Right now, the seventh entry in a series is entering theaters instead of going direct to video. People actually want to see it. A lot of people. In fact, many folks sincerely anticipate a sequel that will either match or exceed the series’ other high points - which didn’t even happen until parts five and six. The Fast and Furious series is anomalous all over the goddamn place, and it’s wonderful.
With a series so focused on family, ridiculous action, and (dumb but great) mythology, a new Fast and Furious film is no small thing. Each new entry now has to many different things to juggle. The series made magic happen with part five and somehow managed to accurately wield that magic again with part six. That alone is remarkable. So how did it do this time?
Furious 7 offers a much more direct sequel than we’ve seen from the series thus far. While part five opens where part four ended with Dom’s escape from prison transport, the plots of four and five aren’t as closely related. Here, Jason Statham starts fucking shit up immediately as a direct retaliation of Furious 6’s events, so much so that six and seven almost feel like a two-parter.
Almost. While offering a direct plot continuation, something is very different here thanks to the shift of directors from franchise mainstay Justin Lin to newbie James Wan. Just going by the look of the film, we can see a big change. Wan’s film is less muscular and (relatively) grounded. He relies more on noticeable CG. Little lady butts get ogled much more than normal. The camera moves all over the place, almost obnoxiously so. This isn’t all bad. The way Wan films a lot of the car stuff feels especially fresh and exciting. The hand to hand fighting isn’t as great, but it takes interesting risks and certainly isn’t awful.
We now associate these films as “crew” movies, and the best parts of five and six usually involve characters just standing around talking about stuff. Furious 7 makes a genuine effort to give us some of those scenes, but they fall somewhat short of the fun camaraderie we’re used to. The loss of Han and Gisele hurt the film to a surprising degree. But even more than that, it appears the magic glue that made parts five and six work so well might have been The Rock after all. He’s almost a cameo here, and the film really suffers from Hobbs and Dom’s lack of sweaty bromance.
This is actually a Dom-heavy film, and while we all love Vin Diesel, Dom all by himself isn’t the greatest character. Without The Rock to bounce off of, most of Dom’s scenes focus on either on his love for Letty or his beef with Jason Statham’s character, neither of which feel all that awesome or important. Roman and Tej are still back there doing there thing, but the film’s more somber tone means their shenanigans are less ingrained in the overall DNA.
As the main villain, Statham adds surprisingly little to the Fast and Furious canon. He’s a little too cool, too overpowered, too smart, and as a result, not as interesting as anticipated. I actually prefer his brother in Furious 6. At least he and Dom got to have real conversations. Statham’s a ghost in this, and it feels like it. Part of the problem is that instead of focusing on him, the film splinters off into a separate plot for him to magically dip in and out of whenever convenient.
So now that I’ve spent four paragraphs (and hurting my poor soul) on what doesn’t work about this film that I will probably go on to love, I think it’s important to note that this is still a total blast. The action set pieces here are amazing. There are bits in this film we’ll be talking about with the same reverence we display for the vault scene in Fast 5 and the tank sequence in Furious 6. There are also bits of dialogue that had me almost cheering in my seat. It is a fucking great movie.
Not only is it great, but it lives up to what this franchise has become. I don’t think it’s quite as good as parts five or six, but those films are great enough that I can make that statement without indicating anything overly negative. It’s at least the third best in the series, without a doubt. Given how remarkable that it exists at all, staying at such a high quality mark is no small feat.
But I do think that something big will have to happen for the Fast and Furious series to stay as exciting as it has been. With the loss of Gisele, Han, and now Brian, Fast and Furious 8, or whatever it ends up being called, will have to pull of yet another miracle to keep this party going until Vin Diesel starts going grey (I’ll let you figure out where).
And for the record, I JUST watched this movie and feel like a lot of it was too busy for me to totally wrap my head around this quickly. I’m seeing it again tomorrow. I may feel differently then. So don’t come kill my ass.