The strange franchise arc of the Fast and Furious series continues, though the returns have diminished slightly. That’s to be expected of a franchise that’s now on its seventh outing, when most series tank on their third installment. The irony here is that Furious 7 disappoints a little because it doesn’t go off the rails enough, especially in comparison to the last two movies.
In all fairness, a little of that is due to the transition to a new director, with horror maestro James Wan (the Saw, Conjuring, and Insidious series) subbing for Justin Lin, who helmed the last four F&F films and made the series into the Avengers of action movies. Mostly, it stems from the untimely death of co-star Paul Walker during production on the film in late 2013. Yes, Walker’s ex-cop bad-ass Brian O’Conner was often relegated to the passenger seat while Vin Diesel’s street racer anti-hero Dominic Toretto took the wheel, but their action hero bromance formed the core of the franchise and it’s “family above all else” theme. Plot details and necessary rewrites have reduced that for Furious 7 to allow Brian to race into the sunset, compensating with a weak subplot focused on Dom’s busted romance with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who still suffers from a touch of amnesia.
Yes, those details sound sappy, but this series has been something akin to action soap opera for years now, and that doesn’t stop here. As teased in Fast and Furious 6‘s post-credits scene, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is out for blood after Dom and Brian’s team left his younger brother Owen (Luke Evans) for dead. Deckard is an ex-black ops agent, and he begins his hunt and establishes his credentials by putting Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in the hospital and killing Han (Sung Kang). (The latter actually died in the third film, but the continuity of the Furious films is a subject for another article, or perhaps a Master’s thesis.)
Soon after, Dom is contacted by a shadowy government-type (is there really any other kind in action movies?) known only as Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who makes a proposal: If Dom and his team use their unique skills to rescue a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) from a shadowy terrorist-type (Djimon Hounsou) and help her retrieve a device that links every digital device on the planet into a global surveillance network, then Nobody will allow them to use the device to hunt the hunter and get Deckard before he gets them. Cue cars parachuting into Azerbaijan, a $3.4 million Lykan Hypersport jumping between skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, and a protracted cars vs. a stealth helicopter and a killer drone climax in downtown Los Angeles.
That last bit is, of course, the main draw. The series has always been about progressively more absurd, cartoonish, balls-to-the-wall action sequences, and Furious 7 strives to deliver. This type of stuff is outside Wan’s proverbial wheelhouse, and while gives it a strong effort he lacks the confidence and steady hand that Lin has honed over the years. The pacing is often choppy and the choreographer is sometimes confusing; that said, the sequence in Azerbaijan and Statham’s throwdowns with Johnson and Diesel are suitably fierce, as are Walker’s run-ins with Ong-Bak‘s Tony Jaa. Still, none of that holds a candle to a chase sequence involving a tank or Rodriguez squaring off with Gina Carano.
There’s also an unshakable pall hanging over the movie. The loss of longtime characters onscreen and Walker’s tragic passing has a palpable effect. The cast and crew pay tribute to their fallen comrades — real and fictitious — throughout the film, which ends with a montage of Walker’s scenes from throughout the series that reminds us of how much these characters and the actors who played them have changed over the years.
A Furious 8 is in the works. We’ll see then how much fuel is left in the tank.