Movie review: Furious 7

The first draft of this review was, “Vin Diesel deadlifts a car, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson bicep flexes out of a plaster cast and cars get dropped out of a plane for a remote car chase on the Caucasus Mountains. Go throw your money at this movie.”

But I figured that since Furious 7 made nearly $400 million worldwide this weekend, quite a few of you have made it out to see the seventh installment in the Fast and Furious franchise. The film series — with the exception of Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift — centers around the exploits of Los Angeles street racer Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and FBI agent-turned street racer Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker).

The strength of the franchise has been the interplay and chemistry of the two characters and actors. Walker was the more natural leading man, and the bulk of emotional weight in the films was placed on him. While Diesel played the role of alpha patriarch whose emotional moments only worked in short bursts and tertiary to the main narrative of the films.

Furious 7 faced the unfortunate real life problem of dealing with Walker’s death midway through filming — which caused the shutdown of production and major rewrites of the script.

Without O’Connor’s story, the emotional narrative burden falls on Toretto’s shoulder to bear and the film suffers for it. Now, the Fast franchise has never been about the plot, but great action films click when the viewer has investment in the stakes that guide the insane set pieces and sequences of physicality. Toretto’s romance with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) comes to the forefront in this story, and that is to the detriment of viewers. Their chemistry throughout the series has never worked for me, and Letty trying to recover from amnesia is c-level soap opera drama.

The plot of Furious 7 takes place in the immediate aftermath of the events of Fast & Furious 6. This is a revenge film set about by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to avenge the near-death — no one ever dies in this franchise — of his brother. Shaw is described as an ex-special forces operative, who was too much even for a secret military killing concern. Shaw in this film is basically the Boogeyman, appearing at nearly every turn to terrorize the Toretto crew.

This maximizes the power of Statham as a physical threat to every room he is in, but his aura trivializes the major subplot of the movie which revolves around the Toretto crew searching for the ultimate government surveillance device known as ‘The God’s Eye.’ This subplot in itself is a forced commentary on the conversation of electronic surveillance, but it works well enough to move the story along.

With the rise of Toretto’s prominence within the context of the story leaves a lot of valuable supporting characters with little to do other than fight and exist. Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs is sidelined for much of the movie — but boy does he reintroduce himself into the plot with an insane sequence — and Thai fighting star Tony Jaa of Ong-Bak fame gets limited to two brief fight sequences.

These are some shortcomings of the film but it all still works. It is not the most consistent or best film of the franchise — both honors go to Fast Five — but it does have the most creative and well composed set piece in the aforementioned car mountain drop. Its highs are higher than almost all other Fast films, and it does an admirable job at the end with breaking the fourth wall to honor Walker’s life.

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