This time it ain't just about being fast
Furious 7 is directed by James Wan and stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ronda Rousey, Kurt Russell, and Jason Statham. It is the final film appearance of Paul Walker, who died in a single-car crash in 2013.
The Fast & Furious franchise is about as self-aware as any action film franchise has ever been, knowing full well what kind of absurdity they put on display time after time, but having the audacity to run with it and not feel the least bit ashamed. When you're now eight films into a franchise and you still haven't driven yourself into total action trash, then clearly something is still working. And with Fate of the Furious and Furious 7 marking the franchise's journey into the billion dollar gross territory, I think it's safe to say the franchise is going to keep going until they burn up all the tread on their tires. Or until Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson suffer a surprise heart attack or something. Hopefully not the latter.
The elephant in the room for Furious 7 is the tragic passing of Paul Walker, who had been the most recognizable face of the series along with Vin Diesel. While there were rumors of scrapping the film altogether, director James Wan (in his first non-horror outing since 2007's Death Sentence) and the rest of the production crew figured the right thing to do was to continue with the film and alter it in a manner that would respect and honor Walker's memory. Filming was about halfway through at the time of Walker's death, and in order to complete filming, body doubles (Walker's brothers Caleb and Cody stepped in as body doubles), stunt doubles, and CGI were all used. The movie does a fine job of not making it totally obvious which scenes contain the real Paul Walker and which ones do not.
The honoring of Walker's memory provides Furious 7 the very rare opportunity of giving the franchise some undisputed emotional heft, as well as injecting the action with real inspiration and not allowing Wan to let everyone simply go through the motions. For this, I feel safe in calling Furious 7 the best in the entire franchise, because the movie has more at work than just being another fun, over-the-top outing. It has a true purpose, and the efforts toward making Furious 7 an honorable tribute to Walker's memory is crystal clear among all of the chaotic action going on.
After defeating Owen Shaw in Furious 6, Domenic Toretto and his team return to the United States to begin living normal lives. Brian O'Connor begins life as a father alongside his partner Mia (Jordana Brewster), while Dom tries to help Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) regain her memories. However, Dom and his team are now being targeted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a rogue special forces assassin and Owen Shaw's older brother. Deckard hospitalizes Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and kills one of Dom's team members, Han (Sung Kang), even going as far as to blow up Dom's house. Dom eventually meets with government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who informs Dom that Shaw is after a computer program known as the God's Eye, capable of using digital devices in order to track down any person in the world. Dom and his team are assigned to rescue the program's creator: a hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) who is being pursued by a mercenary named Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou).
- Talk about wall to wall action. Furious 7 never likes to take long stretches in between car chases and fist fights. The movie wants to give you its necessary exposition as quickly as it can, desperately trying to get to the action as fast as possible, like a little kid desperate to get home to his mind-numbing, shoot-em-up video games after a boring day of school (kids these days, man). And sure, the editing is pretty choppy during some fights such as Walker taking on a group of henchmen in a moving van and when Letty goes one on one in a fight with Ronda Rousey, but there's clear choreography on the part of Dom and his team when they're in their vehicles. There's also less emphasis on CGI, with one of the coolest stunts being a scene in which cars are dropped out of a plane.
- The official tribute to Walker at the end is a montage of clips from the previous Fast & Furious movies, and I don't believe anyone who has a beating heart can not feel at least a little bit moved by it. Walker had been a part of the franchise since the very beginning, and no matter how much the foolishness of this series may piss you off, you have to respect everything Walker meant to the franchise. Vin Diesel's narration at the end isn't just Domenic Toretto speaking to Brian O'Connor; it's Vin Diesel talking to Paul Walker.
- Is it necessary of me to discuss the low points of Furious 7? If you watch one or two of these movies, you know exactly what they are. Nothing changes in this installment: ridiculous, over-the-top things happen left and right, and my personal favorite in this movie is how Dom and his team prove that their bodies are made of pure steel. Dom purposefully drives his car off a cliff during one scene, and you can clearly see that the car takes a beating as it flips and spins while tumbling down the cliff side. Don't worry, though. Dom doesn't suffer any broken bones or bruised ribs or anything like that. Just a scratch or two on his face. I also love that Dom can get into a street fight with Deckard Shaw and the two can fight each other with weapons that would likely crush bones with one blow. But again, Dom gets little more than a tiny flesh wound. Someone please tell me why I am making a big deal out of this?
Overall though, the tribute to Walker and the non-stop action are the film's most valuable assets, both of which more than make up for the franchise's familiar over-the-top style and thin plotting. James Wan proves himself to not just be a one-trick pony director, serving up an action film that you can watch over and over and not get totally bored with. I actually would not have minded at all had the franchise stopped right here, had the filmmakers felt that future installments would have lost their spirit because of Walker's absence. Of course, maybe Walker would have wished for the franchise to continue, because he helped make these movies happen in the first place, and I'm sure he knew how much the world looks forward to them. Furious 7 gives Walker the send-off he deserves and because of that, I'm not sure any future installment will come even close from dethroning it as the best.
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