Furious 7 is probably the most anticipated seventh film in a franchise ever, and after the one-two punch of Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, it seemed like it might even be able to keep its ambitious promise: to be the best (or at least, the most entertaining) Fast & Furious yet.
But after watching the film, I can say that there are indeed faster and, sadly, significantly more furious movies in the Fast & Furious canon. Although Furious 7 contains many incredible stunts – maybe even some of the best in the series – it also suffers from a half-baked storyline that sets up a truly exciting villain, but fails to put him to good use.
That villain is Deckard Shaw, played with menace by Jason Statham, who in Furious 7 receives quite possibly the best introduction any bad guy has ever had in a movie. (I won’t spoil it.) He’s on a mission of revenge against our heroes after they hospitalized his brother at the end of Fast & Furious 6, and he will stop at nothing in his efforts to kill them all.
So you’d think that he probably woundn’t disappear for most of Furious 7, but you’d be wrong. After two incredibly thrilling confrontations with Shaw, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team of car enthusiast super-badasses instead get enlisted by the U.S. government to rescue a hacker from a completely different antagonist, and prevent that guy from stealing super secret spy software instead.
We don’t really know this other bad guy, played by Djimon Hounsou. We don’t even find out what his motivation is. He doesn’t even have that much screen time. We just know that the villain we do care about, who poses a greater threat to our heroes and whom we have waited literally two years to see, is getting pushed aside for majority of the movie. Shaw pops up periodically like a gun-toting version of that ghost from It Follows, but our heroes exert more time and energy dealing with a less interesting problem. If Christopher Nolan got bored with The Joker after about 20 minutes, and then forced Batman to spend the rest of The Dark Knight fighting Egghead instead, it would play a little something like this.
Our heroes don’t fare much better. They still have the same lovable chemistry, bickering and swooning and giving heartfelt lectures about family for the millionth time, but they don’t have much to do besides participate in (admittedly cool) action sequences. Most of them don’t even have a subplot. They spend most of their time just fighting a bad guy with whom they have no emotional connection, and whom they never even talk to. And since there’s actually a bad guy they despise in this movie as well, who’s out to get them, there’s no reason why their time – and ours – had to be wasted on all this tacked on pointlessness, even if it does lead to cool stunts.
Yes, the Fast & Furious movies are just supposed to be fun, but the reason they have evolved beyond mere fun and into one one of the most beloved movie franchises on the planet is because we care about these characters. We care about them because they care about each other, and because they care about what they’re doing. So giving them an exciting problem to care about – and then forcing them to deal with other stuff for most of the movie – is a major problem that prevents Furious 7 from being one of the best films in this series.
Fortunately for Furious 7 – and more importantly, Furious 7’s audience – there’s still fun to be had. The action sequences really are over the top, inventive and thrilling, even in a vacuum. It’s a funny and sometimes very entertaining movie, just not a particularly good one. It rests on the lower end of the Fast & Furious spectrum, somewhat above 2 Fast 2 Furious but significantly lower than The Fast and the Furious and Tokyo Drift.
And as for the elephant in the room, yes, Furious 7 also seems to have suffered enormously from the tragic passing of lead actor Paul Walker partway through production. His already thin subplot frequently has to be explained by other actors while his character, Brian O’Conner, is supposed to be standing off-camera. Although completing the film under these conditions is a noble attempt to honor Paul Walker’s memory, there’s no denying that the effect is at least a little distracting.
Fans of Paul Walker will probably emerge from Furious 7 wiping away their tears, and if I were judging James Wan’s car chase spectacular purely as a memoriam I would have to give it a passing grade. But it’s also an action-movie, and one that only works in fits and starts due to screenplay problems and, at least in part, to a troubled production. Furious 7 isn’t worth being furious about, but it’s definitely frustrating.