Furious 7 – Review
By David Baldwin
I am at a loss for words trying to write this review of Furious 7 – or as the film’s credits and director James Wan call it, Furious Seven. The series has developed a core fan base that continues to grow with each new entry in the genre-bending action saga, and they all come expecting to see ludicrous action set-pieces and insane stunts. And of course, the occasional race or two.
On all of those fronts, Furious 7 delivers in spades. Whether it be a brutal fist fight, a daring hillside chase and rescue or grand theft auto from the top of skyscrapers, the film one-ups itself at every chaotic turn, pausing only momentarily between each action beat. It concerns itself very little with its threadbare revenge story and characters, focusing more on the goofy one-liners and the set-up for the next action scene. It is thrilling and wildly exhilarating, and IMAX only bolsters the insanity.
Now if this sounds like exactly what you want to see, then you will not be disappointed in the least.
I think this is where Furious 7 stumbles a bit. None of these films have ever been coherently sound and the continuity since Tokyo Drift continues to be problematic. But the tragic death of star Paul Walker completely threw off production and made the filmmakers and studio struggle over how to move forward. While they do a more than admirable job given the circumstances, the choppiness of the film is something it cannot quite reconcile. They gloss over story elements at will, cutting out crucial pieces of dialogue and character motivations. The camera irritatingly never stays static; it is always moving in multiple directions (mainly circular for some inexplicable reason), even during non-threatening phone calls. Some of the close-ups come off even more intense than the action. It all feels so stunted and begs the question of whether it would feel so thrown together had Walker lived to film the entirety of his performance.
All the returning players have grown totally accustomed to their characters, and shine just as bright or dull as always. Vin Diesel still plays the emotionless, monotone superhero; Walker is his courageous and selfless partner; Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris are the wise cracking sidekicks; Michelle Rodriguez is Diesel’s bad-ass female counterpart with a new found passion for brawling with UFC fighters; and yet again, Jordana Brewster sits on the sidelines. Franchise newcomer Nathalie Emmanuel (of Game of Thrones) holds her own against practically everyone, even when the film all too easily objectifies her beauty. Dwayne Johnson, the franchise’s Viagra, steals the show in all of his scenes – but he is not in the film nearly enough. The energy and intensity he brings to his character is simply unequaled by anyone in the cast, and without him, the film feels like something is missing. Speaking of scene stealing – Kurt Russell has a blast in his small turn as “Mr. Nobody”, easily blending his performance into the film’s flair for ridiculousness.
If anyone truly suffers from the film’s stunted structure, it is the film’s villains played by Jason Statham and Djimon Hounsou. Both characters have devious and terrifying backstories (Statham’s intro is over-the-top magic), but neither is really afforded the time to develop their characters. Statham barely talks – he just keeps showing up like a mute Terminator, destroying everything in the path between him and Diesel. Do not get me wrong, the fight scenes with Statham are some of the best scenes in the movie – and maybe even the franchise – but I was hoping for so much more from his character, especially after the set-up in Fast and Furious 6.
But for any and all of the issues I bring up, the film is through and through, a tribute to Walker. His ghost hangs above the proceedings, constantly referenced while the actor unknowingly gives the majority of his final on-screen performance. CGI is used sparingly in non-action scenes, but it is never obvious that what we are seeing is a stand-in and not the real actor (save for some awesome fight scenes with the legendary Tony Jaa). The emotional ending of the film, a send-off to the character and the actor himself, is handled rather carefully and is the kind of poignancy this franchise has never been known for. It leaves an indefinite question mark on the future of the franchise – but Diesel has already hinted Part 8 is on the way.
Furious 7 is an absolutely ludicrous display of action and bravado. The cast is game for the anarchy as usual, and the action is over-the-top and suitably outlandish. It is not the best of the franchise, but it manages to be a wildly entertaining spectacle and well done send off to a fallen star. It remains baffling to me, but I look forward to the next entry immensely.