When it comes to the Fast & Furious movies, responses tend to fall into one of two categories. There are the people who love this silly, sweet, lunkheaded series and embrace it with all their hearts, and then there are the joyless assholes who turn up their noses, satisfied in their smug belief that they’re too smart to watch such stupid junk. I say this as someone who was an aforementioned joyless asshole until just a couple years back.
I get it, these movies are a hard sell. On the surface they appear to be nothing more than movies about a bunch of meatheads flexing their muscles and racing around in expensive cars, but the series is so much more special than that. Even the first two movies, which are the most like what you’d expect, have a lot of little things that might surprise you. From the very beginning, there’s an earnestness and a sweetness (not to mention an incredible level of unintentional homoeroticism) that makes the lunkheaded machismo endearing rather than insufferable. When the series becomes genuinely good starting with the third film, they retain that sweetness (and gayness) and combine it with some of the best action put on screen in the 21st century. But they don’t stop there! No sir, they go and retroactively start tying together the first three wildly different films into a larger mythology, culminating in Fast Five – a team-up movie which is 100% as satisfying as The Avengers. And like The Avengers, the payoff manages to make the earlier movies resonate that much more. It pulls off the miraculous feat of further elevating the series as a whole with each subsequent entry.
So here we are at Furious Seven, with James Wan taking over the helm after Justin Lin spent four movies molding the series into what it is today. On top of that, the film had to face the tragic and untimely death of Paul Walker. There was every possibility in the world that this could have all been a massive disappointment, but I’m happy to report that Furious Seven is enormously satisfying from front to back.
Furious Seven keeps in the series’ tradition of jumping to a new genre with each entry. We’ve had a Point Break remake, a silly, Miami Vice-inspired buddy cop flick, a coming of age sports film, a revenge caper, a heist movie, and a super hero movie, and now they’ve jumped into full spy movie mode. Picking up in the aftermath of Furious 6, we see that Owen Shaw – the last film’s big bad – survived his fall from the airplane, but only barely. He’s being watched after by his older brother, Deckard (Jason Statham!) who has vowed to take revenge on Dom and his family. He breaks into Hobbs’ office to get intel on the team, and ends up going toe-to-toe with Hobbs himself – a fight which leaves Hobbs hospitalized. With the information in hand, Deckard hunts down Han in Tokyo and plants a bomb at the Toretto’s house. As the family mourns the loss of Han, Dom takes the offensive and vows to bring down Deckard, but ends up being intercepted by Frank Petty (Kurt Russell!!!), a government agent who promises to help Dom track Deckard if he’ll agree to do a job for them. The job: intercept the God’s Eye, a computer program capable of hacking into every camera and microphone in the world, allowing you to pinpoint the location of any person anywhere on the globe.
The biggest problem with Furious Seven is that these two story points never coalesce in a satisfying way. The whole dual revenge angle of Deckard wanting revenge against Dom’s family, and Dom wanting revenge against Deckard is very quickly moved to the back burner once the spy stuff is introduced. Deckard continues to be a presence in the film, but for the most part he just pops up to raise the stakes in the middle of action scenes that are already underway. There’s the potential for an interesting character and an interesting story focussing on him and his quest for vengeance, but in a lot of ways, it feels like he’s only included in the film out of obligation since he was set up in the post-credits stinger of Furious 6. This would be a bigger problem, though, if it weren’t for the fact that the film’s A-story is so much fun.
It’s the A-story that brings us the bulk of what we want to see from this series, from Kurt Russell’s Frank Petty – who gives The Rock a run for his money when it comes to stealing the show, a Mission: Impossible-style heist in Abu Dhabi that ends with a car jumping between not two, but three sky scrapers, and a car chase through the Caucasus Mountains that is possibly the best action setpiece of the whole damn series.
I want to linger on the Caucasus Mountain chase for a second here, because it’s truly something special. In general, I don’t think James Wan directs action in this film as well as Justin Lin did in the previous entries – relying too much on shaky cam and struggling to juggle simultaneous action in different locations (this is most problematic in the climax of the movie where Vin Diesel and Jason Statham seem to be standing in one place punching each other for roughly 20 minutes). This scene, though, is incredible. This is a scene that starts with skydiving cars and escalates from there. The key to a good action scene is not just capturing amazing stunt work on camera, but rather stringing along a series of interlocking micro-stories that combine into a greater whole. It’s all about cause and effect scenarios enhancing and escalating the tension. One of my go-to examples of how to craft a great action scene is the truck chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Caucasus Mountain chase in Furious Seven comes close to being on that level. Every moment is unveiling new information and steadily raising the stakes, all the while staying grounded in the reality of these characters and their relationships with each other. Best of all, it’s beautifully shot and the geography of the scene is always clearly conveyed. As I mentioned, Wan struggles a bit at other points in the film cutting between simultaneous action, but here it’s handled perfectly. You have Brian O’Connor in a fist fight inside the bus while Letty and Tej are in their cars trying to avoid machine gun fire and Dom is careening down the side of a mountain being pursued by Deckard. It’s all clear, and propulsive, and effective, and it adds up to one hell of a great action scene.
The Caucasus Mountain chase is probably the best scene in the movie, but it’s not like the movie gives up after that. The film is stuffed with moments that had me constantly bursting into applause. Preposterous and amazing action beats, great character moments, and big laughs. For any polish his action scenes may lack, James Wan gets what this series is all about, and he pays off on everything you could possibly hope for in a Fast & Furious movie. On top of all that, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how emotional this movie would be. Granted, a lot of gravitas is added by the extra-textual death of Paul Walker, but I found myself tearing up in more than a few moments, not to mention openly weeping at the film’s conclusion.
(Light spoilers in this next paragraph)
Look, I know people are going to get bent out of shape over the ending – which essentially tears down the fourth wall and allows the cast of the movie to share a very personal moment of mourning for Paul Walker – but really, screw those people. From the very beginning this has been a series that has worn its heart on its sleeve, and it’s also an obvious and deeply personal reflection of Vin Diesel. For all the rules it breaks, for all the unabashed sappiness, for the way the fiction of the movie is superseded by our reality, the end of Furious Seven is 100% in line with what this series is all about. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt tribute to Walker, and it’s the perfect way to end this film.
Furious Seven may not be quite as good as Fast Five, but it comes pretty darn close. It’s a little long and a little rough around the edges, but it also encapsulates everything that makes this series so great. No one could have possibly predicted it, but the Fast & Furious movies somehow became something tremendously special. I don’t know how long this miracle can continue, but at this point I’m with this series for the long haul.