Like many of the action stunts that have occurred during its seven film run, the trajectory of the Fast & Furious franchise is defying belief. Nobody imagined at its inception, when it started as a not-so-subtle rip-off of Point Break that substituted fast cars for surfboards, that it would spawn six sequels and morph from a story about street racing criminals into a franchise that featured globetrotting crews of drivers pulling off ridiculous stunts and action sequences with such expertise. Nobody would have imagined that this franchise would morph from a laughable couple of movies into one of the most bankable box office draws any studio has going for it. And yet, here we are. Furious 7 builds off the success of its previous installments to make another awesomely ridiculous chapter in the story of the franchise and serves as a fitting tribute to Paul Walker in the wake of his untimely death.
Picking up in the immediate aftermath of Fast & Furious 6 (Or is it just Furious 6? I’ve lost track at this point…) Furious 7 is a revenge movie that has the crew of Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Ludacris) squaring off against the older brother of the previous film’s baddie, Owen Shaw, lethally trained killer Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), as set up in the post-credits scene of Furious 6. Shaw takes the fight to them, starting with Hobss (Dwayne Johnson), and moving onto the rest of the group that helped take down his brother. Hobbs alerts Dom of the “sins of London” that has followed them home to LA, and the fight that is coming for them. Along the way, they are enlisted by shady government spook, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who gives them a job of recovering a super-tracking device called the God’s Eye and its creator, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), before the wrong people get their hands on the device. If they can accomplish their mission, they can use the device to turn the tables and take the fight to Shaw instead of being hunted by him.
What ensues is a globetrotting trek through the Caucasus Mountains, Abu Dhabi, and then back to Los Angeles. And some crazy action sequences that in the hands of a lesser director and cast would probably come off a silly and absurd (see The A-Team). But new-to-the-franchise director James Wan, a veteran of horror films, feels as sure and comfortable with everything here as he is with instilling fear into the audience in Insidious or The Conjuring. There are three big car sequences, the kind this series is known for, and a few fight sequences that the series has come to be known for too. These are the moments this franchise is known for, and, for me, the absurd greatness of the vault sequence through the streets of Rio in Fast Five remains the high-water mark is the high point of the series for me, but the parachuting cars out of a plane and later jumping a car between skyscrapers, however ridiculous in theory, are pulled off effectively in the universe that this franchise has created for itself. And that is the success of the Fast & Furious franchise, they have discovered a formula and do not do too much to mess with it. Whereas some of the earlier installments fell short, the last three movies in particular have excelled in the stylized chaos of the action.
This franchise has always been a balancing act between “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time” and family. Of course, this comes to the forefront in this installment needing to be reworked in light of the death of Paul Walker. It’s hard to recall a key actor’s death having this much of an impact on the story arc of a franchise. There’s little doubt that Walker would have been heavily involved in the future of the franchise if he hadn’t died tragically and prematurely. His death hangs over the movie, but not in a morose way, although one line of dialogue at a funeral in the film about there only being one more funeral obviously hits in way that takes on added meaning. Because of how respectful they are, I do not begrudge the film for at times being as much about the memory of the actor as the film itself. The film is dedicated to him and gives him an emotional, fitting coda to his storyline, even if the CGI work is fairly obvious. It will be interesting to see how the progress the franchise going forward without him.
Other actors involved are a bit of a mixed bag. Vin Diesel is typical Vin Diesel. He has some good fight scenes with Jason Statham. Michelle Rodriguez is given some emotional depth to work with as Letty recovers from amnesia. Tyrese Gibson finally felt tolerable for once in these films. The Rock is sidelined for the majority of the movie, but gets instances at the beginning and end to really shine. Jordana Brewster is backgrounded for the most part. As for the newcomers. Kurt Russell, an action star of the 80s, is clearly having fun. Ronda Rousey gets to thrown down with Michelle Rodriguez. Tony Jaa gets some close combat martial arts action in several times vs. Paul Walker, including a dangerous looking stunt involving a staircase. Djimon Hounsou is relegated to mostly throw out menacing lines in a passenger seat of a cockpit or car for the majority of the movie. The big baddie, Jason Statham, while effective, feels slightly underused. When you have an action talent the quality of Statham, it seems a waste to keep him behind a wheel or the trigger of a gun when he is most effective in the hand-to-hand stuff. Having said that, he gets great fight separately against The Rock and Vin Diesel over the course of the movie and they do not disappoint.
Not all films are created equal, and you can’t approach all films with the same standard of judgment. It is a subjective medium and you have to meet films on the level to which they aspire. To say that Furious 7 is not Citizen Kane is no bold proclamation. That is not its aim. It aspires to be enjoyable, fun action and it succeeds in doing so on a large-scale. There are plenty of preposterous moments and perfectly timed instances of someone showing up to do something in just the nick of time. These kinds of things live or die for me on whether or not the film has a level of self-awareness of its own level of ridiculousness, in a way winking at the audience and acknowledging its own absurdity. And Furious 7 works because it does know itself, what it wants to be, and how to pull of what it is attempting.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars