Furious 7 — and the entire (The) Fast and (the) Furious franchise — doesn’t seemingly merit the praise I laud upon it. As an action series, there’s an expectation for it to hit specific beats and move on. And it certainly does that with aplomb; fast driving here, explosions there, punches aplenty, attractive women looking attractive… But at the same time, this series packs more heart into it, more appreciation for its characters and their diverse personalities and quirks, more respect for the audience than we would ever expect of normally-mindless action flicks.
Are there crazy physics-and-logic-defying sequences that stress the limits of suspension of disbelief? Certainly, and possibly more in Furious 7 than anything prior (and that includes Fast Five’s giant-safe-tethered-to-two-cars-driving-at-speed-being-used-as-sliding-wrecking-ball). If that’s going to be a problem for you, I might suggest sitting this one out. (The guy who sat next to me at last night’s IMAX screening was quite vocal in his disapproval of the stunts presented onscreen; I fear he may have been in the wrong theater. Or state.)
But at the same time, there’s a movie-long romance arc about Dom and Letty’s relationship (I assume you’re all equally on first-name basis with the characters) being strained by Letty’s persistent amnesia (let’s all just move on from that bit), and a respectful farewell for Brian’s character that doubles as a teary-eyes goodbye to Paul Walker.
There’s a revisiting of the scene and characters from Tokyo Drift — a film made ten years ago with none of the characters from the previous films as a crazy effort to breathe new life into a waning franchise, no forethought of an ongoing story, but which became the springboard for an arc spanning five films — to dovetail Han’s death/funeral with Owen Shaw’s drive for vengeance. No action movie I can recall has story seeds running through the veins of a decade of films; most exist movie-to-movie, trying to reboot a series with every release to sustain public interest, keeping only one or two actors in to maintain audience recognition (and probably to keep the budget down).
James Wan had a difficult task of taking over for Justin Lin, who had directed films 3-6 and established the long arc, and continuing those story threads into their next phases. He successfully weaved Han and Gisele’s death, Walker’s struggles with the doldrums of domestic life, Shaw’s defeat in Fast and Furious 6 acting as ghost from their past for a new antagonist in Jason Statham, and the aforementioned Letty amnesia into a beautiful tapestry, while still giving everyone in this (now slightly smaller) ensemble cast appropriate screen time to continue to develop their characters and simultaneously kick ass. He even brought in new faces such as the brilliant hacker Ramsey and the mysterious US government agent/benefactor/plot driver Mr. Nobody, both of whom I expect to see in future endeavors.
And there’s no doubt in my mind that there will be future endeavors. Although the actors got to pay their respects to Walker in character and let his character sunset in as fitting a way as I could have ever imagined, it’s also clear that their love for Walker motivated them to give this movie a proper heartfelt ending. That same motivation, that shared experience amongst cast and crew, will no doubt continue to drive them to keep telling their story as long as there’s a story to tell. They’ve lost someone special to them, and instead of throwing in the towel and canceling the film they can now be catalyzed to carry on. The cast, like the characters they portray, are family.
That mutual love, adoration, and respect is ever-apparent onscreen, and serves as yet another indicator that this series is special. The cars, the jet-setting, the action, the spectacle… It all hides something much more profound and powerful than I ever expected to find in movies like this. In the end, that heart is what will keep bringing me back.