Cars parachute out of airplanes and leap between skyscrapers in Furious 7 (trivia game: try to name every Fast & Furious movie without looking them up), the latest entry in the soap-opera-on-wheels franchise and the last hurrah for Paul Walker, who died in a car crash halfway through filming back in November 2013.
I will say this about the Fast & Furious machine: if nothing else, these films are doggedly consistent. Furious 7 is no better or worse than the previous three entries, and, if memory serves, the three before that. Fast Five remains the strongest entry, and 2 Fast 2 Furious the weakest, but why compare; every one of these movies is exactly the same (and receives the same 2.5-star rating from your truly).
In other words, if you buy a ticket to Furious 7, you know exactly what you’re getting into, and you cannot be reasonably disappointed by what you get.
One thing this latest entry does is continue to push the action-movie envelope in terms of what an audience is willing to accept. I thought Fast & Furious 6 went overboard with its jumbo jet finale (not to mention that Looney Tunes tank chase on the bridge), but Furious 7 outdoes the outdo-able.
In scenes that may well have been inspired by a Road Runner cartoon, Vin Diesel and co. drive their cars out of an airplane at 40,000 feet, drop toward the earth in a freefall, open their parachutes and land perfectly on a highway – to begin a highway chase takedown.
For some reason, this was the best way to approach the situation. I kept asking myself why, which the film never bothers to explain; surely, the bad guys’ entire route from point A to point B cannot be so impenetrable? But then I’m thinking way too much about this.
Later on, characters played by Diesel and Walker drive a car out of the top floor of one of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Towers skyscrapers – only to make it through the window and into another – and then into a third, where they ditch the car before it plummets out of the tower and to the ground below. By this time, I accept the physics-defying stunt work, but then the film just cuts away to the next scene; as if our heroes have escaped their pursuers in the first building by driving a car into the third. Now they’ll never find them.
The plot, as it were, involves uber-badass Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), brother of the last film’s villain, who’s out for revenge. He kills Han (Sun Kang) in flashbacks from the third movie – which took place, chronologically, after the sixth movie – and mails a bomb to Brian (Walker) and wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) in early scenes here. A warning bomb, to let them know he’s really serious.
Shaw is after the remaining crew of illegal street racers turned international superheroes – which also includes Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who is recovering from amnesia, and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris), who are used mostly for comic relief – but Dom (Diesel) has a plan. The crew will pull off an impossible heist for government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) that includes the stunts mentioned above – in exchange for an all-seeing device that lets them pinpoint Shaw’s location.
Yes, they go to all that trouble to get a leg up on Shaw, who is coming after them anyway (and comes after them, numerous times, while they’re trying to pull off the heist). This idiocy is explained in a single line of dialogue from Russell: “…wait for him to come after you? How’s that working out so far?”
Also returning for this film is Dwayne Johnson as agent Hobbs, who gets blown out of a three-story window by a grenade and lands on top of a car early in the film, only to emerge with a broken arm. He spends the rest of the film in a hospital, but when duty calls, he removes the cast by simply flexing his biceps.
Production on Furious 7 was halted when Walker was killed in a car crash a year-and-a-half ago. The actor had shot roughly 50% of his scenes; for the remaining shots, CGI was used in combination with his two brothers Caleb and Cody, who were used as stand-ins. Walker seems to have less screen time here than usual, but has two impressive hand-to-hand fight scenes against Ong Bak star Tony Jaa.
The film ends, of course, with a brief montage of Walker scenes from the previous films. Still, one wonders if some of the film’s limit-pushing scenes of vehicular violence are appropriate given the nature of the star’s demise.
Wrecks, crashes, and explosions are par for the course for these films, of course, but there are three separate scenes in which Diesel’s character intentionally totals his car: he plays chicken with Statham’s Shaw, twice no less, crashing head-on at 100 mph+. Later, he drives his car off of a cliff to escape some villains (“you might want to put on your helmet,” he helpfully growls at his passenger).
Director Justin Lin, who helmed parts 3-6, has been seamlessly replaced here by James Wan, who last made The Conjuring. The unsung auteur of the Fast & Furious franchise, however, is scribe Chris Morgan, who has received sole writing credit on each of the past five films; in an age where nearly every studio blockbuster seems as if it were written by committee, that’s almost unheard of. The non-action scenes of these films are pure soap opera fluff, but Morgan has managed to convey at least some sense of soap opera story progression throughout.
Furious 7, as I write, currently sits at 87% on the Tomatometer. The Gunman, a superior action picture by almost any rational measure, scores a 12%. Madness. It’s not out of respect for Walker or anything – parts 5 and 6 both scored above 70%, too, though part 4 sits at 28% and previous entries don’t rate much higher.
Pro tip: let’s stop kidding ourselves, these are all the same damn movie. Ridiculous, enjoyable, disposable trash.