An awful thing happened before Furious 7 was finished filming. Paul Walker died.
As fun as it is to talk about how silly and goofy and ridiculous the Fast & Furious franchise is, there’s something undeniable when you actually watch it: all the talk of family isn’t just for show. It’s totally endearing because it’s completely honest. We believe these characters are attached to each other because of the actors.
In my eyes, Justin Lin was the guiding light that led the series from a decent series about street racing to the greatest superhero franchise of all time. But there’s no denying that Vin Diesel is the public face of the family. Furious 7 brought a new director to the series, James Wan, and when tragedy struck Diesel deserves the credit for taking the PR reins and holding the whole thing together.
Fate of the Furious opens today and I’m very excited for it. There’s only one major thing giving me pause: there’s no Paul Walker. Walker never had the showiest role in the franchise. He was ostensibly the lead in the first film, but Diesel owned the screen from the first time he entered it. What Walker and the people behind the screen realized was that Brian is the heart of the family. His connection to Dom and Mia and Roman and Tej is what sells the core group. It’s unavoidable that there will be a missing piece to the proceedings and it’s hard not to hold that against the new film.
But let’s talk about Walker’s final ride as Brian O’Connor. Furious 7 is a spy film, a superhero movie and, above all else, a eulogy for a brother.
Furious 7 makes it clear early on that Owen Shaw (Jason Statham) is a force to be reckoned with. The one take sequence where he’s talking to his comatose brother, Deckard (Luke Evans) opens the film and shows us the kind of devastation that Shaw is capable of doling out. It visually quotes The Dark Knight, and the Joker specifically, which is apt. Shaw is a chaotic force of nature in this film, as we’ll see going forward.
To make us care on a personal level we need to see how Shaw endangers the family. The film lays that out for us by having him take Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) out of commission and by having him kill Han (Sung Kang). The latter stings in particular, but the films eventually had to catch up to the convoluted timeline. The fact that Han was so awesome helps cement us in the family’s shoes: we want to see Shaw pay for what he did.
What’s weird about the film is that there are sort of three different aspects going on at the same time. There’s the Shaw storyline, which plays like a background plot more than anything. There’s the main plot which allows them to be globetrotters and do spy shit, but is also kind of inconsequential to the family. Then there’s the fact that they had to rework a few things to make up for the loss of Paul Walker. The last part they pull off almost perfectly. The first two parts don’t mesh together as well, which leaves Furious 7 feeling a little lesser than the previous two entries. But emotionally it knocks it out of the park.
The main storyline kicks in when Kurt Russell shows up as a CIA agent who goes by Mr. Nobody. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. He’s fun and a perfect addition to the film. He — hilariously — recruits these street racers to help him retrieve a computer program called the God’s Eye and its creator, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel). In exchange he’ll give them information about where to find Shaw, which seems unnecessary when he’s the one stalking them. Nevertheless, it’s a story to hang some action set pieces on, and as that it works perfectly.
In fact, another fault of the film is that its greatest action set piece happens basically halfway through. When Mr. Nobody gets the family together, which includes Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), they decide to drop down from an airplane onto a mountain road to intercept the convoy carrying Ramsey. It’s a great way to make the sequence stand out from previous entries. This sequence also lets Brian fight the martial artist and star of the Ong Bak series, Tony Jaa. His henchman character doesn’t do much but look dangerous and kick ass and he lets Paul Walker have a fitting send-off by giving him a couple of hand-to-hand fight scenes that actually makes me believe Walker could hold his own with Jaa.
Shaw also shows up during this mountain chase. The name Shaw is fitting, as it reminds me of the movie Jaws. Shaw pops up occasionally like the shark in that film, wreaking havoc on our leads when it’s least convenient and they least suspect it. He shows up again later, in a scene in Abu Dhabi, firing a rocket launcher at Dom and Brian as they jump a car between three skyscrapers. As secondary as Shaw seems to be to the plot he definitely ratchets up the tension on some already tense as hell scenes.
Of course the last act of the film takes place back in LA. Where the family calls home, where Mia, Dom and Brian’s house was blown up and where Hobbs is recuperating. The finale comes together well with some definitive scenes from the entire franchise. Hobbs flexing himself out of a cast and then ripping a chaingun off a drone and using it has to be up there when it comes to Fast & Furious moments. The best part of the finale though is Dom’s complete reclamation of his origin story. In The Fast & the Furious he told Brian about his background, how he beat a man almost to death with a wrench. This outing completes the mythologizing of the characters, turning wrenches into Dom’s signature weapon. Like Thor’s Mjolnir he wields them against Shaw as Shaw fights with scraps of metal he tore from his own car.
It’s a fantastic fight scene.
Of course the family wins. Shaw is sent to a black-site prison underground, Letty gets her memories back, and Brian and Mia are out of the game. The end of the film is the family on a beach, shot with a gossamer-like over-exposure, as Brian and Mia play with their kid. The rest of the group basically eulogize Paul Walker in-character. Dom leaves the beach and we’re treated to a touching finale in a way that only the Fast & Furious films could deliver:
Furious 7 is special because it ended up being a family affair, on-screen and off. When they had more Paul Walker scenes to film they used digital compositing and Walker’s real life brothers, Caleb and Cody, to finish them. They made the best of an awful situation and they did well.
I may be wary about how the franchise can move on without Walker but I’m excited to see what they come up with. I know they’re in good hands with Diesel acting as a bit of a vanguard for the development of the franchise and I know what he cares about above all else.
Important Things Furious 7 Adds to the Franchise
-Timeline is up to date
-Letty has her memories back
-Kurt freakin’ Russell
Furious 7: 8 Buckets of Corona out of 10