Furious 7 feels like some kind of miracle.
It’s a miracle that a seventh entry exists in what is the most unlikely action franchise in the history of film. It’s a miracle that this entry exists in the wake of the horrible tragedy that took Paul Walker’s life mid-filming. And it’s a miracle that despite of all those factors, this ended up being one of the best entries in the series.
Even before Walker’s untimely death, James Wan had a fairly large task on hand as he replaced Justin Lin in the director’s chair. Lin had become the steward of the series, pushing it to heights that no one could have imagined when he first signed on to the series’ second sequel. His Fast Five is a legitimate action masterpiece, and while its successor isn’t quite as good, it’s a pretty fantastic bit of action filmmaking in its own right. And we were expected to think the director of Saw would somehow fill those shoes?
To be fair, the majority of Wan’s body of work is pretty solid, but he was still one of the most unlikely candidates I could think of for the job. Then again, so was Lin, who had only made two films prior to The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, neither of which even remotely resembled action blockbusters. And while I have a few quibbles with Wan’s direction (his editing during hand-to-hand combat gets a little too choppy, and there are about a dozen too many lingering shots of scantily clad ladies), one of the most impressive things about Furious 7 is his work behind the camera.
Wan may have largely played around with horror films before now, but Furious 7 rockets him immediately to the top tier of directors I want to watch make action blockbusters. The marquee set piece in particular — the skydiving/mountain chase that’s featured in all of the advertising campaigns — not only manages to top every other action sequence in the series (including Fast Five’s vault chase, the previous high watermark), it’s one of the best realized, most exciting action beats of any movie I’ve seen in years. The vault chase was a marvel of controlled chaos and “I can’t believe they’re seriously doing this” insanity, but the mountain chase tops it in terms of overall choreography, editing and the fact that the stakes keep upping themselves every minute or so. It’s chaotic, but it’s so precisely constructed that you never lose sight of what’s going and how. Everytime you think they can’t do something more crazy than what’s already happened, they find a way.
Wan never tries to outdo this sequence, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because the action beats are all pretty unique and never feel like it’s more of the same but bigger. It’s bad because none of the following sequences, while entertaining and well done, manage to match to scope and scale of the mountain chase.
But even as impressive as Wan’s action chops are, he deserves highest praise for how seamless the whole affair feels.
I can’t even begin to imagine trying to rebuild a film after a tragedy like the one the Fast & Furious cast and crew suffered, especially given how much of it was already completed. It was worrying when they announced they would continue on using CGI as well as Walker’s brothers, Cody and Caleb, as stand-ins for certain scenes. I was certain the patched areas would be glaring and distracting and the film would feel disjointed and thin.
And yet somehow, even with such extreme measures attempted, it never feels like this is anything less than the exact story Wan and company set out to tell. Yes, if you’re really looking for it, you can tell which parts of the finale were done using doubles and a little bit of CGI. But as far as the narrative goes? The seams are invisible. Walker’s Brian O’Connor gets a send-off that’s perfect, both for the character and for fans. Yes, it’s cheesy, but what else would you expect from this series? I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears as the film drew to a close. It works.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t really talked about the plot or Jason Statham’s villain much, it’s partly because the movie sort of treats those things as secondary. Statham’s Deckard Shaw (big bro to Fast and Furious 6’s Owen Shaw) is basically a non-robotic Terminator. He’s unstoppable and always shows up at the moment it’s most inconvenient for our heroes. He doesn’t have much of a character beyond “he’s a badass and wants Torretto and crew dead.” He doesn’t really need one, and he just sort of shows up when action beats need to begin or kick into overdrive and then disappears once the script needs to move on.
The overarching plot barely makes any practical sense and is barely even worth mentioning save for the fact that it brings Kurt Russell into the fold as Mr. Nobody, a shadowy government agent who recruits Dom and crew to recover technological doodad and the hacker who created it. Russell is visibly having a blast here and it’s shame he’s only in a handful of scenes.
What we’re really here for is the action and the characters, and Wan manages to handle the latter about as well as the former. Oh sure, everyone’s still a pretty thin caricature, holding fast to the archetypes that have long since been established, but Wan understands why each one works the way they do and handles the group interactions well. The thematic idea of “family” continues to pervade and it’s no less goofy a motif, but everyone involved buys into it and believes in it enough that it works as strongly as ever.
But as much as I enjoyed this and as much as I adore the series as a whole, part of me hopes that this would be the final entry. I know it won’t because these films make too much money, but there’s a wonderful bit of closure achieved here, for both Walker’s character and the rest of the crew, to say nothing of the fact that we’re bound to reach a point of diminishing returns sooner rather than later in terms of action.
In the end, Furious 7 isn’t as strong a movie as Fast Five, but I don’t know that it ever could have been even if Walker had survived to finish it. There was just something so perfect about that ensemble and how none of us really expected it to be the film we ultimately got. But Furious 7 is still an immensely entertaining film in its own right with more than enough done well to make it a perfect addition to the series.