The Fast and Furious franchise is the kind of greasy action nirvana that Sylvester Stallone dreamed about making with his leaden Expendables flicks. No, there aren’t any faded ‘80s icons looking for a comeback here, but with each entry, there are more glorious crossovers, over-the-top team-ups, brutal beatdowns, and schoolyard bravado between just about every charismatic ass-kicker working today. A new installment comes with the implicit mandate that it will be bigger, sillier, and more ridiculous than the last. Furious 7 is no exception—it’s the right kind of stupid with brazenly monumental action and 137 minutes of high-octane explosions, sure to rev its core audience’s engine from the opening credits’ green light.
Picking up mostly after the events of Fast & Furious 6 (or The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift for continuity purists), Furious 7 finally answers the question of who killed Han (Sung Kang). And the correct answer, like most things in life, is Jason Statham. Playing Deckard Shaw, Statham represents the kind of British baddie that might crop up in the espionage genre, except now he is gunning for Dom (Vin Diesel) and the rest of the Toretto Crew, because the previous installment’s big bad (Luke Evans) was his kid brother.
So, after leaving Han in the ground and the new family home of Brian and Mia O’Conner (Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster) in ashes, things get personal. Fortunately for Dom, a CIA-ish spook that calls himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) shows up at just the right time to recruit Dom, Brian, and the rest of Toretto’s “familia” (Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, and Tyrese Gibson) into the spy game. With the aid of the U.S. government, they will commit quiet, covert operations like driving suped-up muscle cars with giant parachutes out of airplanes and crashing a precious Lykan Hypersport between three penthouse skyscraper apartments in Dubai. There is also some plot about saving a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) from a mercenary (Djimon Hounsou), but did I not just mention that they drove a Lykan Hypersport between three skyscrapers?!?
Furious 7 marks the first entry in four films not directed by Justin Lin. And indeed, much of the reason we’re still talking about Fast and the Furious nearly 15 years after 2001’s slick and cheesy debut is largely due to Lin customizing the drag racing series into its now elevated global icon status. When he turned Fast Five into Ocean’s 11 with a lot less subtlety and a lot more Dwayne Johnson smolder, the penny dropped and the series never slowed down. Now, even as this is director James Wan’s first entry into this world, much of what people love (or hate) about Fast and the Furious is still here.
From the word go, Furious 7 lets the audience know what kind of ride they’re about to take. If you want to see Jason Statham hand a dazed SWAT guy a live grenade while strolling out of a hospital, Furious 7 is for you. If you need to know that the CIA keeps a bucket of pristinely chilled Coronas in their offices at all times, just to pull out at the exact right moment of Vin Diesel-approved product placement, then Furious 7 is also for you. If your pseudo spy movie must have four half-naked girls painted gold, as one 007 alternative just isn’t enough, then you should probably be lining up for Furious 7’s opening weekend as you’re reading this very review.
Furious 7 is not a picture intended to be savored or analyzed, it’s neon lights and a two-toned paint job, proving that style over substance is not always a bad thing.
When Furious 7 is firing on all cylinders, it’s during a handful of action set-pieces that are too self-aware of their own stupidity to deny their excessive entertainment value. The best is likely the one already spoiled in the trailers where our heroes parachute out of a plane in their vehicles. But a close second is a beautifully barbaric throwdown between Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham early in the film. By far the two most charismatic actors in this picture (besides the mugging cameo interludes with Kurt Russell), Johnson and Statham can both elicit laughter from an audience by just raising an eyebrow or delivering a well-timed insult.
Unfortunately, the Rock does not appear again until near the end, but his fistfight sets a helluva franchise benchmark that even cameos by Tony Jaa and Ronda Rousey cannot match. Still, there are plenty of action set-pieces that bring the eye candy, such as a Fast and the Furious (vintage 2001) throwback, when the heroes must highjack a truck, only they’re not stealing Best Buy TVs anymore.
Indeed, it is Furious 7’s need to often look back that is simultaneously one of the franchise’s greatest assets, and one of its biggest weaknesses. These films have become a breath of fresh air for action fans weary of capes and an overreliance on CGI. But they also have a fairly intricate continuity that is charmingly overdone for such a low ambition premise. Even so, the Toretto Family’s “dramatic” plot threads are constantly serviced. In this particular film’s case, that means trips back to “Race Wars” from the original film, and multiple flashbacks to the Dom and Letty romance—the intended thematic heart of this picture, which ultimately acts as deadweight in the trunk.
In a movie that is already 20 minutes too long, the constant harping on Rodriguez’s bouts with amnesia, as opposed to, say, giving its well cast villain a sense of agency, is a wasted opportunity. Statham is the first solid villain the franchise has ever had, but after the first 15 minutes, instead of driving the narrative, he pretty much sits in the backseat until the climax—floundering while Dom and Letty’s “romance” makes time for a baffling Iggy Azalea cameo.
Still, there is a genuine emotional resonance to Furious 7 that is painfully real. The elephant in the room is of course that this is Paul Walker’s last film. With many of his scenes completed via use of Paul Walker’s real life brothers, Caleb and Cody Walker, standing in for the recently deceased star, the film is somewhat haunted by the need to guess which scenes really include Paul Walker, and which do not. The background placement of the franchise’s second lead is unavoidably noticeable, but so is his heartfelt and sincere sendoff.
The movie doesn’t end on the plot or setting up a sequel. Instead, the last 10 minutes or so of Furious 7 becomes about letting the fans, and the actors, say their goodbyes to both Paul Walker and his character. Again, the franchise’s dedication to continuity can sometimes seem sweetly arbitrary, but occasionally it’s just sweet. Furious 7 gives a fond farewell to Walker and his legacy with the franchise.
These kinds of movies will ride along fine in his absence, but what makes Furious 7 worthwhile is that it chooses to stop the car and pay its respects.