Review: Furious 7 (2015)

Superb action with a very heartwarming send-off for the late Paul Walker

The Fast and the Furious franchise has always been a bit of a dark horse when it comes to Hollywood, although, as of April 2015, it is Universal’s most lucrative film series of all time. It’s hard to imagine it actually began back in 2001 with The Fast and the Furious, a fairly average movie at best. This centered around cop Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) infiltrating the street racing scene of LA, led by Vin Diesel‘s  Dominic Toretto, and learning a few things about racing whilst doing it. While fun to watch, there isn’t really much substance to the original outing of the series. What it did do was introduce the characters and their ability to showcase car stunts that defy both laws of physics and common sense. Turn your mind off, get hold of some popcorn, and this movie is passable enough to enjoy.

Though not a massive success, it did manage to spawn two sequels over the next few years: 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious  and 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Both films received mixed critical reception, with Diesel only turning up for a brief cameo in one and most of the original cast absent for both. These sequels were made simply to cash in on the name of the first movie. As with the original film, neither outings are masterpieces, but are both enjoyable enough to watch as long as you don’t mind turning your mind off for an hour and a half.  It was 2009’s rather confusingly titled Fast & Furious that actually felt like a direct sequel to movie 1, with all of the original cast returning. As good as it is to see Diesel and Walker again, this is probably the weakest of the lot, with a plot that is actually quite difficult to follow.

However, times were changing for this franchise, for 2011 saw the release of Fast 5. Finally, these movies were no longer guilty pleasures; they actually got good…and continued to get better. Bringing back both the original cast and characters introduced in the early sequels, these silly little films about street racing suddenly became gripping and original heist movies. Though the ridiculous stunts only got even more impossibly silly, Fast 5 is just a really enjoyable action movie, helped along by the addition of super cop Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), hired to track down Toretto and O’Connor. If Fast 5 can be enjoyed for nothing else, seeing Diesel and the Rock face off is worth tuning in for alone.

Now this was a franchise to be reckoned with, only to be continued and improved upon in 2013’s Fast & Furious 6, for me the strongest of the series. By this point, the series boasted such a likable and impressive cast that it was worth watching the movie just to see them all team up against Luke Evans‘ Owen Shaw, the first real nemesis for Toretto’s gang who was a match for them. With some brilliant set pieces both in cars and out of them and an absolutely superb cliffhanger that tied into events of Tokyo Drift, until then the most disconnected from the other movies, Fast 6 was a very well made action movie and got audiences around the globe very hyped for the upcoming Furious 7, due out in July 2014.

Tragically, just when it seemed nothing could stop this franchise, filming on Furious 7 was called to a complete halt following the sudden death of Walker in November 2013. As Walker had only filmed half of his scenes prior to his death, this involved a major re-write of the script and a huge shake-up behind the scenes. The release date of the film was pushed back to April 2015 and Walker’s brothers were brought in to double for him, combining their live action with CGI. Furious 7 would become Walker’s last movie, now having to incorporate a fitting send off for both the character and the actor, as well as build on the momentum of Fast 6. Though not perfect, I’m very pleased to say that this movie succeeds in both. It’s exciting, bundles of fun and ultimately delivers a very touching and emotional ending for Walker’s character.

As the film opens, following the events of Fast 6, the gang have all gone off to live their separate lives. Dominic, Brian, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) are now all back in LA, Brian struggling to come to grips with life as a father as opposed to an international criminal and Dom trying to help Letty remember her former life with him. However, they are soon to be pulled right back into action when Owen Shaw’s big brother Deckard (Jason Statham) tracks down and kills their friend Han (Sung Kang) in Tokyo, puts Agent Hobbs in the hospital and declares war on Toretto and his family. The team, including Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), must reunite to track down the seemingly unstoppable Lachlan before he gets to them first. This can only be done by enlisting the help of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to steal a piece of technology called the God’s Eye from a group of terrorists. In a plot that will take the team round the world, the team must stop Deckard, before it’s too late.

As with the previous installments, the car chase scenes are as ridiculous as they are entertaining to watch. It seems that each new installment of this franchise needs to get just that little bit more bonkers, and this film does not disappoint. Not only do we literally have the gang skydive out of a plane in cars, we also have a fierce Toretto drive a super bullet proof number through three skyscrapers…and off a cliff. Seeing the characters continuously do things with cars that would, in real life, break every bone in their body, and walk away unscathed has simply become a trait of these movies by now. You know what you’re getting when you go into one of these things. You can query just how impossible it all is, or sit back and enjoy it. Because there is a hell of a lot to enjoy here.

The film, as with it’s more recent predecessors, never loses sight of what the series is about – men driving fast cars in ridiculous ways. New director James Wan more than responds to the challenge here, his direction slick and easy to follow as the gang race down the street and smash their vehicles all over the place. But there is plenty more action to appreciate even when they actually get out of the cars, with both Brian and Letty getting to showcase some serious fighting in a couple of very entertaining scenes. Both Toretto and Hobbs get to face off with Statham’s Deckard, which, let’s face it, is what we all want to see, and even Tej knocks a guy out cold very easily in one scene. Unfortunately, it is very obvious when the stand-ins for Walker are on screen, either with them keeping his face in shadow or filming from behind his head. However, it does not affect the final product, and the filmmakers have clearly  done the best job they can with an impossible situation.

The cast, as always, are damn enjoyable to watch, with Gibson’s Roman once again getting most of the funniest lines. Though boasting a rather large cast, the vast majority get more than their fair share of screen time, Diesel’s Toretto especially carrying the vast majority of the movie as he struggles to come to grips with what is happening around him. Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody is a very interesting new character and I especially love his night vision sunglasses. However, both Johnson’s Hobbs and, ironically, Statham’s Deckard are very underused, the latter being rather disappointing considering the great build up in the previous film. Both are brilliant when on screen, Statham being a superb villain for the group to overcome, but most of the movie actually focuses away from him, instead moving towards the God’s Eye plot. Though both Hobbs and Deckard return for a superb final, in which Hobbs dawns a massive machine gun and takes on a helicopter, it is a shame that both were not used to their full potential. Hopefully, this is not the last we’ve seen of Deckard Shaw, and I hope his return utilizes him more than this film ultimately does.

Indeed, it is the plot where the movie falters somewhat, where the intriguing revenge story involving Lachlan is sort of shoved to the side to make way for the God’s Eye search. While this is quite entertaining, and gives the gang an excuse to take on some terrorists, the bad guys themselves here are very one dimensional, simply wanting the God’s Eye to do… bad guy things. In a way, it can be argued that this is a little disappointing, considering how the ending of the previous film really pointed towards a deadly game of cat and mouse between Lachlan Shaw and Toretto. However, it does give the film an excuse to bounce around the globe, with the gang journeying to the Middle East and Tokyo, before having a big showdown where the series began in LA. And, ultimately, the sub-plot that matters most, Brian’s send off, is done exceptionally well, with the character realising that his days racing cars around the globe and dodging bullets are done. He has a family now, and he wants to be with them.

Walker’s send-off at the end of the movie is absolutely brilliant, and it’s obvious it was conceived from the heart of all involved. There is no doubt that the tears in the eyes of the actors are very real, as they gathered together in tribute to their fallen friend. Indeed, the last scene of this movie is nothing short of heartbreaking, with Diesel narrating about the importance of family, a montage of Walker’s scenes in the series showing before the film ends with the simple ‘For Paul’. You really get the sense of how much the death of their friend affected them here, and I’m sure there will be few dry eyes in the house walking out of this flick.

All in all, while Furious 7 is a bit lacking in its plot sometimes, and some characters are sadly underused, the movie delivers everything it promises. The action is great, the characters are funny and gripping, and it is an extremely fitting tribute to the late Mr. Walker. The franchise truly has turned itself around, and it’s been lots of fun watching it come from where it began. The future for the series may be slightly uncertain at the moment, but whatever they decide to do, I will certainly be there to watch.

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