Spoilers ahead — read at your own risk!
Nobody wanted to love “Furious 7” more than me.
And for the first time in “Fast and Furious” history, I was disappointed.
To be clear — the action is still fun, exciting, and over-the-top in the way that only a “Fast and Furious” movie can be. I had a goofy smile on my face during a number of the crazy stunts, even though most of the big action set-pieces were spoiled in the trailers. Beyond the stunts, the film has a number of big problems.
Unfortunately, franchise newcomer James Wan (of the “Saw” franchise and “Insidious“) is simply not as well-versed in shooting high-octane action scenes as Justin Lin (director of “Fast & Furious” 3, 4, 5, and 6). Wan’s moving camera tricks may work extremely well in the context of his horror films, but his style does not at all mesh with this franchise.
Part of what makes “Furious” movies so easy to love is the fact that the completely ludicrous action sequences are shot so well that it’s easy to suspend disbelief and just go along for the ride. The chase scenes, heist scenes, and even simple hand-to-hand combat scenes have been the saving grace of the franchise.
The sequences have always stressed coherence over quick cuts. But Wan cuts away for large chunks of time and returns arbitrarily, and it’s discombobulating for the viewer.
The much anticipated Michelle Rodriguez/UFC star Ronda Rousey fight pales in comparison to any number of female-to-female fights from “Furious 6.” There is so much happening in this sequence, but Lin’s masterful cross-cutting ensured that the audience never loses their bearings.
The fight sequences in “Furious 7” are far more haphazard, so it’s harder to tell who is fighting who and which fist is which, and they’re just not as exciting.
As for big action, re-watching the plane sequence or the London chase in “Furious 6” really shows how Lin succeeds where Wan fails. Lin’s camera connects the action, and it’s coherent and makes sense. The same shot will go from inside a plane and pan to what’s happening outside in a way that is seamless and all-too-rare in the action genre.
No scene in “Furious 7” compares.
Wan’s sensibilities work wonders in his horror films, from “Saw” all the way through his recent monster success “The Conjuring,” but this is his first attempt at shooting big action.
And Justin Lin had four “Fast and Furious” movies to perfect his craft. He grew along with the franchise, mastering the stunt coordination and honing an eye for bigger, badder action sequences, the scope of which appeared limitless.
“Furious 7” is Wan’s debut, and his project was overshadowed by tragedy.
The film’s biggest problem is Paul Walker’s presence (or rather lack thereof) after he passed away in a car accident midway through filming. Inital reports stated that Walker, was at least 80% done with filming, but there’s no way this is the case.
Paul Walker’s Brian O’Connor just never feels like a real character. His role (as well as the rest of the ensemble) is completely expendable. If he were totally written out of the movie, it would play out exactly the same.
There are a handful of scenes throughout the movie in which Paul Walker actually appears — the rest of them they used his brothers as stand-ins and hide his face from the camera.
The CGI is so well-done that you can’t tell it’s not Walker, but it’s still clear the filmmakers had to jump through hoops to make the movie work after Paul’s untimely death.
His dialogue is recycled from older movies, it cuts to the same static reaction shot over and over, and they do whatever they can to make sure the camera is never anywhere near his face. There’s no real solution to this very specific problem, but it’s distracting when noticed.
The film also shoehorns in a number of “wink wink nudge nudge” moments about his death, and they’re all emotionally manipulative and unnecessary given the way the movie actually ends.
The Vin Diesel Show
The franchise has always had its heart in the right place — the cast is one, big multi-cultural family, and they want you to know it — but the melodrama goes off the deep end here. The human moments were earned in the previous films, but here they just happen without any rhyme or reason and are more laughable than affecting.
And, unlike the rest of the films, “Furious 7” isn’t even about the crew. Vin Diesel is presented as an action hero in the vein of an 80s Schwarzenegger film, complete with all the stupid one-liners and mugging for the camera.
When the crew finally assembles, it’s incredibly anti-climatic and there’s zero build-up — they’re all just suddenly there and ready to go. They add in backstory for emotional effect, and it feels cheap and unnecessary.
In the older films, each character is given their own introduction: We cut to different parts of the world and check in with each person and find out what they have been up to since their last adventure. This gives the audience a chance to really connect with the characters and become emotionally invested, so when the absurd action sequences go down, we have a reason to care.
The “Furious 7” crew members play like pale imitations of themselves, with each getting a line here and there to remind us of their role. Tyrese says something silly, Ludacris and the rest of the gang crack jokes at this expense, and we move on to the next scene. Instead of proper attention to the full team, Vin Diesel picks up all the slack, and the entire movie revolves around him.
The biggest mystery is why Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson takes such a backseat here — he is all over the marketing material but is confined to a hosptial bed almost the entire time. UFC star Ronda Rouseyand famed Martial-ArtistTony Jaaare both in the cast, but show up for maybe a combined total of 5 minutes of screentime.
Instead of pumping up these roles, we just get a lot more Vin Diesel reaction shots. The circumstances of filming — rewrites and reshoots to account for Walker’s absence — doesn’t quite explain the curious lack of airtime for some solid characters.
It doesn’t help that Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is a pretty lame villain. He’s more of a caricature than an actual person, and the opening title sequence proves that right away. He shows up, dukes it out with Vin Diesel (multiple times), disappears, and pops up again whenever it’s narratively convenient.
There’s no character building, just destruction, and Vin could have easily taken care of him in one of the film’s first scenes.
The “story” itself only gets more convoluted and ridiculous as it goes along … which is typical of the franchise, but here they’re not even trying to make it work in context. By the time we get to the Deus ex machina at the end
, I was completely checked out.
The connections between the old films and the new films have previously been well-thought out and intricately plotted ahead of time. In “Furious 7,” they literally just make stuff up, and its attempts to thread the franchise needle feel more like fan fiction than the next logical step.
“Furious 7” is clearly a labour of love, and that’s also the reason why it doesn’t really work. The “Fast and Furious” franchise has always been silly, but for the first time in its 14-year history, it’s really dumb.
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