How Do You Say Goodbye?
A Film Review of Furious 7
You don’t. At least, you do not say farewell in the definitive manner one could expect when a popular film series stands at the crossroads between the lives of Paul Walker and the character he played, Brian O’Connor. The passing of Paul Walker was a tragic loss for many and it presented a serious complication to the completion of Furious 7. There is no prescribed playbook for handling real life and death in any situation, but the purported alterations to the production by director James Wan, writer Chris Morgan and producers Thomas Tull, Samantha Vincent and Vin Diesel were inevitable. These changes also happened to be executed in the classiest of classy manners not always associated with Hollywood pettiness and bookended a franchise built upon muscles, mayhem, explosions, action and cars with warmth and heart.
What allows these kinds of on the fly “changes” happens to be the miscellaneous nature of the overall story of The Fast and the Furious franchise. It’s not like these films have X amount of major plot points to develop at particular times during various film releases like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whether the team (or rather, the family) assaults a military escort, drives cars on water, blow up a space station or has a picnic is neither here nor there. Two things drive these films: character and over-the-top action. Furious 7 is the third film in the series since Justin Lin raised the bar for the franchise after he realized cars and street racing with any old characters simply won’t do. Lessons learned from the disappointment of Tokyo Drift (2006) opened Lin’s eyes to the power of the characters and mythos the franchise had already established and used nostalgia to make it reach new heights. Director James Wan continues to tap into this trend by bringing back even more faces from the past (I’m looking at you Tokyo Drift) along with new series baddies Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw and Djimon Hounsou as Jakande. The film wastes no time establishing big brother to Owen Shaw (big bad of F&F 6) as a legitimate and perhaps superior threat to Dominic Toretto’s family to date. Then the story is off to the races to conveniently wrap up every loose end from the last film as well as Tokyo Drift while giving the family a new reason to get back in the game. What follows is an impromptu skip around the world and back to where it all started in LA and the audience barely has time to take a breath between any sequence thanks to the over cramming of action at all times.
The one weakness that the story presented to me was when the film approached its climax. At about the ¾ point in the film, Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) is put into 3-4 specifically solo deadly situations and it was after the first that my attention seemed to split off every time his character was seemingly “gonna get it.” Instead of maintaining my focus on simply processing all of the high octane eye candy that was constantly being blasted into my visual cortex, I became hyper sensitive to scenes where Brian alone was in danger. I wanted to be fully alert to appreciate (or loathe) O’Connor’s final moment of truth. None associated with this film production directly hinted at how Paul Walker’s death would be incorporated into this film and the natural presumption for us all is that his character would perish in some heroic manner for the story. I can neither confirm nor deny any of said speculation in the name of keeping spoilers locked in the closet, but I didn’t like how I was distracted by the elephant in the room. What’s worse is that it seems as though the filmmakers did so on purpose in what seems like a series of teases when they could have easily shared the danger more evenly amongst the entire cast. All in all, the story of Furious 7 is too reminiscent of the past three films and that’s great if all you want is another stroll down memory lane. By now, confidence in these characters and this particular fictional world should be more than enough to start taking risks to allow them to deviate outside their tried and true behavior if for any other reason than to shake things up. Unfortunately, this is not the case for this movie.
Again, plot was never a priority for these films and that’s totally fine so long as it filled the void with spectacular stunts, combat and action. The F&F franchise puts on its weight training belt, injects its syringe of “protein supplement” and flexes its mammoth biceps in this respect. When it comes to the shear balance of gunplay, fisticuffs and vehicular warfare, Furious 7 leaves its every predecessor in the dust. The set pieces may not be as imposing, the explosions may not be as engulfing and the stunts may not be as eye rolling-ly ridiculous, but their juxtaposition within the overall playtime of the film keeps the audience off guard and never bores the audience with too much shooting or punching or driving at any one time. The hand to hand combat on display throughout is top notch with an exceptional nod to Statham vs. Diesel as part of the film’s climax sequence. Guns are a mainstay of every action film, but I am surprised with all the steroid induced rage throughout this series that we haven’t seen an appearance by a hand toted mini-gun. We can all thank The Rock for doing so here. Car stunts were much more focused on wrecking and destruction rather than acrobatics and nimbleness. You should rest easy knowing that Furious 7 is a guy’s guy film that oozes Olympian levels of testosterone from every orifice at all times.
Performances by the entire cast are as reliable as just about every installment of this franchise’s take at the box office. Diesel is an effective talk less, fist first leader. Dwayne Johnson flings about charismatic one-liners as well as his massive arms. Paul Walker’s got a pretty smile and channels his pseudo-free-running kung fu style. Tyrese Gibson is a great, clueless peacock and Ludacris is the perfect check to Roman’s general jack-assery. Jordana Brewster is an effective pretty girl being the protective den mother and Michelle Rodriguez fills in the prerequisite “girls can kick ass too” role. Jason Statham was born to do action films and whether he’s the hero or the villain, you can count on him to deliver the intensity. These actors do what they do well, once again, even if you have seen them do all of this before. I simply didn’t understand the inclusion of Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody. Don’t get me wrong, I love the guy and his body of work, but F&F is certainly not a franchise that suffers from a lack of star power (especially recently) and there’s no reason to nudge this franchise any closer to The Expendables when it clearly made these movies less about the cars and more about the combat by the fourth film anyway.
Furious 7 is a good blockbuster primer to May 1st and beyond the rest of the summer. However, it isn’t great and by the seventh film in any series, if major shifts in character, plot development, effects or overall feel haven’t occurred then fatigue is assured and this super car is running low on fuel. Where do you go when you’ve already pushed the dial to 11 with Fast Five? Loyal fanboys will not only get their fill with Furious 7, but they could easily see more movies get green lit (and why not with an opening weekend global take at the box office over $384 million). Those kinds of numbers all but assure an 8th entry, but this family feel good action rollercoaster needs to take new twists and turns. Going back to the same canister of nitrous only takes you so far, so fast. This movie is almost worth seeing only for the final send off to Paul Walker which is framed within a very personal voiceover of brotherhood by Vin Diesel. It was respectful, loving and a bit tear-jerking.