This time it ain’t just about being fast. That’s why it’s not in the title.
by Thom Yee
I’ve spent the last two weeks of my life immersed… submerged… consumed… by The Fast and the Furious. Last week I watched (and reviewed) every movie in the series, back-to-back, reaching all the way back to the 2001 original, and that’s something I’ve never done before. Sure, a couple of years ago I did the same with Die Hard, but there were only four of those at the time, one of them is one of the greatest movies of all time, and most of them are better (in some cases considerably so) than most of the Fast and Furious movies. But this time… this time it would be six movies, six movies in a series that’s objectively not that great, and at least one of them is widely acknowledged to be terrible.
Six Fast and Furious movies in a row, all roads leading to Furious 7 and this review.
I can say, after all of that, that I’m now fully a fan of the series.
I would say, however, that I’m also now a worse person for having done all of that.
Anyone who’s come this far with the series knows what the deal is with Furious 7. Following the mediocrity of Fast & Furious, the fourth installment in the series that reunited the original cast, Fast Five took us from the self-serious, overblown and underdeveloped world of street racing as imagined by Hollywood and full bore into implausible action series that happens to feature cars.
As well as the series has done pivoting away from its roots toward more fruitful territory, spectators and newcomers to the series might still be asking questions like:
- Why seven?
- Why so many?
- When’s it going to be enough?
- Will the series ever end?
The answer to all four questions is money. So:
- Why seven? Money.
- Why so many? Money.
- When’s it going to be enough? Money.
- Will the series ever end? Money.
Money, as in billions of dollars, with each new installment since the third earning more than the last, and now Furious 7 opening to the fourth biggest global opening of all time with $384 million dollars, all while setting a new American record for April opening weekends and Easter opening weekends. In their own way, every Fast and Furious movie since the fourth — especially the current Furious 7 — has been a perfect place to end the series, but if you’re the type of person who’s looking for the series to end, you should know that we’re nowhere near that point.
The sins of London have followed our heroes home. After foiling ex-special forces soldier and crime lord Owen Shaw’s plans to steal vital components for the Nightshade Device, which they mostly did because Dom’s believed dead girlfriend Letty was discovered alive and part of Shaw’s crew, leading them to further discover that former foe Arturo Braga had actually been working with Shaw the whole time, leading Shaw to attempt to kill Letty, who they knew was undercover with Braga’s group from the beginning, only for Shaw to instead make her part of his crew because she had amnesia, Owen Shaw’s bigger, badder, balder brother, rogue special forces assassin Deckard (Jason Statham) is out for revenge, badly injuring Dom’s [begrudging] associate Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and hunting down Dom’s crew, starting with Han Seoul-Oh, tying up the thread that’s been dangling over the series ever since Tokyo Drift, before going after Dom directly, only for Dom to accept an offer from the mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to rescue the kidnapped hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) from the mercenary Jakande (Djimon Honsou) in exchange for the chance to use Ramsey’s software, the God’s Eye, to track and take down Deckard, all of which is ridiculously convoluted, particularly if you try to stuff it all into one sentence, as I just did.
Back in reality, the most important question for Furious 7 was how the series was going to continue after the death of main co-star Paul Walker. Originally scheduled for release in the summer of 2014, Walker’s November, 2013 death shocked movie fans and threw a serious wrench in the Fast and Furious franchise’s future. Questions arose as to how or if Furious 7 could be completed and whether or not the series should continue at all. Eventually, and with the participation of Paul Walker’s family, including his brothers as stand ins, we got to where we are today and the loving tribute that Furious 7 serves as.
To be honest, when I first learned of Paul Walker’s death, I was pretty ambivalent. Any loss of life is tragic in its own way (for the most part), but there are very few celebrity deaths that have ever affected me, and for me, Paul Walker was never much more than a passable actor. I wouldn’t go to a movie because of him or avoid a movie because he was in it. But then we started hearing about what a good guy he was, and not just the platitudes that usually follow an unexpected, accidental death, but the serious plaudits that rightfully should follow someone who not only contributed financially and personally to charitable causes, but founded a nonprofit organization focused on post-disaster relief, none of which came to light until after his death. And then we started hearing about how much everyone who knew him loved him, how he was the type of guy who would anonymously help people he didn’t even know because it was the right thing to do. He still may never have been a great actor, but he was a pretty good movie star, and what appears to be an amazing person. As crass as the series has been in execution, and as crass as the series’ extended existence being mostly the result of money might be, the care and effort with which the producers honoured Walker’s legacy was just about as elegant and genuine as it could have been. That aspect of the movie alone is enough to make Furious 7 worth seeing, with a memorial closing so well conceived and so properly rendered and so heartbreakingly perfect that it would’ve brought a tear to my eye if I weren’t so outwardly inhuman (with a secretly sentimental heart of gold).
Ever since Tokyo Drift‘s ending and Vin Diesel’s surprise cameo, Han’s death has hung over the series as something that would eventually have to be dealt with. I’ve always argued that we never saw the body, that we only saw Han’s car flip, Sean Boswell running to the site of Han’s crash, and then an explosion, and with the way the scene was shot, an ambiguous amount of time passed in between seeing Han struggling to exit his wrecked RX-7 and the explosion. We never saw the body, and especially after Fast & Furious 6 and Braga explicitly calling out our heroes for burying something that turned out not to be Letty, the Han’s still alive theory should’ve been going stronger than ever. Alas, nobody seems to care about Han anymore, at least partially because the writers never saw fit to service his character any more after Tokyo Drift, so it definitely looks like Sung Kang’s time in the series is over.
Furious 7 is concerned mostly with three things: 1) Dom and Letty’s reunion, 2) Brian and Mia’s family commitments, and 3) using Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw as a flimsy excuse for another movie. Beginning with Dom and Letty’s return to Race Wars, one of the featured events from the very first movie, Dom’s attempts to shake Letty’s memories loose prove ineffective, even with the return of Hector (who either never made it to the NIRA circuit, discovered that there is no NIRA circuit, or is that old guy who’s still hanging around places from his youth even fourteen years later). Eventually Letty sets off on her own to find herself. On the other side of their world, Brian is grappling with the prospect of fatherhood, exchanging his Skyline’s straight six for six cylinders of passenger minivan and days of elementary school drop offs. Meanwhile, Deckard Shaw, in the hottest of pursuits after discovering the fate of his brother Owen (and, for some reason, killing or injuring everyone attending to him at the hospital before telling them to take care of his brother in an impressively shot scene meant to prove his badassery but actually decreasing the level of his brother’s care), goes after Agent Luke Hobbs for vital information on those responsible for his brother’s condition, leading to our first major confrontation.
In terms of action, Furious 7 is on a different (or, if you prefer, whole nother) level than everything that’s preceded it, and it all starts to beg the question of whether or not cars are impeding the progress of the series or if this is the first in the series that’s lost its grip on the core premise. The fight between Hobbs and Deckard is good, combining two action stars known for their technical fighting abilities, and what’s usually a scene used to prove how dangerous our latest villain instead ends in a bit of a stalemate if not a little in Hobbs’ favour. Fights like this wind up being pretty common throughout the movie, including Dom vs. Deckard, Letty vs. UFC champion Ronda Rousey (playing a bodyguard who I don’t think received a name in the movie), and Brian vs. Tony Jaa (playing an enforcer who I also don’t think received a name in the movie), but combined with the amount of gunplay that naturally comes from a movie full of mercenaries, assassins, and covert government (?) agencies, the cars start to feel like secondary features in what used to be their own world. For the series as a whole, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I do miss the days when car chases were featured more at the core of the action rather than just vehicles to other goals. Especially considering how inspired a choice Jason Statham was as a villain following his time as The Transporter and how integral cars were to that series, I just wish we got action scenes that were a little more car than bullet-centric.
Individually, most of the pieces come together to form a satisfying whole in Furious 7, with the car parachuting and ensuing chase probably being my favourite extended action scene in the entire series, and the Lykan HyperSport building jump ends up being outright hilarious (rather than mind-disturbingly stupid) when you realize that Dom and Brian are going to have to make another jump after the first. Though the latest Fast and Furious installment continues to break new ground in the audacity of its set pieces, it’s also a movie with several shout outs to the original, including the aforementioned Hector at Race Wars, the determined look in Brian’s eyes behind the wheel (only this time it’s a Chrysler Town & Country rather than a Mitsubishi Eclipse), and the triumphant return of the Toyota Supra at the movie’s conclusion.
Kurt Russell stands out like a sore thumb in the movie, his Mr. Nobody almost a relic of a different time in movie making. A better time. Especially compared to the stiff acting of its leads, Russell elevates the movie, bringing nuance and intentionality to every one of his lines. He doesn’t get a whole lot of material in Furious 7, but in the hands of a lesser (or more contemporary) actor, Mr. Nobody could easily have been actually nobody rather than a bright spot that I look forward to seeing in the movies to follow. He’s at least noteworthy enough to have his own paragraph.
On the downside… what the hell was happening? It took me much longer and it took much more research than it should’ve to put together that behemoth of a plot synopsis, and as I looked back at what was actually going on, I don’t know if it was worth it. At one point after rescuing Ramsey, Vin Diesel proclaims, “We’re going to the Middle East!”, and I was like, “Whaat?” (with two ‘a’s). I’m fine with just sitting back and accepting things if they lead to Nathalie Emmanuel in a bikini, an abundance of female butt shots (really an overabundance if there is such a thing), and more Jason Statham action, but it shouldn’t be this hard to follow a story in a movie this openly stupid. And later when Djimon Honsou’s Jakande shows up again, still after the God’s Eye, you’re like, “Oh yeah… that guy….” There’s a broad throughline that usually worked in the previous installments and wasn’t too hard to keep track of even if we didn’t actually care about what was going on, but Furious 7 is so disjointed at times that you can’t help but question it.
On a factual level, Furious 7 has a lot going for it, even if none of those facts relate to intelligent narratives, legitimate character development, or natural storytelling inertia. But when I thought about it, especially after these last two weeks, I remembered and finally appreciated that these are characters I’ve grown up with, and to be able to see them so regularly over the last fifteen years is a treat few of us have with people in real life. Furious 7 easily passes the tests of action movies, including the crucial component of direction that allows us to follow what’s going on, unlike some movies, and it continues the saga in a way that’s respectful of its characters (except Han) while introducing new storytelling possibilities. It’s still not a great movie, it amplifies the trend of confusing storytelling that crept into the series with Fast & Furious 6, and I don’t think it’s actually better than that movie, but it remains a sh*t-eating grin of a movie, especially any part with the Rock in it, and it’s good enough to go see while still in theatres. More importantly, it sends Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner off into his own sunset in a way that honours the actor without over-describing or over-explaining in-story reasons for his exit. All that plus Kurt Russell, and that last fact alone is worth half a point.
Furious 7 final score: 7.5
On the Edge
- Question to Deckard: So how’s your little brother Owen doing? Did you ever even go back to check on him?
- Look! Pre-breast-implants Iggy Azalea!
- It’s too bad that of all the characters that have continued with the series, Lucas Black’s Sean Boswell physically aged the worst. Between his race with Dom from Tokyo Drift, and immediately talking to him after the race (in reality nine years later) he definitely doesn’t look a high schooler anymore.
- Really wish Tony Jaa’s character blew up after falling down the elevator shaft. He didn’t appear to have any explosives on him and it wouldn’t have made sense, but it would’ve been funny.
- On the subject of Tony Jaa, and with all due respect to Paul Walker, what a waste. I wish that the producers would write in an actual martial artist good guy if they’re going to keep bringing in martial artist bad guys.
- I know the whole franchise is suspect for its general lack of traffic during action scenes, but since when is there next to no traffic in L.A.?