Review: Take One Last Ride with James Wan's Awesome 'Furious 7'
by Jeremy Kirk
April 3, 2015
It’s been 14 years since The Fast and the Furious was released, and the franchise that followed has taken more crazy, left turns than the adrenaline-craving gear heads in its character roster. Good, bad, and even tragic changes have brought the series to this finish line. Furious 7 continues the insane and wholly entertaining level of action these films have taken on for the last couple of entries, and while the excitement level is clearly on par, it’s in the tribute to its characters where Furious 7 takes that step above and beyond.
To look at it now, you wouldn’t think the series began as a detective story about infiltrating the street racing scene. The characters played by series stars Paul Walker and Vin Diesel had a similar relationship to that of Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in Point Break, Walker’s Brian O’Conner playing the officer trying to take down Diesel’s badass-with-a-code Dominic Toretto. Those series changes made over the course of five sequels not only brought the two characters together, they’ve made them as close as family. Now their high-octane antics and team structure resemble the dynamic found in the Mission: Impossible movies complete with intriguing baddies and trips to scenic locales around the world.
The international style the franchise has taken on continues in droves with Furious 7, as Brian, Dom, and their team find themselves hunted by possibly the most dangerous man on the planet. Jason Statham, who made a surprising and awesome entrance at the end of Fast & Furious 6, comes in full force as Deckard Shaw, older and badder brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), the bad guy our heroes took out in that film. Deckard swears vengeance on the whole crew, first paying a visit to Diplomatic Security Service agent, Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, before moving onto Tokyo and Han Seoul-Oh, played by Sung Kang. Fans of the series are well aware what happens here and the implications Deckard’s actions in Tokyo have had since the third film, Tokyo Drift.
The structure and chronology of the Fast & Furious series has been all over the map, Han dying in a car crash in that third film then miraculously showing back up for three more. The unwritten plot point that chronologically Tokyo Drift came last in the series became a hardened reality at the end of Fast & Furious 6 when a revisit to the crash that killed Han revealed it was Statham’s Deckard driving the other vehicle, his acts of revenge already well underway. It isn’t long before he moves onto Dom and the rest of his family. It’s even less time before the crew decides to have a little revenge of their own, and the most explosive game of cat-and-mouse commences.
While the design of the Fast & Furious series has grown increasingly convoluted over the years, the films themselves have gotten progressively simpler. Chris Morgan, the screenwriter of the films since Tokyo Drift, brings the simplest plan yet to Furious 7. It’s all about fast cars and furious plans of vengeance. Even the subplot regarding new-to-the-series Kurt Russell as a secretive government agent - not to mention the magical device that makes up Furious 7’s McGuffin – is surprisingly straightforward. Even when Mr. Nobody (Russell) drops a chunk of exposition in Dom’s lap, it’s not difficult to follow along with the who, why, and how of it all.
It’s a welcome element to the film especially given the complex, winding structures most Hollywood action movies seem to take these days. Morgan's screenplay never confuses the audience, and the characters within make decisions and plans of action with not only an absolute need to do the craziest shit you can imagine a human being doing but with logic. This opens the door wide for the escapism that comes from the ridiculousness that is Furious 7’s over-the-top, action set pieces.
Director James Wan has made a ton of waves in the horror world giving us such modern classics as Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring. His background in the genre bleeds through during Furious 7’s more suspenseful moments, as his constantly moving image darts around characters and vehicles, races through the various locations, and effortlessly captures all the insanity at hand. It’s as if the explosions and car crashes are mugging for the camera when the visuals are in Wan’s hands. His imagery is slightly less polished but slightly more mature than that of former director Justin Li, but the ferocity of everything moving by is just as crazy. Even then, Wan captures everything with clarity and ease. It all works in an explosion of absurd stunt choreography, gigantic set pieces, and the this insane family.
Over seven movies you would think the actors in the Fast & Furious movies would have bonded like the crew depicted in the films, and you'd be right. There's a kinship between just about every member of Dom's team, a connection between each one of them that Wan and his team utilize for maximum waterworks when the time is right. It's difficult to review a movie when something as tragic as Paul Walker's mid-production death in 2013 hits. There are moments in the film where you notice the way he moves or his placement among the group or the fact that he doesn't speak, and it hits you that it's a CG recreation of Walker in a scene filmed after his death. These moments pass by, all the while adding just a tinge of sadness to the whole thing, but they never keep you from the enjoyment of watching Walker and everyone else having the time of their lives. The creative team behind Furious 7 reach a conclusion for Brian O'Conner that is satisfying, simple, and a beautiful tribute to the young actor and the place he held within the team.
The rest of that team brings the same level of camaraderie, charisma, and kickass-ery that they've always brought, and the same can and will be said about Furious 7 as a whole. Yeah, you can tell when Dom is driving a $3.5M Lykan Hypersport between the Etihan Towers in Abu Dhabi it's all a bunch of CGI, beautifully rendered as it all is. Sure, Statham's assassin is just a one-note grimace that punches people hard. I guess you could call the schtick between Tyrese and Ludacris tired and the amnesia angle with Michelle Rodriguez soap-opera melodrama. From where it was and how far it's come, the Fast & Furious saga has made its way into a lasting impression on not just the action genre but the film world as a whole. There may be another lap in the franchise's race but with Furious 7, the series has topped out right at the finish line.