At this point, I shouldn’t have to sell you on the Fast and Furious franchise. Like mobsters or Juggalos, either you’re in the family or you’re not. Those were terrible examples, but I digress. If you need a primer on how the F&F franchise became so beloved, there’s a great article on it here, but the short version is that about four or five movies ago, the series dropped any pretense of being about thieves and drag racing, and then suddenly became about a group of people with car-based superpowers. (Making them a better superhero team than The Avengers, honestly.) This is a franchise which, two movies ago, featured a crew driving a bank vault through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, prompting people to ask “How will they top this?”, to which Ludacris responded “Uhhhhh guys… they got a tank.” So now, with Insidious director James Wan at the helm and one essential cast member down, Furious 7 asks “How do you beat the movie where they drove a car through a plane?”
Well, the answer is “with lots of feelings and emotions, but also by dropping a bunch of cars out of a plane.” This time around, the Toretto crew is being hunted down by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the former special-ops older brother of the bad guy from the last movie. When Dom (Vin Diesel) tries to take the fight to Shaw, he and the team get recruited by a government shadow agent (Kurt Russell) to rescue a kidnapped hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) from an international terrorist (Djimon Hounsou) that seeks to use her advanced camera-hacking privacy invasion software. Please note that at no point does the film attempt to question the morality of any person having this technology, and in this case that is perfectly alright; that would only slow down the big, fun, stupid-awesome plot of this big, dumb, stupid-awesome film.
More than anything, the F&F films have been about Fun and Family. Furious 7 does itself a slight disservice by slimming down the family to a barebones team, although this was necessary in order to keep the pace as frenetic as Wan does while still being coherent. Still, it’s a shame to see Dwayne Johnson out of commission for most of the film. (They bring him back for the big showdown, don’t worry.) The energy is kept in the red zone by Wan’s ultra-smooth action sequence direction, borrowing heavily from other dynamic directors such as John Woo, Edgar Wright, and The Raid’s Gareth Evans. Wan’s camerawork utilizes quick, frantic cuts and frequent turns, but always done in a very deliberate, steady manner. This means that we actually see the blows land and when they camera moves, it moves for a reason. Little touches like this are why the F&F movies work so well: They illustrate just how much everyone involved cares about the product.
Furious 7’s only major sin is being not quite as good as Five and Six, and only in minor ways. For example, the anticipated fight scene between Michelle Rodriguez and MMA-badass Ronda Rousey is cut short in comparison to the Rodriguez/Gina Carano fight from the last film, presumably because Carano is just better at delivering lines than Rousey. However, there’s a moment in the film where Kurt Russell’s character meets the team and he congratulates Dom for accomplishing so much with what he has to work with. That’s really what this is. It’s honestly a miracle and a testament to the abilities of this cast and crew that this film turned out as good as it did.
One of my favorite things about this franchise is that it seems like everything they get right, they do through a combination of luck and skill. No one expected this franchise to be so successful, except maybe Vin Diesel. I also don’t think they actually planned to have a multi-cultural, well-represented cast from the get-go, that’s just how it turned out. The reason the F&F movies don’t seem like they should be as good as they are is that they are deceptively uncomplicated, and in fact, are simplicity under the guise of extravagance. One scene in this film sums up exactly what I mean: During the hacker rescue, Dom finds himself cornered in his vehicle at the edge of a 500-foot cliff, with a dozen armored vehicles and men with machine guns facing him. He quips something at his passenger, spins around, and drive off the edge. “Oh man,” the audience thinks, “there must be a rocket boost or a hang-glider or something built into the car that he’s about to launch.” Spoiler alert: No. No, there isn’t. Like Thelma and Louise, Dominic Toretto’s best plan was to drive off a cliff and see what happens. It’s pretty easy to root for a character, and a franchise, with that logic.
Of course, we can’t write about Furious 7 without talking about the genuinely moving way the film handles co-star Paul Walker’s sudden death during filming. The film keeps his character in the entire film through a combination of existing footage, CGI usage, and stand-in work from a crew of actors roughly Walker’s size and build, including his own brothers. The result is impressive, it’s only possible to tell if you’re really looking for it, and even then only in a few frames at most. the film concludes with the words “For Paul”, but the final scene, in which the character of Brian O’Conner is officially retired, feels more like it’s for Vin than anything else. We praise actors for disappearing into their roles, but Furious 7’s closer does exactly the opposite, Dominic Toretto disappears and all that’s left is actor and human being Vin Diesel. It almost feels like an incredibly intimate moment we shouldn’t be watching, and that makes it more amazing. We’re seeing a man get a chance to say goodbye to someone he loved, and then choosing to share that moment with millions of audience members who may not have gotten a chance to do the same for a person no longer in their lives. It’s a truly unique cinematic moment, and that’s how a series about cars going really fast managed to elicit one of the most genuine and heartfelt audience responses in recent memory.