A morbid sense of doom lingers over Furious 7, and it grows darker the longer Paul Walker’s character is spent living and breathing within the film.
Walker died in an unrelated accident in the middle of production, so it was widely known that the seventh Fast and Furious entry would have to tinker with its already completed story to write Walker out of the franchise. Careful CGI was used to blend old and new footage, and the actor’s brothers were on hand as stand-ins. But what were they up to? And how did the story change under these awful circumstances?
Overlooking the terrible tragedy that befell Walker (and a friend, who also perished), these screenwriting questions interest me greatly. Films are bubbles largely sheltered from the outside world. And Walker’s unfortunate death popped the bubble and allowed real life to flood into the film’s playfully dopey car adventures. I was curious how the franchise would handle it: how would it break the fourth wall and send Walker’s FBI gearhead off into the great beyond?
The answer is heartbreakingly appropriate. It comes where you least expect it, and it’s so fitting — solemn yet light-hearted, honest yet in-character, emotional yet also very functional — that the film ends and a public memorial for this beloved actor and character springs up in its place.
Just looking at the movie, though, Furious 7 is not a high point for the franchise. The stunts are bigger and more brazen violations of the laws of physics, which is always goofy fun, but the tone is less tongue-in-cheek than that of the fifth or sixth movies, franchise highwater marks that abandoned all seriousness at the door. In the end, it’s just trying too hard to be cool, a characteristic that must be finessed out of a film, not bludgeoned in.
It begins sorta where the last one left off: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is out-of-his-skull angry that his criminally minded brother found himself in intensive care for being a capital-V villain. Shaw goes berserk and vows revenge on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Walker) and their gang of hooligan racers, who are forever telling themselves “just one more job.”
The movie’s strangest development happens early, when it’s revealed that Shaw killed a driver named Han way back in the third film, Tokyo Drift in 2006. This plot point was the big reveal at the end of the last movie. So here we are in Part 7 at a funeral for a character who died just yesterday in the movie’s universe, but nine years ago for the audience. And then, at the cemetery, before the body is even in the ground, Toretto starts a car chase amid the headstones, which is a weird image for a movie starring a dead actor.
Shaw escapes many times, and Toretto chases him many times. It’s the mantra of the film, and the franchise to a certain extent. Eventually, a super-spy played by Kurt Russell — and literally named Mr. Nobody — turns up and offers to help Dom and his crew catch Shaw, but they first have to retrieve a hacker named Ramsey, who invented a surveillance program called God’s Eye. This is where the plot threatens to strangle this film.
There’s a hilarious bit with Ramsey’s secret files, which she sent to a car mechanic in Abu Dhabi. So they jump on a plane, because they apparently don’t have cell phones to call him and the mechanic can’t be bothered to use the mail. But when they get to the Middle East, the mechanic sold the files, now in a thumb drive, to a royal prince, who installed the thumb drive in his billion-dollar car … in a vault … high up in a tower. This improbable revelation initiates an extended heist sequence in a trio of skyscrapers high above the desert floor. I enjoyed it, but the setup could have been much cleaner.
These are dumb movies, a point few people are going to argue with. They’re so dumb that an opening shot featuring the Tower Bridge and Big Ben must tell viewers this is “London.” And the product placement is shameless, including a scene in which Mr. Nobody gabs on forever about Belgian ale. Toretto passes and asks for a Corona. Mr. Nobody, like a magician, pulls a perspiring metal ice bucket full of Coronas from behind a desk, where they were presumably filming a beer commercial between Furious 7 takes.
Director James Wan stumbles from action scene to action scene, filling the interludes with closeups of bare female butts in thongs and factories that spew smoke and sparks around glistening supercars with immaculate paintjobs. He doesn’t seem to know how to pace the film’s brand of mindless action. It goes from cemetery chase to vehicular skydiving to cliff jumping to skyscraper heists to factory shootouts to drone attacks. Each action sequence is more ridiculous than the one before it, but with each new one the characters get a little more lost in the shuffle.
It’s a shame they’re mistreated, because the characters are actually likable, something it took many movies to achieve. Diesel is great, Michelle Rodriguez is less sassy and more interesting, and Dwayne Johnson, who serves no purpose, is there to cheer us all up. In one scene he flexes his muscles right out of an arm cast because why not? Even Walker, who was slowly becoming a more minor character in the franchise, has a great scene with a minivan at his kid’s school.
Fans of the Fast and Furious series will feel right at home in all this. I rolled my eyes about as much as they rolled tires, but I would still take the worst Fast and Furious movie over the best Transformers movie any day of the week. The best reason to see Furious 7 is to see what they do with Walker and his character. It’s classy, and graceful, and appropriate. Bring tissues.