Posted on Friday, April 3rd, 2015 by Russ Fischer
Why are you even reading a Furious 7 review? For most of the franchise’s enthusiastic audience there are only two questions to be answered about the latest sequel. One: does it do right by Paul Walker? Two: how does it continue the development of a film family while simultaneously expanding the scope of the increasingly insane action setpieces established by the previous two films?
Without spoiling specifics, the answer to the first question is that Furious 7 treats the late Paul Walker with more respect than it shows to anything other than cars and frantic punching. The answer to the second is more complicated. Furious 7 is more of a comic book movie than any other chapter in the series, with a few big setpieces and a lot of very repetitive action in between. It squeezes in one-liners, guest appearances and fluid camerawork wherever possible, but the returns are thin for anyone who isn’t already invested in this series.
Brothers and Enemies
Picking up where Furious 6 left off, we open on a very pissed-off Jason Statham as he begins the grim process of taking revenge against those responsible for the death of his brother. (His brother being Luke Evans’ character, the villain of the previous film.) Statham plays Deckard Shaw, a name that suggests, like the Deckard of Blade Runner, Statham is really playing an android. Or maybe he’s a Batman villain. How else to explain the fact that he’s basically super-smart, un-killable, and liable to show up at just the right time?
The plot also incorporates an all-seeing surveillance device called the God’s Eye, essentially the 2.0 evolution of the surveillance system seen in The Dark Knight. It’s really just an excuse to stitch together a few action sequences, and for a government agent played by Kurt Russell to spout expository paragraphs. The plot could be accurately explained using five or six emoji (a few frowny faces, a car, a computer and an explosion) but Russell is devastatingly charming and consistently more entertaining than everyone else on screen around him. More Kurt Russell please, all the time.
Lip service is paid to establishing a story that narrows down the “family” theme of the series to something about the bond between brothers, with this meant to feel like the culmination of the story that began in Fast Five. But the death of Paul Walker clearly threw the production into disarray, and the resulting story plays like a string of hastily rearranged writing prompts. At times it just leaps from one sequence to another with the lack of concern that defines Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. Statham is never given a character beat other than “angry, really really angry.” A mercenary figure played by Djimon Hounsou is given so little character that I first thought he was a callback to a previous film in the series that fans are meant to recognize. (He isn’t.) The story revs up high, and then stalls out in second gear.
Focus on the Family?
Even the family theme of the previous films is given less room this time. Most of that theme is expressed by Vin Diesel using the word “family” in a sentence. Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, goes on something like a vision quest early in the film, and then simply returns, with a last-ditch scene late in the movie to explain what her inconsequential disappearance was about. Jordana Brewster spends most of the film exiled offscreen rather than with her family. We see Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) with his daughter, but he is also sidelined most of the time. And the return of Lucas Black to the series — he was last seen in Tokyo Drift — is also basically inconsequential.
The ensemble feels much smaller, and the film suffers from the lack of Sung Kang and Gal Gadot. While the last few films have seen the Fast and Furious family expanding, this time there’s a contraction, and not in the way you probably expect. The “family” feels smaller, and less vibrant. The Rock is great fun when he’s around, but that’s not often. A new character shows some potential, but she’s primarily a passive participant, more a MacGuffin than a person.