After a long, and painful delay, the latest installment of one of Hollywood’s premier action franchises, Furious 7, races into theaters. Despite being another high-octane-revenge-thriller, the film also gives the fans one more chance to say goodbye to one of the most popular cast-members, Paul Walker.
The untimely death of Walker, delayed the film’s proceedings and casts a huge ominous pall over the proceedings, which find the former F.B.I. agent adjusting to his worst nightmare – being a mini-van driving dad. As he and the rest of crew adjust to normalcy after their last adventure, a highly pissed-off and highly-capable British former special ops assassin, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) has his sights set on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew, even demonstrating his ability to be a one-man wrecking crew while keeping the focus on the man who beat down his younger brother, Owen in the previous film.
After besting the imposing Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in an bone-crushing confrontation, Shaw announces his presence with authority by setting it off by fire-bombing Brian and Mia’s home, as they all narrowly escape. Despite both men seeing red and out for each other’s blood, Shaw escapes when a group of government operatives, led by the mysterious shade-wearing Frank Petty (Kurt Russell), stop Dom (Vin Diesel) from taking down his hated adversary.
Soon, Petty offers Dom and his crew a deal. If they can help him track down a piece of revolutionary, game-changing technology, and its creator, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), before she falls into enemy hands, he will team with him to help Dom take down Shaw. Although, Dom is laser-focused on finding Shaw, he is also dealing with the ambivalent feelings of a still-confused Letty (Michelle Rodriquez), who is frustrated that she can’t remember her rich, loving life with him. Her search for answers further complicates and clouds Dom’s mind as he tries to gather himself for the task at hand, which sets off the most daring high-speed hostage retrieval since the end of Fast & Furious.
Written by long-time collaborator, Chris Morgan (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6), all of the familiar elements are present as he ramps up the action with more mind-boggling, aerial car stunts that should NEVER be tried at home. As he ups the visual and physical ante of the film, he fails to deliver a smooth and coherent story narrative. The result is too much focus on the film’s secondary story and not enough of the relationship between Brian and Dom.
Maybe it was a by-product of the film’s producers, including Diesel, who may have not wanted to turn Furious 7 into one long Walker love-fest, or maybe it was a function of minimizing the amount of CGI on Walker’s character, the emotional absence of their relationship, as well as the lack of screen time for Johnson, almost is a preview of future Fast & Furious installments without Walker. Onscreen, Walker and Diesel’s characters perfectly complimented one another, a fact that Mia emphatically states earlier in the film. While future installments will be made, it will be impossible to duplicate that chemistry with any other actor currently cast and that is an issue that Morgan will have to address going forward.
One of the other elements of the franchise that is both entertaining and maddening at the same time is the absolutely ridiculous car stunts that are staples of the story. Although the story is live-action, the stunt-work has a cartoon-ish quality that is a throwback to the 1990s’ action films of Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and others of high body counts and tons of destruction, with minimum damage to our heroes. The series has also become a chic way to parachute characters in and out of the story just to bring more star power to the series. In is MMA female champion, Ronda Rousey, and Tony Jaa; out is the equally-imposing Gina Carano, all designed to get their shine on this high-profile cinematic carousel.
Director James Wan saves his best for last delivering an emotional farewell for the beloved Walker that had many people in tears. If Diesel is the soul of the series, Walker was clearly it’s heart and many of his fans had theirs broken when they learned of his death. While his spirit hovers over the film, it is not enough to scale the extraordinary heights of the previous two installments, especially Fast 5, which remains the crowning achievement of the franchise.
Much like films, This Is It and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which were the final films of Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger, as the final frames were approaching, one could not stop thinking of the cinematic contributions of Walker, who gets a rousing and well-deserved send-off in a highly-entertaining but soulless film that is clearly all style but struggles with giving us something of substance.