Furious 7 Delivers the Goods and Does Well by Paul Walker
Review by Daniel Rester
I have a drinking game in mind: every time a character should be majorly injured in a Fast and the Furious film but somehow walks away with no pain, a player drinks. Of course no one should actually do this because they would run the risk of quickly getting alcohol poisoning. This is especially true of the latest entry, Furious 7, which features some of the most over-the-top thrills of the franchise.
The idea of the main characters (and actors) getting injured is also more worrisome and emotional now with Furious 7. This is because of Paul Walker starring in the film, making his final film appearance since he tragically died in 2013. With some re-writes, the magic of CGI, and some help from Paul’s brothers Caleb and Cody as stand-ins, Walker’s character Brian O’Conner is able to be in the film throughout its whole runtime; it has been said that Walker had completed about 80% of filming on the project before his passing.
Furious 7 picks up soon after the events of Fast & Furious 6 (2013) – and technically the events of The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) as well for those keeping track of the chronology. After defeating Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), Dominic (Vin Diesel), Brian (Walker), still-amnesiac Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and the other “family” members try to settle down. This is soon interrupted when Deckard Shaw (a scowling, effective Jason Statham), Owen’s brother, puts the beefy Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in the hospital and seeks revenge on the others in various ways.
Dominic and his team soon strike a deal with a mysterious man named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, clearly having fun in a small but welcome role). He needs the crew to rescue a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) from a terrorist known as Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) and his trusted henchman Kiet (Tony Jaa). The reason: Ramsey invented a device called “God’s Eye,” which can hack into any electronic device with a camera in the world. If Dominic does this for Mr. Nobody, he and the others are promised to be able to use the object to track down and kill Shaw.
It’s amusing to think that a small actioner about car racing would make stars out of its cast and spawn six sequels. But here we are. Universal hit a few bumps in the road, but they have now transformed the series into a super-successful franchise with superhero-like characters and the expected eye-popping stunts.
James Wan, who usually sticks to horror films, takes over directing reigns from Justin Lin – who made the third through sixth entries – while Chris Morgan returns as the screenwriter. Lin reinvigorated the series with the fifth and sixth entries, which focused more on the team aspect of the characters, larger set pieces, and plots that had less racing. Wan obviously took some notes as Furious 7 is in line with the style of the previous two entries, though I would say it is a bit less successful than those two films.
Lin presented some of the most insane action ever committed to film with the last two movies, yet some of it was still thinly believable in ways and worked off of serviceable plots that weren’t great but got the job done. Wan, on the other hand, goes for broke and essentially turns Furious 7 into a live-action cartoon with completely unbelievable action and a plot that globe-trots and gets a little messy. The director also utilizes too much of other certain elements, such as shots of female butts, comic relief from Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and quick-cut editing with the hand-to-hand combat. With the inflated running time, Wan’s treatment of the material becomes too ridiculous and exhausting by the film’s finale.
Those complaints aside, Wan has still done an impressive job overall in taking over in helming the series. Writer Morgan has also done fine work of calling back to previous entries in the series in ways that will surely please long-time fans. Furious 7 still contains much of the bad dialogue and other flaws that came with the other films, but that’s expected and actually a charming element somehow in some viewers’ eyes – including myself. Basically the movie keeps the nuts and bolts intact, so those who love the movies will likely love this one and those who hate them will find nothing to change their minds (though Fast Five (2011) did convert some people).
Though bloated and eye-roll-worthy, Furious 7 is also completely aware of what it is and only seeks to provide exciting entertainment for audience members. It succeeds. The film contains one of the greatest action scenes I think I’ve ever seen. The scene involves a mountain road, parachuting cars, and a well-armored bus. It is actually so thrilling that it feels like the rest of the film tries to top it but never gets close despite having multiple other set pieces.
The film has its other qualities outside of the technical aspects. The appealingly multicultural cast includes the likable heroes as well as a number of welcome supporting players – including the likes of Lucas Black and Ronda Rousey. The acting isn’t top-notch, like usual, but the cast has this material down pat by now. They are all led by the burly Diesel and the charming Walker.
Wan and the filmmakers faced a difficult roadblock when it came to what to do with Walker’s character as far as exiting the series went. I must say that what they came up with is perfect, providing a moving and tasteful ending to the film. The actor, and his memorable treatment of Brian O’Conner, will be missed by many.
Though the popular series will undoubtedly move forward with more sequels, it will never really be the same without Walker involved. Furious 7 is the fourth best film of the series in my opinion, ranking behind the first, fifth, and sixth entries and far ahead of the mediocre second and third entries and the disappointing fourth entry. So though the film isn’t quite as strong on a whole as I had hoped for, for me it is still the last one of the franchise that will really matter — and they couldn’t have ended it better. R.I.P. Paul William Walker IV.
My Grade: B+ (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Basic Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental, See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Ticket
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language).
Runtime: 2 hours and 17 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: April 3rd, 2015.