With seven entries under its belt, no one could accuse the Fast and Furious franchise of reaching the finish line prematurely. Everyone was ready to call it quits after the abysmal 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), but Justin Lin somehow managed to salvage the series with the four subsequent entries, rehabilitating its protagonists from adolescent street racers to equally adolescent super-heroes with car-related powers. Tying up the loose ends, James Wan’s Furious 7 takes our heroes’ unlikely progression to its logical conclusion, by which I mean a sharp turn in the most preposterous direction imaginable: globe-trotting espionage!
I’m not kidding. We start off with a fantastically over-the-top cold open introducing Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) as the greatest badass the team will ever face. Seeking vengeance for his brother’s death in Fast and Furious 6 (2013), he tracks down each of our heroes, catching us up on what happened in America during The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). Then, out of nowhere, Kurt Russell shows up as “Mr Nobody” to task Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew with retrieving the God’s Eye, a dangerous surveillance program that I suspect Google already owns. True to the James Bond formula, Furious 7 even takes us to exotic locales like Abu Dhabi, the Caucasus Mountains, and, boy, that’s a lot of plot!
Thankfully, the cast has dwindled to a manageable number. Han and Giselle are dead; Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Elena (Elsa Pataky) have retired; and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) sits out half the movie so he can later flex off an arm cast while exclaiming, “I am the cavalry!” This leaves Furious 7 with five members to handle the spy stuff: Dom the “Alpha”, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) the “Mrs Alpha”, Brian (Paul Walker) the “ex cop”, Tej (Ludacris) the “tech guy”, and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) the “joker”. We also get newcomer Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) to provide these trailer-ready nicknames, but she doesn’t do any driving. Curiously, neither does Sean (Lucas Black) from Tokyo Drift, who shows up for just one scene. You’re all heartbroken, I know.
With all this going on, Furious 7 feels a bit erratic at times, such as when Letty breaks up with Dom only to return to the fold a few scenes later. Screenwriter Chris Morgan also struggles with tone, letting his protagonists engage in the sort of macho posturing common in revenge stories when they could just shoot the baddie and prevent a global catastrophe. Mind you, ropy plotting has become a staple of the Fast and Furious franchise. I mean, who cares about the likeliness of a priceless computer chip being hidden in a sports car (one that Dom can lift with his bare hands no less) so long as we get our fill of adrenaline-charged spectacle?
In terms of blockbuster filmmaking, Wan does a solid job with Furious 7, but he’s no Justin Lin. Despite a few neat tricks like the one-eighty tilt to capture a classic wrestling move, the former horror director positions his camera way too close during the fight sequences, making it difficult to appreciate the choreography. I don’t care either for the way he lingers on women’s butt cracks. Granted, the original The Fast and the Furious (2001) brims with shots of this kind. However, fans of the more recent entries in the series know that the sex appeal of car culture can be evoked without resorting to such crass objectification.
More to the point, Wan’s film plays like a traditional action thriller (a good one at that), opening at a healthy seven on the “wow” scale and slowly escalating to ten. Unfortunately, Lin has got us used to a different rhythm for the Fast and Furious franchise, starting us off at eleven and somehow cranking things up all the way to thirteen. As a result, though Furious 7 will keep you legitimately entertained throughout, you may find yourself missing the elation of sitting in a theatre room and wondering, “Oh, my God, what’s going to happen next?!”
Still, Wan remains a consummate storyteller, keeping us appraised of the purpose and geography of every car chase. You see, the set pieces in Furious 7 have got a more conceptual slant. I like, for instance, the way Shaw handles his own marginalisation from the plot, randomly intruding on the Mission: Impossible scenes so as to add a wicked X-factor to the proceedings. Also consider the climactic sequence, wherein the crew keeps a military drone busy by playing vehicular hot potato with its target. Communicating through invisible earpieces like pretend X-wing pilots circling the Death Star, our heroes each get a chance to shine and showcase how their unique personality affects their driving. Neat.
Wan’s true achievement, though, lies in his handling of Brian O’Conner. No review of Furious 7 would be complete without some mention of Paul Walker’s tragic passing during production. On a technical level, the editors and special effects team have done a spectacular job filling the gaps in his performance. Sure, some shortcuts had to be taken, such as when Mia relays over the phone a crucial conversation she had with her husband. By the same token, the beach scene at the end doesn’t entirely make sense within its fictional context. However, I believe the movie strikes a perfect balance between paying solemn respect to a dear friend and staying true to the joyous spirit of the franchise.
Consider the final scene, in which Dom sits in his muscle car and meditates on his fourteen-year friendship with Brian. The resulting montage is obviously meant to pay tribute to Walker as an actor, but it also works as a conclusion to the Fast and Furious series itself. I don’t think anyone would feel cheated if Furious 7 turned out to be the final chapter in our heroes’ saga. At the same time, though, I’ve grown so attached to the knuckleheads that I really want to see what they do next.