WARNING: LIGHT SPOILERS FOLLOW
The mid-credits sequence of Fast & Furious 6 was one that stirred up such a strong feeling of excitement that it was impossible to contain. Finally seeing who was behind the wheel of the car that smashed into Han’s in Tokyo Drift was so satisfying, especially when we learned that he was played by Jason Statham. However, despite having a few memorable fight scenes between himself and Dwayne Johnson/Vin Diesel, Statham, while still being one my favorite modern action stars (see my review for his newly released Wild Card), is far from being the film’s strongest aspect.
No, Furious Seven underutilizes Statham, giving him nothing more than a role of a former bad guy’s big brother that plays second fiddle to a famous international terrorist (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond, Guardians of the Galaxy). Statham merely walks into the room on occasion, aims his gun, and starts blasting away. Then he’s gone, and the 140-minute feature goes on and on to give us more and more jumbled plot nonsense mixed with an attempt to develop its characters even deeper. And if Fast Five showed us anything, it’s that we, the audience, do in fact care about these characters, which is why the final few minutes of this movie are the series’ most raw, personal, and intimately emotional minutes.
Before we get to that, though, we have to go through over two hours of plot, and understanding just what it is that the Fast & Furious franchise is going for, it’s hard to complain. As the mid-credits sequence of 6 suggested, Furious Seven picks up during/after the events of Tokyo Drift, with Owen Shaw’s big brother Deckard (Statham) looking for revenge for his brother’s defeat by killing Han in Tokyo and sending Dom a mysterious package. The gang, now living in the U.S. safely and legally after being on the run for a few years, goes after Deckard. They’re eventually met by a cover ops team led by Frank Petty (Kurt Russell), who tells them that he can get Deckard for them if they help him obtain a piece of technology called God’s Eye, which can pinpoint anyone on the planet in a matter of hours.
This is dangerous technology, as Frank always points out, and it involves the team breaking into a building in Abu Dhabi. If you thought two fully loaded Mustangs pulling a giant safe filled with cash was unbelievable, just wait till you see this movie. The set piece in Abu Dhabi is one of the most bizarre and entertainingly rewarding sequences of the franchise thus far. But that isn’t the best one. The best one, advertised so often in its marketing, involves cars being dropped from a plane, skydiving to the earth with parachutes and all. It’s completely insane, maybe the franchise’s most ridiculous stunt yet, but that isn’t a criticism. It’s big, loud, unbelievable, jaw-dropping fun.
That being said, the movie does have scenes in which the impracticality goes too far. In one scene, Dom drives his car right off a cliff, smashing nose first into a rock and then flipping repeatedly down a hill. But you can rest assured that he left the scene without more than a scratch. I know that they built it with specialized armor, but c’mon. I didn’t buy it for a second. Then again, the more I think about it, the more I think this series is reveling in its impracticality, taking the stunts further and further each time to make things interesting. To be fair, even in the film’s worst “I-don’t-buy-it-for-a-second” moments, there was always a goofy grin on my face.
I remember watching Fast Five and being pleased with the idea of switching the franchise’s focus from street racing to straight up action. It was a bold move, one that paid off in the long run, giving the series enough versatility to give us a good plot while throwing in the racing and/or muscle car porn only when we need it, as opposed to the series’ earliest entries that pounded us over and over again with unnecessary racing centered “stories.” But a perk of the transitional Fast Five (and Fast & Furious 6 for that matter) was the action itself, which four time director Justin Lin (he directed 3,4,5, and 6) handled efficiently. Lin is out of Furious Seven, and in steps James Wan, a fine director known for terrific horror films like Insidious and The Conjuring. I like Wan as a director, but action just isn’t his thing. In an early fight scene between Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson (who is absent for most of the movie, unfortunately), Wan opted for shooting in a close-up/quick-cut style, making everything happening on screen virtually impossible to detect. It’s calamitous, mainly because we know how good a fighter Statham is. If only Wan had stepped back and let the fighters do their thing.
Poorly filmed action scenes aside, Wan does a fine eye for mostly everything else. The soon-to-be-classic “skydiving” sequence is jaw-dropping, and there is one particular shot in that scene that lasts for around ten seconds, following a single car’s descent and showing us the view from the sky to the earth, giving us a powerful sense of scope. It’s an exhilarating sequence and Wan did a fantastic job with it. Also, he directs the car scenes wonderfully, an early “Race Wars” scene being a standout as well as scattered scenes throughout that involve fast cars being fast.
But “this time it ain’t just about being fast.” That line, coming from Dom just before the skydiving sequence, is true by the time the film concludes. It takes a long time to get there (seriously, this movie did not need to be 140 minutes), but when it does, it’ll hit you. The movie has been under speculation by everyone after the tragic death of Paul Walker in November 2013. Production was halted, of course, not for the purpose of not knowing what to do next, but for grieving. This is a cast that has worked together for over a decade and the emotion conveyed by all the stars involved was so heartwarming.
Now, after a few months of rewrites and Walker’s brothers filling in for his unfinished scenes, we have our movie. At times, you can tell when it isn’t Walker on screen, but for the most part, I found the fill-ins to be seamless. But you don’t walk out of Furious Seven talking about the scenes in which his brothers filled in. You walk out talking about the final few minutes, which send off Walker’s Brian O’Conner with beautiful compassion. After a touching montage of his scenes throughout the series, Vin Diesel (and I say Vin Diesel because it’s coming from him, not Dominic Toretto) says “You’ll always be my brother.” It hits even harder when we see Walker drive off to a hilly valley, not unlike a version of the Promised Land, the screen fading to black and the words “For Paul” coming on screen. It’s a perfect, honorable, and beautiful sendoff for Paul, a kind spirit and a good soul that simply went too early.
Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language
Starring Paul Walker, Vin Diesel
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by James Wan