Furious 7‘s crowning achievement must be that, despite the tremendous loss of actor Paul Walker, it’s an effective movie that brings all the dumb fun and gravity-defying setpieces the series is known for. It’s amazing how Furious 7, through write- and workarounds, still feels like a cohesive whole, like a movie that was always meant to be like this final product, while it obviously wasn’t. Additionally Vin Diesel, director James Wan – first-time helmer of a film in this franchise and an action movie of this magnitude – and company have managed to instill the film with warmth and have created a beautiful tribute and sendoff to the man they considered family. Still, not quite everything about the movie works.
Following the events of Justin Lin’s Fast & Furious 6 Toretto’s team is now being hunted. Deckard Shaw, the meaner and angrier brother of Furious 6‘s Owen Shaw, is out to get them for what they did to his sibling. When confronted with Deckard’s trail of death and destruction, Dominic Toretto and his crew decide not to wait for him but fight back, and so a game of cat and cat begins. Despite the flimsiness of this premise, it works well: revenge is a great motivator in a franchise build on protecting and caring for your own, and this tale of vengeance makes you immediately buy into the ridiculousness of Toretto and team’s missions. The use of the word ‘missions’ isn’t accidental: in order to track down Shaw our heroes need to find him, and this is where Kurt Russell’s CIA man comes in: he is looking for a device called God’s Eye, a piece of technology that makes it possible to find anyone, anywhere. Once Toretto gets him the device, Toretto can use it. Thus hijinks ensue.
These do not disappoint. The movie’s standout scene (glimpsed in the trailers) is a car chase on a mountain road, during which people surf on car hoods, fight inside and on top of vehicles and even have to escape a bus that is about to fall down a cliff. It’s adrenaline-fueled popcorn entertainment at its finest and it’s a moment in which the late Paul Walker truly shines while he dukes it out with the nimble and tough-as-nails martial artist Tony Jaa. It really shows off Walker’s incredible knack for action and stunt work, and once the sequence is done Michelle Rodriguez steps in to deliver a zinger of a line that’s sure to please audiences. This action setpiece is exemplary of what works about Furious 7: big and loud action, dumb but usually fun one-liners, all courtesy of a sympathetic group of characters that’s easy to root for. And out of all of the characters, especially Walker’s Brian manages to provide the film with earnestness and heart.
What doesn’t work is the film’s villain. While it was a genius move to cast Statham, and the man truly shines when he’s kicking ass and taking names, he’s quite bland. That’s not because of his motivation or his introduction (which is another of the movie’s best moments), but because the film doesn’t capitalize on Statham’s charisma. Whenever Deckard Shaw shows up he doesn’t say anything, fires off a couple of rounds or deals a couple of punches, to then disappear. It’s a shame Furious 7 doesn’t use Statham’s cheeky personality (seen in Snatch) or raw rage (demonstrated in a film like Blitz) more. The movie’s angle to present Deckard as a force of nature, a human Jaws, just doesn’t work because you never really feel like our heroes are in danger: they take a lot of punishment and always get back up in the end, which is an inherent part of the franchise. Because of that the movie and its villian never quite mash and, despite all the action, you feel like you’re just going through the motions for long stretches of the film. Another flaw is the melodrama surrounding Letty’s amnesia: it didn’t quite work in Furious 6 but it was a big part of its plot. Here it’s simply distracting.
Furious 7 is great entertainment, but unfortunately it doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of parts 5 and 6. The way the filmmakers and studio have dealt with Paul Walker’s death deserves to be commended though, as is the case with the late actor’s portrayal of his most popular character. And Walker’s sendoff… that’s truly a thing of beauty. 7/10