For all the bombast of the series, Furious 7 feels gravely intimate. They’ve condensed the cast down to something far more manageable and focused on just a few themes, perhaps showing growth as a dramatic franchise as well as one that will drive a car through three skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. Action and narrative maturity make Furious 7 well worth seeing.
While the movie stands perfectly fine on its own, you’ll gain a lot more by watching the six previous films. Whether you enjoy them or hate them, they add an incredible depth to the world you’ll be trotting around in this film. There are multiple callbacks to past entries that go well beyond a simple cameo. They loop back in a very tangible way.
The basic gist, however, is that the big bad brother of the big bad thief from Fast & Furious 6 is out for blood, going straight for the jugular in a quest for vengeance. Turns out, however, that a shadowy pseudo-government group headed by Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) has been keeping tabs on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) for the purpose of taking advantage of his crew to retrieve a stolen program called God’s Eye that can track and find anyone in the world.
It is absolutely, 100-percent ridiculous full of questions that demand answers but are left wanting. Especially tracked over the course of the franchise, you can’t help but wonder how things got here. The movie opens with familiar scenes of a desert racing festival, reminding you of how the series started, right before delving into something more akin to a superhero movie.
If nothing else, there is an endless string of one-upping the past film. We go from undercover cops to the FBI to the DSS to finally an unnamed government black ops group. But there’s also a much more dire escalation that’s easy to overlook with 230 cars exploding around you.
Toretto and his crew escalate the severity of their consequences. From losing cars to losing their civil liberties, they go from stealing information to stealing money until they finally arrive at fighting for their freedom. This is the last stop, though: fighting for their lives.
This is the first time where they are being deliberately hunted, and it shows. People have died in the past (Gisele, Jesse, etc.), but that’s along the course of the action. This is where they finally have to reconcile their past with this deadly comeuppance.
By trimming the dramatic fat of unnecessary characters and focusing on a tighter group, we can focus better on why this is all happening and, better yet, how this affects that group in terms of the past, present, and future. Each one is presented as a theme through a different character, a sophisticated structure for a seemingly unsophisticated movie.
Dom, for instance, is perpetually in the past, driven by the memories of his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and wife Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez). Letty, however, is forced to live in the present due to her lost memories. And Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is pushed to live for the future with his child and marriage to Mia. Unfortunately, a lot of this is lost on those that are jumping in with just Furious 7.
Tying directly into Walker’s character is the fact that it’s almost impossible to separate the experience of watching his arc from the knowledge that Walker passed in late 2013. It fills the two-hour runtime with a somber omniscience, driving you to ponder the impact on the film while viewing it. The characters have always warned against the dangers of their lives, but is this the time where it all comes to a head?
Especially by going in without knowing how Walker’s real life death is resolved for the franchise, there’s a potent dread looming over all the action sequences. Is this where it happens? Is this what they meant? Certainly meta to the film itself, but there are times where you can’t separate fact from the fiction it creates.
Speaking of the action sequences, they are here in full force. While nothing tops the recklessness of dragging a bank safe through Brazil or the absurdity of chasing a cargo plane down an endless runway, but Furious 7 pulls no punches. Better than that, they are almost all pulled off practically. From parachuting cars to jumping off a bus that’s going off a cliff, the stunts feel real because they are, in fact, very real.
There are, of course, problems, not that they really matter to a movie like this. A lot of the characters are nothing more than cliches and stereotypes, totally devoid of the growth and humanity shown by the leads. Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce is nothing more than a clown, though he shows hints of glum self-awareness this time around. It’s a far cry from when Roman was a troubled man trying to trust the same person he blamed for his incarceration.
Then there’s Ludacris as Tej Parker and Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey, two computer experts that now fill the filmic stereotype of hackers that are too cool to be hackers. And all the bad guys like Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) and Kiet (Tony Jaa) and Kara (Ronda Rousey) come across as nothing more than stunt casting, showing up for battles and disappearing despite having enough camera focus to make you wonder if they have backstories we just happened to miss.
This even extends to the primary villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). We know he has a brother and that he’s a badass. That’s about it. There’s nothing more to him other than he wants to kill you and he can probably do it. It’s hard to fear a soulless archetype from an audience perspective.
But the question, of course, is whether this matters at all. There’s is a surprising amount of narrative complexity and depth where it matters. The bad guys give goals and obstacles, but the focus is always on the heroes and how they struggle to live as they want to live. Whether families or bullets, they have to fight for it, and these antagonists offer opportunity.
There’s the outlandish action, driving the characters all closer and closer to the edge of survival. There’s the unexpected substance to the ethos and purpose of the characters, giving a foundation to the ensuing absurdity. Throw it all together and it’s hard to not recommend Furious 7.
+ Crazy action, often pulled off with practical means
+ Nestles wonderfully in a full world of characters and motivations
+ Attempts to drive characters over plot with interwoven themes
– Thin story that serves only to give opportunities for danger
– Characters that are only characters insomuch that they have names
Final Score: 8 out of 10