It’s hard to believe that the Fast and Furious franchise has been around for almost 15 years now. A decade and a half of successful films is nothing to sneeze at but the truly remarkable thing about this series is how it’s reinvented itself from a low-key street racing tale to arguably the best action franchise outside of the Marvel Studio films. Furious 7 builds upon all the years of universe-building and genre-defying that came before it to deliver the best film in the franchise to date.
The Fast and Furious films have never placed much significance in delivering a deep plot and Furious 7 is no different. Building off the events of Furious 6, the focus this time out is revenge seeking, all-around badass Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham, who fits in so well you would swear he’s a returning character), whose brother was left crippled by the Furious crew last time out. After an opening series of attacks that leaves Agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) in the hospital and another member of the crew dead, a globe-spanning battle begins between the “Fast Family” and Shaw. The revenge plot works incredibly well here and never gets in the way of the action or characters, unlike some of the previous films’ convoluted storytelling.
Fast Five was the turning point in this franchise, when it committed fully to becoming an ensemble blockbuster that laughed in the face of realism and the basic laws of physics. Furious 7 works so well because it feels like a natural evolution of what came before it. There are 3 or 4 action set pieces in this film and each one is masterful in execution and sheer spectacle. Once Vin Diesel and company are parachuting their cars out of a cargo plane onto a mountain road, there’s no doubt left about this franchise’s intentions – it wants to be at the top of the blockbuster pile.
There are still instances of ham-fisted dialogue, particularly in an early scene that tries to draw upon nostalgia for the original The Fast and the Furious from 2001, but ends up feeling like more of an impediment to the much more engaging movie that lies in store. However, Furious 7 reiterates how well the ensemble cast works together, to the point where cast absences, such as Sung Kang’s Han and future Wonder Woman Gal Gadot’s Giselle, are prominently felt. For a series that at first glance seemed to have characters as disposable as the cars they frequently totaled, the importance of its players cannot be overstated -particularly when real loss hangs so heavily over the picture.
A discussion of Furious 7 can’t take place without mentioning Paul Walker, whose tragic death occurred while the film was still in production. It would be a major disservice to discuss how the film inevitably addresses the exit of Walker’s character Brian O’Connor, but director James Wan and company handle Walker’s passing with profound respect and humility. Incredibly, there were talks of scrapping the film in the wake of Walker’s death in November 2013. That would have been a huge mistake, as Furious 7 not only masterfully masks Walker’s absence in some scenes with body doubles (some of whom are Walker’s brothers) and CGI, but sends his character off in a respectful and humbling manner worthy of the late actor’s connection to the films and the friends he left behind. All of Vin Diesel’s lines in previous films about the importance of family that could be dismissed as a running gag come full circle in Furious 7 and carry surprising emotional weight. The sentiment is real and played straight, which is refreshing in an age when most films of this style are increasingly in on the joke and don’t know how to handle anything serious.
Another notable absence this time around is Justin Lin, who directed the last 4 Fast films and helped mold the series into one of the most lucrative blockbusters on the planet. His replacement is James Wan, who directed notable horror films like Saw and The Conjuring. Thankfully, Wan acquits himself splendidly, considering how far action filmmaking lies outside his wheelhouse. Indeed, Wan has crafted a taut thrill-ride of a film and proves more than capable of picking up Lin’s torch.
While almost everything in Furious 7 is top-notch, there are still a few issues that hold it back from being a true action classic. Besides Statham’s excellent turn as the main villain, Oscar-nominated actor Djimon Hounsou shows up as the leader of a group of mercenaries. The problem is, he doesn’t really get to do anything besides bark orders at his anonymous team of soldiers. It’s always nice to see Hounsou, but his talents are largely wasted in a forgettable role.
The dialogue is probably the best it’s ever been and avoids most of the pitfalls of earlier films, but there are still a number of cringe-worthy scenes, particularly when Vin Diesel is involved. Diesel’s limited range makes him the ideal lead for the Furious films, but he could stand to emote once in a while (his penchant for wife-beaters and gaudy chains are still in full effect; whether that’s good or bad depends on your own preferences). To be fair though, the actor’s dead-serious commitment to making these films about “family” pays massive dividends here, especially in the wake of Walker’s untimely death (you’d be hard-pressed to see a dry eye in the room by the time the credits roll).
Furious 7 not only represents the pinnacle of the series thus far, but also the template for how modern blockbusters need to operate in 2015. It’s rare to see a major studio release refuse to bend to popular notions of what is acceptable in a large budget production; namely, that it’s acceptable to cast minorities and women in lead roles and to continuously change its own formula with each new release. A stylish, over-the-top romp filled with fast cars, charming and diverse characters, and a refreshing emotional honesty, Furious 7 is an excellent capper to 15 years of franchise building; here’s hoping for 15 more.
Fun and exciting with a surprising level of emotional depth, Furious 7 is a touching tribute to Paul Walker disguised as an action-romp.