Directed by James Wan, written by Chris Morgan, from characters by Gary Scott Thompson | Netflix
Hot Car: Lykan Hypersport, the $3.4 million supercar.
If the successive entries in this increasingly popular franchise have shown us anything it’s that more is more. More cars, more stunts, more characters, more arm butter, more slo-mo, more macho attitude, and more sentiment, have all equalled more success, both commercially and critically.
But I have to say, with this seventh edition, they’ve gone so far over the top, so big, with so much more, the silly quotient has rolled back the fun of the last two movies a bit.
That’s not to say there isn’t a good time engine rumbling away here, but instead of it being a fuel-injected 700 hp, it’s somewhere closer to 500 or 600.
If big budget action and fast cars are what you want, there’s more than enough of those.
We begin with Shaw (Jason Statham, all grit), visiting his hospitalized crime lord brother (Luke Evans), and swearing revenge on the people who put him there. Before long Shaw is in Los Angeles, giving Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) a hard time. If you ever wondered what a fight between The Rock and Statham would look like, here ya go. It’s fun, though maybe a little hard to believe Johnson, who must outweigh Statham by 50 kilos, wouldn’t crush him with one bicep flex.
Then we have Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) indulging in a little desert racing. Dom is trying to stir Letty’s memory—she’s still an amnesiac. (If you need a reminder of the plot details from the previous movies, go here.)
Brian (Paul Walker) is driving a minivan. It’s a great gag. He’s trying to embrace domesticity, even though apparently he “misses the bullets.” He doesn’t really make much of a case for that—it’s mostly his wife, Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Dom, who make observations about his state of mind.
Paul Walker died in a car accident as this film was being completed, so if there’s stuff about his character that feels sketchy, the way the script was rewritten to accommodate his absence may be to blame. Or it just could be the already existing ham-handedness of the story, which is probably the clunkiest since 2 Fast 2 Furious.
Once Shaw puts Hobbs in hospital, he starts to show up all over the place, like at the funeral for Han. Han’s the team member who died at the end of the last movie (and also at the end of the third movie, Tokyo Drift ). That’s weird, but this is not a franchise that skimps on mythology. I pity the audience member who hasn’t seen the other six trying to make sense of #7.
Here’s where the silliness predominates, along with a whole lot of male intuition: Dom sees a Maserati with tinted windows at the funeral and somehow figures out that Shaw is the driver, which leads to the most macho game of chicken ever put on film, one where no one chickens out. And later on, Hobbs intuits a bag hanging off a helicopter is full of grenades.
Then there’s Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell, as cool as ever), a government agent willing to hire Dom and his pals to track down a hacker named Ramsey (Natalie Emmanuel, familiar as Missandei from Game of Thrones), who’s created a program called God’s Eye, by which the user can tap into any and all digital cameras everywhere. The American government wanting control of this thing seems scary to me, but it doesn’t bother anyone in the cast, who clearly are too busy living their lives a quarter mile at a time to worry about issues of privacy.
The thing is, since Shaw keeps appearing wherever our team goes, why they sign up with Kurt and his crew beggars reason. The question is even asked, but we don’t get much of an answer. Literally everywhere they go to track down Ramsey and then her program—whether it’s Azerbaijan or Abu Dhabi—Shaw shows up with a big gun. They don’t need Kurt or Ramsey or her God’s Eye. They just need to stand still for a few minutes.
But that’s not what these movies are about. They’re about speed, unbelievable stunts involving American muscle and European supercars (which have replaced the tuners as these movies’ budgets have climbed). And I have nothing against any of that.
Director James Wan sustains the established style as well as his franchise-saving predecessor, Justin Lin, including the gratuitous models in butt-floss bikinis, there’s something that feels a bit off this time.
Sure, the vehicular stunts are as inventive and outrageous as ever, including dropping a bunch of cars out the back of a cargo plane and having them parachute handily onto a mountain highway, which I gather wasn’t a special effect.
But it’s the overuse of CGI in Furious 7 that turns some of these stunts into absolute cartoons. I love the idea of driving a supercar out the side of a skyscraper and into another one (twice!), but at no time did I actually believe what I was seeing. This isn’t Tom Cruise actually hanging outside the Burj Khalifa, this is really obvious computer animation.
There’s a stunt late in the running with Dom’s beloved Dodge Charger that is so clearly computer generated it takes a lot of the fun away from the scene, not to mention an entirely CGI predator drone flying over nighttime downtown LA and wreaking CGI havoc. It made me yearn for the days of Blue Thunder, when the actual chopper hung in the skies over the city, with Roy Scheider and Daniel Stern peeking into people’s windows.
But then, like the Lego Movie, the entire Furious franchise feels a lot like a story imagined by a little kid, so maybe its pointless to ask for too much realism in either the FX or anything else, and just enjoy the boys with toys.
The outrageous manliness of all the cast (even Rodriguez) is still a consistent through-line. There’s still no compromise in this collection of tough guys. The fight scenes are somewhere between passable and good, with a nice use of the camera rotating to follow body flips. I wish they’d just let Tony Jaa (playing one of the terrorist henchmen) do his thing without editing the crap out of his fight scenes. At least they let him get in a little parkour.
At one point, Hobbs, still recovering from injuries sustained by a bomb and falling three storeys onto a car, tears off his cast and arms himself with a rotary cannon in order to take down a helicopter. As one does.
Vin Diesel is still the core of these movies, his Groot growl more grumbly and mumbly than ever, though I was a bit bummed we don’t get to see him cooking up a BBQ for his peeps in this one. Probably because they blew up his house.
And I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler that the film ends with a tribute to Paul Walker. They dissolve the character he played with the actor he was, which makes for a touching montage and final drive into the sunset. The explicit bromantic moment conjured with Diesel might be laughable if it weren’t so bloody sincere. I wasn’t really a fan of Walker’s work and even I got a little choked up.