Review: Furious 7

**Before reading this review, please see these two articles for some background on where I am coming from:

  • An article I wrote where I name Fast & Furious 6 one of my favorite films from 2013
  • An amazing article by Angie Han (from /film.com): In this article she discuses how Fast & Furious 6 does a great job empowering women.

    Making a movie is not an easy task. There are so many variables, so many things to keep in check, so many people to manage. On top of that, the process of making a movie has the extra pressure in that it has to be successful or else. All filmmakers have to overcome to craziness that comes with film production, not all filmmakers have to deal with tragedy. So was the case with the production of Furious 7. In the midst of making a $200 million plus budgeted summer blockbuster, director James Wan and crew had to decide how to handle the tragedy that was the death of Paul Walker. We can all rest assured knowing that while the film may not be perfect, it does deliver where it counts, most importantly in honoring the memory of Paul.

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I want to establish two things before delving into the review. First, I won’t be discussing the Paul Walker stuff until the end of the review. At the end of the review, in a section marked off for spoilers, there will be a discussion on how the film succeeded in its tribute to Paul. For those that have not seen the film, you can know this, the filmmakers have taken the high road and beautifully said goodbye to Paul Walker’s character Bryan.

Second, as I discuss what I liked and what I didn’t like about the film, I’m going to be analyzing the movie just like I would any other. I’m going to talk about the plot and pacing and the characters. I can already hear the argument now, “Why are you being so hard on Furious 7, you know it is just a big dumb action movie right?” And yes, I am very well aware what these movies are and what they are trying to do. But as you can see from the site, I’m pretty well versed in today’s blockbuster culture. I have my tastes of what I like and what I don’t like, and I like “big dumb action movies” that also work as good stories with good characters.

As means of my resume, let me direct you to an article I wrote last year discussing 2013. At that time I named Fast & Furious 6 my favorite film of  2013. That’s right. I, Josh Tarpley, who was brought to tears by Selma and appreciated the technicality of Birdman, loved Fast & Furious 6. I love blockbuster filmmaking, and Furious 6 was firing on all cylinders (no pun intended). Now I will say that since the writing of that article I can say that Gravity is easily my favorite of 2013, but Furious 6 is still #2. All that being said, I love big action movies and there is a place for the Fast & Furious franchise in the spectrum of movie-lovers.

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The best aspect of Furious 7 (besides its tribute to Walker) is the spectacle. Ever since the fourth film in the franchise, the movies have been getting bigger and bigger and we as an audience get to go along for the ride. There is nothing different here, Furious 7 features several set pieces that are not only creative on paper but they are captured beautifully by James Wan. You’ve seen the scene in the trailers where the cars are parachuted from a plane onto a mountain chase scene. There are so many moving parts during scenes like this. It could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. Wan makes sure that you are kept in the loop during these sequences and each action scene plays out like a small short film.

The franchise knows what it is about and it struts its stuff masterfully. Each action scene will have 2-3 different scenes within them. While one fight is happening upstairs, another set of characters will be hacking into something downstairs, all the while a chase scene is happening that sets the stakes for the whole scene. Wan and screenwriter Chris Morgan do a great job of incorporating all the characters into each big scene, giving each of them a moment to shine, while also making sure that it works as one cohesive action scene.

Along with the action, the franchise also knows how to be awesome. There is just a level of awesome here that is not present in other movies. Whether it is the menacing threat of Jason Stathem or the charisma of Dwane Johnson, the film exudes cool the whole way through. Newcomer Kurt Russel plays a Nick Fury type character named Mr. Nobody. He is having a great time with the whole cast while he is playing a skilled leader/assassin. Despite the real life tragedy that hit the crew, the movie still captures the family and the fun these movies are know for. The energy is high and thrill ride is extravagant.

Unfortunately the film does have some problems. What was so great about Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 was the ensemble nature. While Furious 7 does feature an ensemble, some key elements are missing. After the events of Furious 6 and Tokyo Drift, the ensemble is missing Jazelle (Gal Godot) and Han (Sung Kang). While that’s just two characters, it really hurts the diversity of the group and they are sorely missed throughout the film. We are now left with four guys and Michelle Rodriguez. The core group in Furious 7 just isn’t as enthralling as the previous installments.

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In the same way, both Stathem AND The Rock are extremely underutilized. At the beginning of the film it appears as though it is going to be a revenge film with Statham’s character hunting the crew down. He kills Han, injures The Rock and goes after Dom, all things moving smoothly. In a very strange manner, the film takes a total left turn introducing tons of new characters and a secret mission “sub-plot.” I honestly can’t call it a sub-plot as it is the actual plot of the film. Instead of focusing on Dom’s crew facing off against Stathem, the crew start chasing various people and various macguffins that have nothing to do with them.

It felt weird. The Rock is in a hospital most of the time. Stathem isn’t featured too heavily, he comically shows up randomly to remind everyone that he is the villain. We should be focusing on the family aspect of the story, instead we watch our street-racing heroes become secret agents chasing something for the government. While this may seem like a small point it actually really affected my enjoyment of the film. For example, the big car parachute scene from before, the point of that scene is to save a hostage from a convoy. Who is this hostage? Is it an injured Dwane Johnson? Is it Bryan’s family? Is it another character from the Fast family? No, it is a faceless hacker we have never heard of. We as an audience are subtly disconnected from the scene because it doesn’t directly affect the story of our characters. I didn’t care about some hacker, I care about our family of characters and how they deal with Stathem. There are other examples of this, but I’ll just leave it at this; Fast & Furious 6 dealt only with the characters (whether it be the good guys or the bad), Furious 7 struggles big time as our characters are merely pawns doing the work of a different action movie.

Click this image to be taken to a MUST-READ article discussing the role of women in the Fast & Furious franchise.
Click this image to be taken to a MUST-READ article discussing the role of women in the Fast & Furious franchise.

One more thing before wrapping this up. While the Fast & Furious franchise has never been one to overtly respect the dignity of women, I would argue that Fast & Furious 6 featured some great roles for the women involved, and was not as degrading as other entries in the franchise (to see where I’m coming from, please see this article from /Film’s Angie Han). While the women involved still play a part in the story, Wan seemed adamant on having as many butt-shots as possible in the film. Every race scene, every party scene, every beach scene must have been required to have a 5 second shot of the women in their scantily clad outfits. Again,  I know this is a franchise that started with Los Angels street racing, but as the article I pointed you to earlier shows, the franchise was doing a good job and not totally degrading women. I feel as though Furious 7 took a step back on that front.

In closing, Furious 7 does a great job displaying the spectacle of blockbuster filmmaking and is a great action movie in its own right. While it is a great action movie, I’m not sure it is a great Fast & Furious movie. The story was too much about other things and not about Dom, Bryan and the rest of the crew. Yes, each of them have their own character arcs, but they feel like sub plots in what is really a Mission: Impossible spin off film. Even so, the spectacle and respectability of Furious 7 still makes it a worthwhile film. If you are looking for a big action movie featuring loud cars and well directed action (with this soundtrack), then Furious 7 delivers perfectly.

Grade: C-

**Spoilers for the ending of Furious 7**

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As stated before, the film ends with a tribute to Paul Walker. Storywise, Bryan was dealing with becoming a father and how to deal with suburban life. It made sense for him to give up the life and go be with his family. After Walker’s death, I’m sure there were conversations amongst the filmmakers on whether or not they should kill off Bryan (in a heroic manner) or to just have him leave halfway through the film with no sense of closure. I am so happy they did not go with either of those options. There are two touching scenes that are perfect. First, a shot of Brian playing with his family (it is obvious this part was played by one of Walker’s brothers) while the other members of the crew “say goodbye” to Brian, it is obvious who they are saying goodby to really though. After that, Dom and Brian have one last race, here Dom is giving a voice over about family, a touching song is playing, a montage from all the Fast movies shows Walker’s life in these films, it says goodbye to Paul Walker in a way that only the Fast & Furious franchise could.

The film ends on this high note. It is done so tastefully that we have to applaud Universal, Wan and everyone involved. This could have gone so poorly, but the whole team came together and delivered a standing ovation worthy moment. Bravo Furious 7! This was the most important aspect to get right, and you did it masterfully.


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