By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
I have a confession to make. I have never seen a “Fast and Furious” movie in its entirety. With now seven entries and an increasingly large cultural relevancy, I’m surprised I lasted this long. In all fairness, I never actively avoided the franchise. I even tried to binge watch the entire series before seeing “Furious Seven,” the series’ latest installment. However, outside of a few disparate 30-minute chunks viewed on basic cable through lazy Saturdays, I went into “Furious Seven” with mostly virgin eyes.
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew have moved on. After clearing their names and finally ending up on the right side of the law, Dom and the rest of his crew settle down for the closest thing to normal that they can hope for. Former cop Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) has moved in with his family, and Dom has set about trying to return the memory of his still amnesiac former lover Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). However, the world isn’t ready for the crew to throw in the towel just yet. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), an ex-special forces older brother of one of the crew’s old foes, has declared a one man war on the team. When his warlord allies steal a top secret surveillance program they attract the attention of the US government. Soon Dom, Brian, and the rest of the crew are back for one last globetrotting ride.
There’s a general meat headedness to “Furious Seven,” and by extension the franchise as a whole, that acts almost as a clearance test upon entry. The ludicrous plot and casual objectification of women (director James Wan has a tendency to linger the camera on female extra’s behinds) are sure to be enough to scare away some viewers and, at a base level, one could hardly blame them. However, there’s a general sense of playfulness and even sincerity to “Furious Seven” that it separates it from more mean-spirited and cynical testosterone fueled franchises such as “Transformers” or “GI Joe.” You never get the impression that director Wan, writer Chirs Morgan, or its eclectic cast are talking down to you, they simply want to play.
Sure, the plot feels like it was dreamed up by an excited 11-year-old boy, but the film never tries to deny this. It certainly helps that Wan has crafted some truly enthralling action set pieces. There’s an excitement in seeing action film icons such as Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Staham, sometimes literally, crash into one another. It’s everything “The Expendables” franchise wishes it could be but at the same time better. Wan’s set pieces also tap into a giddy sense of inner adrenaline. One standout sequence finds Dom and his crew airdropping muscle cars for an on road heist upon a rogue armed-military convoy. It’s a brilliantly executed multi-layered chase sequence that is peppered with some truly exceptional stunt work. Later, cars fly between skyrises in an Abu Dhabi skyline. “Furious Seven” knows how to flaunt its excess and superb concepts in a way that is almost irresistible. That being said, it is hard not to be a tad disappointed in the film’s oddly familiar and overly long finale.
Between the stellar set pieces, Morgan and the film’s cast craft an entertaining piece of Saturday matinee melodrama. It many way,s it would be easy to forget what the film sets up as its character arcs between the chases and explosions. However, what “Furious Seven” has is a genuine sense of legacy. Many of these actors have inhabited these characters for at least five films, and there’s a sense of comfortable familiarity and chemistry between the ensemble. For once, all of “Furious Seven’s” preaching of the importance of family actually rings true.
Despite how competently “Furious Seven” may have created a strong piece of absurdist action, it is not what the film will be remembered for. Although the world the franchise inhabits is clearly not reality, sometimes real life tragedy strikes in unexpected ways. Fortunately, for the majority of “Furious Sevens’” runtime, if you were not aware of star Paul Walker’s tragic passing you would be unable to tell the difference. It is mostly business as usual throughout and there’s hardly a better way this could have been handled. In the film’s closing minutes it shifts gears. It pays tribute to Walker in perhaps the most tasteful, heartfelt, and oddly emotional manner possible. There’s a genuine tenderness in how the matter is handled, and one cannot help but feel the love that Diesel and his costars felt for their co-worker and friend. It’s a goodbye that is fitting for the actor and will be a moving moment for fans of the franchise, character, and the real man behind it all.