acting-wise the weakest link in the cast, but his dazed and unfazed qualities made these movies the best fit for his particular gifts, not unlike the way Speed perfectly cast Keanu Reeves. Or maybe Point Break‘s a better reference, since the first film was essentially an uncredited remake, with cars replacing surfboards.
Before we go any further, and just so you can assess my cred, here is how I break down on the series:
1 – great movie.
2 – half a great movie.
3 – mostly crap with three great money shots.
4 – great return to form, understanding that I actually liked the characters and actors in part 1. A western with cars.
5 – boring heist flick, badly edited and not too well acted, forgets that street racing is the main appeal of the series. (Yes, I know…my opinion is now invalid. Whatevs.)
6- great, insane action, even as I understand that final runway would have to be hundreds of miles long to make sense.
Points for unpretentious marketing.
Furious 7, or “FuriousSeven” as its onscreen credits would have you call it, is like a Food Network competition show as a movie – give a new director a bunch of preassigned ingredients from your pantry that he may or may not be good with, then handicap him with major obstacles like the star dying 2/3 of the way through, and see if he can still win over a judge who doesn’t know or care about any of that.
I’m not going to spoil how Paul Walker spends his last moments onscreen, but I will say that those aside, there is no finality to this installment at all, and even an arguable cliffhanger for future sequels (if not necessarily the very next one). To know whether Walker’s sudden loss affected the story would require some psychic ability and guesswork on my part. Is Dwayne Johnson absent for most of the film because he and Walker had more to do? Is Jordana Brewster relegated to the thankless role of babymaker for the same reason? Are all the one-on-one fight scenes over-edited with jumpcuts because Walker couldn’t finish his coverage, and director James Wan wanted a consistent look? I don’t know. These are weaknesses, and they may or may not have been necessary. Nonetheless, they do not fatally ruin the film.
Wan, known mainly for new horror classics like The Conjuring and Saw, is a rookie in the world of big ‘splosions, and there’s nothing wrong with the way he conceives action sequences – but he could stand a bit more practice in conveying their geography to the audience (to be fair, he’s a quicker study than Justin Lin, who improved substantially between Tokyo Drift and Fast 4). I get the sense that HE knows what is going on at all times, but I have trouble following it. The candy-colored cars help, as they always do in these movies, but at least one major sequence features a lot of black vehicles, and drivers with different agendas wearing similarly black outfits. A few moderately longer close-ups could have gone a long way. And why would you use folks like Dwayne Johnson and Tony Jaa, who know how to choreograph fights in real time, then chop their battles to shit in the cutting room? Chuck Russell’s The Scorpion King is no great art, but as Johnson’s first major star vehicle, it showed the director knew what to do with him – let the camera run and let the guy who’s made millions – AAAAND MILLIONS! – staging real-time fake fights in front of live audiences do his thing.
Plotwise, Furious 7 picks up where the last one left off, with a wonderfully staged opening sequence in which Jason Statham comforts his dead onscreen brother (and prior movie’s villain) Luke Evans in a hospital bed, then walks out to reveal that he has trashed the entire place single-handedly. It’s a great bit of visual shorthand, unfortunately yet again jump-cut into hyperactivity when it doesn’t need to be. The perceptive viewer can still follow, but the obvious edits make it feel like more cinematic cheating was at work than a slow, WTF long take that might make you wonder how the hell they did it could have.
Thanks to the casting of Statham, we don’t really need a ton of backstory on his “Deckard Shaw” character, but what’s amusing when you think about it is how easily this could be the reverse perspective of one of the actor’s own star vehicles. A former British special-ops guy has his brother killed by street racers and rogue law enforcement operating without government sanction? And the cops won’t do anything? And he’s a white dude but the team against him are mostly not? Traditionally, he’d be the hero, and tweaks like this are what make the series fun.
Tell that to the editor, Vin
Sure enough, Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, still upset that girlfriend Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez) has daytime-soap amnesia, runs into Deckard pretty quickly, and like alpha-male horned sheep, they ram their cars into each other head-to-head right away. But there’s a cock-block – government agent Kurt Russell wants Dom and his team to steal a cyber McGuffin for him using their particular skills, and if that goes according to plan, he’ll help them use the NSA to tap every cyber-network on earth to grab Statham. Because Russell, whose character goes by the ironic name of “Petty,” also offers free beer, Dom agrees. That Deckard is going to follow along anyway to try to mess things up doesn’t seem to occur to either man.
This is the part where I scold myself for once thinking Vin Diesel was an astonishingly good actor for an action hero. He has shown chops in the past, and as Riddick he has a dark sense of humor still, but his Dom is becoming insufferable. Franchise newcomers – like Statham, Russell, Jaa, Ronda Rousey, Djimon Hounsou (whose primary talent here is yelling “WHAT?” really dramatically) and Game of Thrones‘ Nathalie Emmanuel in a role I won’t spoil – behave with the proper amount of winking and nodding for a franchise that treats the laws of physics with as much respect as minorities in a drunken Mel Gibson rant, but Diesel still seems to think he’s doing Shakespeare. One, you’re not; two, Shakespeare would tell you to lighten the hell up because the play’s the thing.
You can ultimately count me in the pro column on Furious 7 – the ridiculous stunts remind me of Roger Moore’s James Bond peak, and even if the fights are horribly cut up, they are mostly cool if you can keep up with the ADD crap surrounding them. A shit-ton of action is packed into the run-time, and even if there was a lot of working around tragic circumstances, the story is no less absurd than in most similar movies. Russell and Statham are great additions in a series that has traditionally expanded its ranks with the less impressive likes of Gal Gadot, and Dwayne Johnson essentially plays the G.I. Joe cartoon version of Roadblock better than he did in the actual G.I. Joe sequel.
As for whether or not the storylines will trip up newcomers – let’s just say no more so than the average WrestleMania. My wife had only seen part 5, and had no issues following 7.
Luke Y. Thompson has been writing professionally about movies and pop-culture since 1999, and has also been an actor in some extremely cheap culty and horror movies you will probably never hear much about (he is nonetheless mostly proud of them, as he met his wife on one). As editor of The Robot's Voice since 2012, he can take the blame for the majority of the site's content, all of which he creates because he loves you very, very much. (Although he loves nachos more. Sorry.)
Prior to TRV, Luke wrote for publications that include the New Times LA, Los Angeles CityBeat, E! Online, OC Weekly, Geekweek, GeekChicDaily, The L.A. Times, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Nerdist