“This time it’s not just about going fast”
Indeed, the Fast and the Furious franchise has gotten a new lease on über-profitable life after elevating its ambitions beyond street racing with elements of heist thrillers and government-sanctioned missions in Fast Five and its subsequent sequels. But at this point I must say that Furious 7 is the first film in the franchise that I have seen. Coming to a series unaware of the previous installments is usually something I go out of my way to avoid, but here we are, so note from what perspective my review comes from. (Also, I couldn’t care less about cars.)
After Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older brother of Fast & Furious 6‘s villain, begins to seek his revenge by hunting for our team of car-fluent heroes, all involved get thrown into international intrigue revolving around a computer program called the God’s Eye. It can track any person on Earth, and criminals, billionaires, and government agencies want to sell it, buy it and secure it, respectively. If the title is indeed a play on words with the heroes, who are the furious seven? As far as I can gather, they are: leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), his wife Leticia (Michelle Rodriguez), former FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), tech support Tej Parker (Ludacris), comic relief Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), government liaison Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), and late-coming hacker/God’s Eye creator Megan Ramsey (Game of Thrones‘ Nathalie Emmanuel). All can kick butt and burn rubber.
So Furious 7 is what I’d call a catch-all action movie. You get the series’ roots in drag racing out of the way early on with just a couple scenes punctuated by some slightly nauseating stylistic flourishes. Then, you know that cars will be central to the action, so they are utilized in some creative and punch-the-air-spectactular ways (Parachuting cars! Building-hopping cars!). Add to that a martial arts element thanks to Tony Jaa. Finally, there’s the G-Man action thing thanks to the suave Kurt Russell character, and the cartoony badass Luke Hobbs. There’s lots of firefights and lots of chaos, but there’s a sense that this is an action movie where almost anything goes. They could pull out rapiers and start fencing, and it would just be another action riff to throw in the mix. Actually, they sort of do that, but replace the swords with lead pipes…
Vin Diesel is the star of the show, playing straight man to the craziness around him. He gives almost comically controlled line deliveries, pitching his lines at the exact level where you know he’s not half-asleep, but quiet enough so you know he’s too cool for school. There’s a scene where Dom and Brian see a particularly impressive car cloistered for display high in a United Arab Emirates skyscraper, and Dom, with the utmost brooding conviction, says something like, “nothing sadder than when you cage up a beast”. There you go, biggest laugh of the film!
There’s (puzzling to those unfamiliar with the other films) also an amnesia storyline involving Leticia. Amnesia in an ongoing storyline is like an instant storytelling handicap, usually coming off as coming out of a bad soap opera. But for an amnesia subplot, I have to admit it was very well done here. Michelle Rodriguez sells it well. I mean, it just sorts itself out over the course of the film, but for what it was, props are due.
That kind of attention to the characters involved in the ridiculousness of these movies extends to the whole group of heroes. Their chemistry as a constructed family is really the beating heart of the franchise’s appeal. For one thing, the two romantic relationships established in the very first movie are still central, which is itself kind of remarkable. Thus, the appeal lies in checking into the lives of this group of friends with each installment as a milestone (though the franchise’s continuity is apparently more confusing than I’m making it appear). In fact, there’s a scene where Ramsey instantly sizes up the group dynamics of Dom’s team, and it’s quite on point and insightful. So, Dom can mutter things about “family” to the point of parody, but he’s doing so with a leg to stand on.
That’s the action and the ensemble. As far as the plot goes, its Macguffiny nature is simply shameless. Find Shaw, find Ramsey, find the God’s Eye program, find the guy who bought the God’s Eye program. But I’m not holding it against anything, that’s just part of the deal for a film that needs to lurch between set pieces. What I will take issue with is when those set pieces just get too silly. There are multiple scenes (I think three) of Dom and Shaw ramming their cars headlong into each other. Yeah, we really needed to watch that three times.
Speaking of Shaw, Jason Statham is an instant and effortless badass, but in the end a disappointing villain in that he’s just a physical threat. He’s a man of few words and those few words are just so much rubbish about revenge. His introductory scene is probably his best, though in that one, I am forced to ask, did they get Luke Evans back just to lie on a hospital bed? Doesn’t he have better things to do? I’m sure Djimoun Honsou has better things to do too, as he’s wasted as a lame secondary villain. All he does is tell his underlings to “fire”. Really! He was given the throwaway secondary villain role as Korath in Guardians of the Galaxy as well. Is that just his career path now…?
Okay, but now it’s time to talk about the very real and tragic hit that this franchise took last year, the death of Paul Walker. He was partway through filming, so a variety of digital tricks, plus the use of his brothers as body doubles, were used to preserve his presence. It’s clear that when Brian’s not saying much and just sort of reacting to things around him, that it’s not Paul. There are also a few ADR’d lines I’m sure wouldn’t pass a voice print analysis.
But that’s besides the point. On the one hand I thought the tribute at the end, sending the character to the home front, was very beautifully pitched, paying off a thread throughout the film of Brian’s conflict over accepting a domestic life. (Thank God Brian wasn’t killed off in a big action scene or something.) Indeed, the film sort of got a whole other layer of drama for free in scenes where his character talks about the possibility of not making it back to his wife and son, and where he comes to accept his place in a quiet life. It’s kind of like how Robin Williams’ last scene in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb last year was kind of perfect for sending him off both in-universe and in a meta way. But then there’s a bit in the tribute where Dom looks to his left and there’s Brian. And the problem is, this is the moment in the film where I felt it was the most obvious that we’re looking at Paul Walker’s face digitally pasted onto his brother’s body. That sort of struck a creepy note after it was going so well. But taken as a whole, the tribute gets a thumbs up.
Take Furious 7 as it is, as an adrenaline ride with some fun action sequences, appealing cast chemistry, but also its requisite share of male gaze (on the receiving end: not only women but lots of cars, of course!). That’s all you can do, because that’s all the franchise seeks to deliver. And the seventh Fast and Furious delivers it well. A weak 7/10.