Furious 7 Is A Lot Of Fun Unless You’re A Heartless Prick

furious-7The other day I saw someone ask on Reddit why the Fast and Furious series gets so much more respect than Michael Bay’s filmography when they seem to be very similar on the surface. The answer is that while yes, F&F is absurd and loud and flashy and obnoxious-capable, it also has a degree of earnest emotion and heart that none of Michael Bay’s movies have ever had. This is driven home perfectly by Furious 7, which admittedly is bolstered by having a 6-movie lead-in and the context of Paul Walker’s untimely death. And while this installment is a little rougher in the story department than the last two films, it more than makes up for it in catharsis. In the end Furious 7 reminds us that more than anything else, character is what makes for good movies, however high- or low-brow they are.

On paper, the broad strokes of the story are straightforward and clear: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is looking to get revenge on the Torretto gang for his brother’s downfall in the last film, and the crew must scramble to turn the tables on their pursuer. However, the film needlessly complicates this narrative by mixing in a spy story where the gang is recruited by the government to retrieve a hacker and her cutting-edge surveillance program. While they do tie this thread back to the Shaw story (the government promises they can use the program to find Shaw before he finds them) it ultimately feels like an unnecessary complication, one that ultimately overshadows what is supposed to be the main narrative.

Because so much time is spent on this spy plot (and on the protagonists’ arcs, it should be said), Deckard Shaw himself really gets shafted, and ultimately just becomes a perpetual fly in the ointment of this larger plot that wouldn’t even be happening if it weren’t for Shaw’s presence in the first place. Deckard is way less interesting and way less developed than his brother Owen in Furious 6, and the only reason the audience is given to fear him is because he’s played by Jason Statham and because people keep saying how badass he is. Being caught between these two threads leaves the film kind of a mess as a plot, much more so than in the last two, and yet it is still more than effective as a story because the protagonists are given first priority over all of these other concerns.

As is the norm at this point, the whole ensemble is balanced perfectly: Hobbs, Tej and Roman still get plenty of fun and entertaining moments despite being secondary to the story, and the new hacker Ramsey is quickly established as a cool character in her own right. And special mention should be given to Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody, who fits right in with the others and has more than enough personality to leave an impression. The only letdowns (besides Shaw) are Mia and Elena, who are both sidelined much as they were in Furious 6, but the fact the film works well anyway illustrates why they were put aside. While the majority of the gang are given their moments, there are a few who stand front-and-center in this installment, that give the film its beating heart and keep everything on-target despite the sprawling plot. Dom and Letty both play huge roles in this one, with Dom trying to get his family clear of this danger while Letty struggles to reclaim her identity after her near-death and memory loss. Their story works very well, with Vin Diesel conveying that mix of warm emotion and committed seriousness you’d expect from a father figure and Michelle Rodriguez striking the right conflicted tone that the story needed.

Of course, while Dom and Letty are essentially the leads of this installment, the defining arc of this film belongs to Brian and the late Paul Walker. Skipping past the phenomenal work done to keep Brian in the entire film (I honestly could not tell when it was really Paul Walker), his character arc is simple but effective, depicting Brian as struggling to adapt to grounded, civilian life and looking at this last ride as the gateway to the comfortable family life he has earned. Even with half of Brian’s arc being conveyed by other characters talking about him, it is more than effective, and sets up the final send-off/tribute to both character and actor in wonderful fashion. The final voiceover/montage, which fits as an end for Brian but is clearly a eulogy for Paul Walker, is sweet and heartfelt and engaging. Brian’s story ends with the perfect amount of emotional earnestness, and whether the series ends with this installment or not it is a great finale for him.

Of course, people aren’t just seeing these movies for shameless emotion, and built atop the messy plot and convincing character arcs are more terrific action scenes. There are three major multi-tiered sequences that make great use of the whole ensemble and retain a great focus and clarity, the best of which is the mountain chase early in the story. Each sequence, while using many of the same elements, feels wholly unique, not just to its fellows in this film but in the rest of the series as well. There’s also an all-too-brief gunfight in the dark where Kurt Russell gets to kick some ass, and I really wish there had been more of that. James Wan and company have crafted some intense and exciting setpieces here, and perhaps the only downside is that Shaw’s lack of depth robs them of some added tension and impact.

Furious 7, while perhaps not as good as the last two installments of the franchise, nonetheless keeps the hot streak going with this earnest and exciting story. It really feels like a great finale for the series if they choose to make it so, and while I doubt Universal will do that given this installment looks to be their biggest hit yet, it would be nice to see everyone involved recognize this as the perfect ending and walk away clean. While it’s far from a perfect movie, and certainly not reaching Kingsman-level awesomeness, it is a ton of fun for anyone willing to put aside their pretensions and embrace the unapologetic and authentic cheese on display.

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