I was extremely cautious coming into Furious 7, the death of Paul Walker was obviously going to colour the entire experience and if the film felt at all like a cash-grab there was no way I could possibly enjoy it. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded – Furious 7 continues along the same path cemented by Justin Lin quartet (Tokyo Drift through Fast & Furious 6), sitting somewhere in-between his best (Fast Five) and his worst (Fast & Furious). The film kicks off with Deckard (Jason Statham), the vengeful brother of Owen Shaw, as he embarks on a one man quest for revenge against Dominic (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and co. for crippling his brother in the series’s last installment. Through circumstance they become acquainted with a charismatic government agent (Kurt Russell) who convinces them to steal a surveillance tool from another shady villain to track down Deckard and take him out. It’s extremely convoluted and hard to follow, but leads to a number of magnificent set-pieces and effects shots that more than make up for its lack of logic and coherence.
The film, while not a masterpiece or the series’ finest, is a (slight) return to form after the sixth which, despite being a decent film overall, suffered from pacing issues that were especially noticeable in climactic scenes that had a tendency to drag. That’s not to say that Furious 7 fares much better, suffering from attempts to attain a scope that is far too large for its minor ambitions.1 Unfortunately, and this is probably the biggest shortcoming of the film, there is only a single, downplayed use of the mythical speed-juice NOS on display here; it is not until the film’s final minutes that the special substance makes an appearance, and only in a very blink-and-you’ll miss it fashion. Long gone are the days of CGI depicting the direct injection of street-racing cheat code directly into car motors.2
Despite this gripe (it may seem minor but I’m sure it will be pretty major for die-hard series fans), the film does have a lot going for it. The stunt casting is spectacular (and when it’s not, it is in theory), with Kurt Russell turning in a fantastic self-aware performance, Ronda Rousey tearing up the screen in an intense scene of hand-to-hand combat, and Iggy Azalea making one of the most hilariously terrible cameos in recent memory. James Wan seems to have taken a lot from Lin’s previous films, adding his own The Raid: Redemption influenced twist to create a sort of Wan/Lin hybrid that works well in the grand scale of the series. In fact, despite the odd scene here and there,3 Wan more than proves himself up to the task; it’s great to see him operating beyond a modest budget (previously the highest budget he had worked with was $20 million on both 2007’s Dead Silence and 2013’s The Conjuring) and incorporating his signature moves (down-cranked slo-mo, fantastic sound design) into the Fast & Furious series. He does extremely well with his (arguably) first big studio film, and I look forward to seeing him take on more films that operate beyond the horror genre.4
That’s not to say the direction isn’t without its shortcomings, Wan does some typically Wan things that irritate me, especially the inclusion of his (previously mentioned) 24-running-at-12 frames per second slow motion5, however these aspects of the film didn’t detract from my viewing experience and didn’t feel inauthentic – they are very much stylistic features of Wan’s work and the film would be less representative of him as a director without them.
Something that he really pulls off is cementing Paul Walker as an ever-present force in the film despite minimal screentime. The production crew who worked on this have absolutely knocked it out of the park, considering the circumstances, working out ways to keep his character’s aura present in every relevant scene while cutting out dialogue (he has about 50-60% less lines in this than any of the other films) and working around the fact that he was absent from set for the second half of the shooting schedule. It’s really nice that he gets to go out like this, the film really doesn’t feel like a strung together cash-grab (even though it’s obviously going to make buckets of money) but instead a respectful and well-rounded send-off, that includes him, rather than mythologizes him or laments his absence.
For every step forward this film does take, it seems to take another one back, however. The product placement is often hilarious in this film, finally reaching the point of an overt running joke (a particularly funny joke involving Coronas towards the end of the first third is the pinnacle of this) – despite this the product placement is regularly problematic. This film also contains the most illogical and heinous case of product placement in the series and no, it’s not a joke, or at least not a funny one; Monster Energy Drinks logos are hidden all throughout the background of a Race Wars event – this is never directly addressed and is not played up enough for me to consider it a visual gag, it feels really out of place and seems really inorganic.
This film, unlike the first and last three, would also definitely fail the Bechdel test6 – Michelle Rodriguez is reduced from fully-fleshed out female character to love object and the film nullifies a lot of the character development we saw in her entries in the Fast series;7 a throwaway female hacker is tossed into the mix, we’re told she’s a genius but we never actually see her do anything, the crew never ask for her opinion, and most importantly we never see her show off her hacking skills apart from pressing a single, large ‘hack’ button – in fact a large chunk of her role is to be ogled by Roman (Tyrese Gibson). This is in stark contrast to a similar character Tej (Ludacris) who is always seen fiddling with gadgets or assembling something; it feels very token-smart-female-character-who-doesn’t-really-do-anything and is extremely paper-thin. In addition to this there is a far higher saturation of background eye candy than in previous instalments, although this is partially balanced out by a scene of Ronda Rousey (of UFC fame) kicking ass.
Possibly the most heinous misstep of the film is that Jason Statham is not a well fleshed out villain – they literally brought Chev Chelios from Crank into the Fast series and they did nothing with him. He just shows up now and then, attacks Dominic, then leaves just as soon as he came. It must be difficult to write a decent role for such a known entity as Statham in a film that has so many well known ‘good-guy’ protagonists, and it’s not a problem the films have really faced before, with their much more generic bad guy characters played by lesser known actors, but it’s sad to see the film not even attempt to rise to the challenge.
While a lot of the prior paragraphs may make it seem like I didn’t enjoy the movie, this couldn’t be further from the truth – I’m generally much harsher on the films I love and this is a franchise with which I am truly enamoured. Having smashed through all of its predecessors in the lead-up to this most recent instalment, the series’ strengths and flaws have become much clearer to me and it is much easier to pick apart what does and doesn’t work about each one, hence all of the criticism. At the end of the day, these films are all about having fun, and while earlier instalments may stumble into some of these features accidentally, the film isn’t about well-rounded performances, tight scripts, intelligent plotting, logic or cohesiveness. The question we should be asking is definitely: “Is this a fun film?” The answer: yes. In fact, it’s extremely fun. It’s lively, energetic, funny, outrageous, ridiculous, and self-aware – it happens to contain one of the best scenes of the franchise, rivalling Brian and Dominic’s final showdown in the original, which sees our two leads jump from building to building of the Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi in a prototype, one of a kind, supercar.8 Furious 7 sits somewhere in the middle of the series, a place that will be more than enough reason for fans to purchase a ticket for the film. It’s a fitting and cathartic send-off to Paul Walker, and a deserving conclusion to the main Fast series that ties everything up really nicely. Hopefully the hinted spin-off film is actually in the pipeline, because maybe then we’ll be able to see Statham go head to head with a juggernaut from the latter half of the franchise.
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