Owen Shaw’s (Luke Evans) brother Deckard (Jason Statham) decides to take revenge on Dom (Vin Diesel) and his team after the events of Fast & Furious 6. When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is injured, a mysterious and powerful government operative calling himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) offers to help Dom track down Deckard. Dom and the team set off across the globe in pursuit of the things and people that will help them find Shaw before he finds them.
In case you couldn’t tell from my rankings of the other movies, I love The Fast and the Furious franchise. Even when it’s completely ridiculous, it’s always fun. Still, I walked into Furious Seven cautiously optimistic. Outdoing Fast & Furious 6 would be tough enough, but serving as a fitting tribute to Paul Walker–who died in an unrelated car crash before filming was completed–would be even tougher. While the movie succeeds spectacularly where Walker and his character Brian are concerned, it’s far from the franchise’s best installment.
While most of the movies are a lot to handle, this is the first that feels overwhelming. It suffers from Spiderman 3 syndrome and tries to pack too much in. New characters, globe-hopping, multiple MacGuffins — it’s mind-numbing and the narrative structure doesn’t help. The film works like a video game, with multiple tasks for the team to complete before they can get to the boss level. The previous films were smart enough to keep the goal of the heists relatively simple while letting the character drama drive most of the action. However, Furious Seven is essentially a spy movie where Dom and his team are just accessories. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) getting her memories back has been an important plot line for two films now, but this movie is too busy dropping cars out of airplanes to give it much attention. All-powerful computer programs and drones are too futuristic, too impersonal for a franchise that’s so dependent on the physical abilities of its heroes and their relationships.
The problem is only compounded by the fact that the film focuses so much on new characters, that those we know and love often disappear completely. While Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey is a welcome addition to the team (it was turning into a bit of a sausage fest with Gal Gadot’s Gisele dead and Jordana Brewster’s Mia reduced to the worried off-screen wife), Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody is maybe the worst character in franchise history. Most of that has to do with his performance. It’s so out-there that the character comes off as psychotic rather than charmingly off-kilter. He seems equally likely to kill Dom and his team in their sleep as help them. He’s no substitute for Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs, that’s for sure. He’s not even equal to Elsa Pataky’s Elena.
Usually, any problems with the story are easy to ignore if the action sequences are at least strong. Unfortunately, franchise newbie James Wan is no Justin Lin. Wan cut his teeth directing horror films like The Conjuring and Insidious, but he still doesn’t quite have a handle on action. He makes the mistake so many contemporary filmmakers do, placing the camera so close to the action that it’s hard to follow what’s happening. He’s also perhaps a little too fond of camera tricks. The first time a camera rolls with a character during a fight, it’s fun, even surprising. The third time, it’s gimmicky. Though there is one thing he and the movie get absolutely right: Brian’s scenes.
After Walker’s untimely death, the filmmakers used his brothers Caleb and Cody and stunt double Oakley Lehman as stand-ins and grafted his face onto theirs using CGI where necessary. Wan exploits low lighting and oblique angles to obscure who’s doing what so well that the blending of old and new footage is nearly seamless. Chris Morgan does similarly well with the script, though the preexisting story seems to have lent itself well to the tweaks made after Walker’s death. While the franchise has always been about family, this is the first film to suggest that starting one means leaving car chases behind. It’s a development that makes sense for Brian, but had Walker lived, things probably would have ended differently. Even so, the Fast and Furious franchise is not known for subtlety (this film has more low angle shots of women’s asses than the rest of the movies combined), but its final farewell to the character and the actor is flawless.
I wouldn’t want to spoil those final, sunny images, but they’re about more than just the characters saying goodbye. It’s hard to tell whether the emotions on their faces belong to them or the actors and it lets everyone–including the audience–say goodbye. It’s such a strong end that it would be a fitting farewell to the franchise itself. Universal studio head Donna Langley has said they still plan to make more installments, but much as I love these movies, I kind of wish they wouldn’t. If it did end here, they’d be hard pressed to find a better ending to this glorious explosion fest than Brian’s final shot—even if this is only the fifth best movie.
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.