Furious 7 had a remarkable amount of elements working against it. From a breakneck production schedule (a turnaround so quick that the previous series helmer Justin Lin backed out of the project) to the shocking and tragic death of Paul Walker, many saw doom scribbled all across this seventh outing. But, surprise, surprise, the latest in this surprisingly resilient blockbuster franchise has emerged from whirlpool of doom unscathed.
What concerns may have been had about first-time action-blockbuster helmer James Wan taking directorial duties are largely quelled as Wan proves himself to be not only competent but excellent in the role. He lacks some of the refinement and easy-breezy style of Lin, but Wan brings his own diesel-fueled tenacity to the project which, if he were to continue on with the franchise, he could refine over time til he gets to becomes more than a match for Lin.
From a structure and tone perspective, Seven takes most of it’s cues from it’s direct predecessor, Furious 6. From a storytelling perspective it may as well just be considered Furious 6 – Part II with screenwriter Chris Morgan wasting no time to get down to business, reintroducing us to the new film’s big bad: Deckard Shaw, portrayed by action legend Jason Statham. Of course, all the remaining members of the old gang are back: Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto, Michelle Rodriguez as Letty Ortiz, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Agent Hobbs, Ludacris as Tej, Tyrese Gibson as Roman and Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner. As in 6, Seven is very much an international voyage, with the crew going overseas to do battle with Deckard Shaw, who has taken to hunting them for putting his younger brother, Owen, into a coma during the events of the previous film. It’s a set-up that lends itself well to the Fast & Furious universe, though it occasionally feels a bit overly familiar given it’s tonal and aesthetic similarities to 6.
True to form, Furious 7 proudly features loads of vehicular warfare. Cars getting shot, dropping out of planes, flying between skyscrapers. What Wan has yet to develop in the finer details of action-directing, he more than makes up for in sheer spectacle. An early sequence featuring the crew dropping out of a plane while still in their cars being a particularly spectacular highlight. Where Seven stumbles is mostly in it’s final, slightly bloated final act. In moves which may have been taken to conceal the threads left bare by Paul Walker’s absence for the latter half of shooting, the screenplay shuffles the board to set the stage for the finale. Though not poorly directed or written, the addition of yet another (less impressive) action sequence directly prior to the finale bogs down the film’s pacing and feels a tad redundant, leaving little room for the audience to breathe between set pieces.
While this is far from a fatal move (most other viewers seemed to shrug it off just fine) it does hamper the film’s rhythm in ways that feel generally avoidable. By the time the actual big climax rolls around, it occasionally feels a bit overlong and bombastic. Ultimately though, these are minor quibbles amidst all that the film does right, which is a lot. And the majority of the action hits it’s mark dead-center.
What will ultimately (and sadly) forever mark Furious 7 is the death of Paul Walker. In many cases, the death of a lead during production can have disastrous results on the final product. Thankfully, that does not prove to be the case here While it will never be a “positive” thing that Walker died (his presence will be forever missed), it is an incredible credit the finished film saw both the actor and his character out as well as it did. As a tribute to Paul Walker, it truly could not be more graceful, affectionate and beautifully executed. The film’s closing scenes are, appropriately, all about closure for Walker, all the way to the perfect final shot. It’s a deeply touching gesture on the part of the filmmakers, one that will not only bring out deserved tears of sadness but also smiles of joy.
Walker’s life is celebrated here with a warmth and a love that only a series like The Fast & The Furious could provide. A heartfelt goodbye to an irreplaceable member of the Fast Family. If this film is forever destined to be marked by Paul’s passing, it will at least be remembered as a credit to his talents an honor to his memory.