a critiQal film review Furious 7 (2015)

Plot: Targeted by a cold-blooded black-ops assassin with a score to settle (Statham), Dominic (Diesel) and his crew's only hope is to get behind the wheel again and secure an ingenious prototype tracking device. Facing their greatest threat yet in places as far away as Abu Dhabi and as familiar as the Los Angeles streets they call home, the crew must come together once again as a team, and as a family, to protect their own.

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This series has just seemed to get better as it goes. The original, The Fast and the Furious (2001), was ridiculously bad, and when I first saw it, I assumed there would never be a sequel. Then came 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), which switched things up a bit…and wasn’t any better than the first film. Then they churned out The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), which switched things up again – and that one was actually okay. They finally brought the originals back together for the 4th film, Fast & Furious (2009), and things have seemed to skyrocket from there. Now, with The Fate of the Furious (2017) coming to theaters next weekend, it seemed a good time to go back and look at Furious 7.

Would Paul Walker’s final movie continue the upward trend, or has the past (and Vin Diesel) caught up to this franchise?

Vin Diesel returns in Furious 7, and again he barely holds it together with these other actors in the room. He’s nothing more than a brute, and he’s still struggling to act. When he’s trying to be a brute, he is good at it. And that’s probably a lot of the success of the franchise right there. They have him give off some gruff remarks, then put him behind the wheel and let him play Crash Test Dummy. I mean, look at the original. He had to act, and emote and stuff, and it was bad. Since he returned, he’s more just showing up to drive one of the cars, and it works. Heck, in Furious 7, that “crash test dummy” attitude is more apparent than ever as they toss him off not one, but two car-wrecking dives.

Paul Walker really helped in the acting department for the franchise. With Furious 7, his acting is naturally much less of a factor (in fact, his brothers are filling in for him in several sequences), so the acting falls to the rest of the cast, with varied results. Thankfully, while Tyrese, Ludacris and Michelle Rodriguez seem okay with taking on the extra responsibility (Dwayne Johnson, sadly, sits out most of this film), the focus is more on the action than the acting in Furious 7, so the rest of the cast gets a bit of a break, acting-wise.

Jason Statham, who has made a success for himself in action movies, seems a bit ill-used as well in Furious 7, not being able to run his mouth as much as he usually likes to do. Instead, he’s the more stoic, revenge-driven baddie. While it’s decent enough, the viewer may be expecting just a bit more from him – and they never get it. In the final fight sequence, it’s hard to imagine Diesel holding his own against Statham, as Diesel’s brute seems exactly like many of the thugs Statham has outwitted – with ease – in several other films.

The plot works well enough for Furious 7. An ex-special forces “ghost” (Statham) is hunting down the crew. They get some extra help from the government (in the form of a cool Kurt Russell) when he basically hires them to track down an all-seeing tracking program called “God’s Eye”. This sets them up for several fun action-packed sequences, and those lead in rather well to the rest of the film. Sure, taking too close of a look at it would tear it down a bit (and provide several spoilers, which I’m not going to do). But, overall, it works pretty well for this film.

The action sequences seem to get bigger with every entry in this franchise. While it’s hard to beat two cars dragging an enormous safe down a freeway (Fast Five (2011)), Furious 7 tries. It throws them out of airplanes, off cliffs, and through three buildings hundreds of stories in the air. While the three buildings sequence is pretty impressive, the memorable sequence in Fast Five (2011) was more original (see Day Watch (2006) for some impressive car stunt work that looks similar). Still, it gets the adrenaline going, and that’s exactly what Furious 7 planned.

The biggest problem with finishing a film where an actor died is the viewer is aware the actor isn’t going to be in all of his scenes. Try as the filmmakers might, every glimpse of the actor in the film is going to be scrutinized. Is that him? Is that a double? Or just CGI? Furious 7 tries to get away from this by doing lots of long shots when Paul Walker’s character is on-screen, but that just makes it more obvious, rather than less. Nobody else gets that many long shots. Obviously, they are trying to hide it as best they can. Thankfully, though, there aren’t any glaring “that’s not him” moments in the film, so even if they are being obvious about it, it works.

Oddly enough, they seem to be using Paul Walker’s death to their advantage several times throughout the film. In more than one sequence, viewers are sure his death on-screen is imminent, yet he manages to squeak through each time. While this may be more apparent now, what with his actual death off-screen, it seems odd for the film to tease the viewer like that. You would think they would be trying to make viewers forget about his off-screen death, and focus on the character, instead of constantly reminding them. Maybe that was already in the script, or maybe that was an addition following his death. Either way, it seems odd for them to keep those sequences in the film.

Let’s face it. This franchise is never going to win any acting awards, and it’s not meant to. If they keep the action intense and entertaining, fans will continue to flock to the series forever (or until Fast & Furious 10, which is where Diesel has said the series will end). Thankfully, they throw in a decent plot into the mix, and so far, the series is still going strong.

While they did have a nice tribute to Paul Walker at the end of the film, that’s about the only thing that really makes Furious 7 stand out from the other films in this series. While Fast Five (2011) had that fun freeway safe chase (and added Dwayne Johnson into the mix), and Fast & Furious 6 (2013) had Dwayne joining the team (and the return of Letty), Furious 7 doesn’t really have anything special, except for guest stars.

With the apparent inclusion of both Jason Statham and Kurt Russell in the cast of The Fate of the Furious (2017), the importance of Furious 7 may take on more meaning down the road.

For now, though, it’s just some popcorn-munching fun. Sure, it may fall apart a bit when you break it down, and the oddity of those continuous “death is coming” sequences for Paul Walker seems to just be in poor taste, but the send-off at the end is a nice touch, and the film keeps the action interesting enough to keep the viewer from needing to use their brain much. While not the best in the series, it’s still worth a look.

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