I enjoy all of the Fast & Furious movies so far, but to varying degrees. Fast Five and Fast & Furious Six have obviously been the standouts with their great sense of vehicular mayhem, entertaining ensembles, and the cheesy-but-charming family stuff. Going lower, I think the original The Fast and the Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift are next in line. One was a solid but rather ordinary Point Break remake, and the other let The Karate Kid have some decent fun behind the wheel. Both 2 Fast 2 Furious and Fast & Furious have their share of problems. The former worked whenever the movie let Walker and Tyrese have fun as high-fiving bros, but certain darker Miami Vice moments felt out of place. Fast & Furious, the fourth entry, was the Nolan-influenced grim and gritty chapter. It took itself way too seriously and had easily the worst effects of the series to date, especially during the tunnel chases underneath the Mexican border.
Now you’d better shift a gear down, because I consider James Wan’s Furious 7 a disappointment. A lot of it works well, and there are some glorious moments, but these new 140 minutes aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are simply too many problems to ignore and thus it does not belong among the franchise’s outstanding chapters.
Where to begin? First of all, you really need to accept that they’ve gone further than ever before. Cars parachute down to an unreachable mountain pass. There’s a shadowy organization ordering Dom to steal a futuristic wire-tapping software similar to the one from Person of Interest. Cars get to fight attack drones and helicopters. There’s a sequence involving multiple high-rises even Tom Cruise wouldn’t dare to attempt for real. Jason Statham decimates the whole staff of a highly guarded military hospital on his own and just casually walks away. You get to see Dwayne Johnson running around downtown Los Angeles, shooting a minigun. People have been joking that the next Fast & Furious will have to be set in space, because only then it finally would have embraced complete absurdity. Believe me, they don’t need to get to space to make sure of that. The world of Dominic Toretto has changed so much by now that future appearances by Storm Shadow, the Turtles, or the T-1000 would not feel out of place.
And I don’t see that as a problem. I don’t mind giving up realism in action scenes if it serves entertainment. One of the major problems I have with Furious 7 deals with a different kind of realism. Until now, several of the characters have been overly one-note. Still, they felt real — like the way Thor feels real in the MCU. Even Johnson’s hulking Luke Hobbs felt like a human who had a life outside of what was shown. No matter what crazily impossible stunt anyone was surviving, you believed that Roman got hungry, or that Han could have developed a relationship with Gisele. This time though, each of the main characters feels as flat, like a character in a commercial. Kurt Russell — and it hurts to say it — is actually bad here. Half of his dialogue sounds like he’s reading ad copy for a sponsor.
Gone is the team aspect. Elsa Pataky, Ludacris, Sean Boswell and Jordana Brewster have screentime, but their roles barely matter. Now it’s basically just Diesel, Rodriguez and Walker doing everything, with only certain moments for Johnson and Gibson. Johnson is great, as usual, but just like the others he’s more cartoony than ever. The lines he’s giving are so bad you actually expect him to burst into laughter. Roman only had small moments in the previous movies except for 2 Fast 2 Furious and made them work. This time he often comes off as whiny. Most of his jokes seem forced and too on the nose.
Vin Diesel gets the weakest moments. I love the big guy, I really do, but whether it’s tender moments between him and Michelle Rodriguez, motivational speeches for his family, or one-liners that are supposed to sound cool as ice, nothing ever works. And I can’t really blame it on him. He’s not doing anything wrong. It’s the script he’s working with. The credits list Chris Morgan as the sole writer, but that’s actually hard to believe. Even though Morgan has stuck around since Tokyo Drift, it doesn’t seem like his voice anymore. All nuance is gone, nothing is subtle. Dwayne Johnson has probably seen better dialogue on WrestleMania scripts.
There is one undeniably great vehicular action sequence, though. The crew chases an armed bus over a mountain pass and it just goes on and on. It’s the best scene of the movie and the one that resembles Fast Five and Fast & Furious Six the most. As expected, Jason Statham is a blast in the movie and gets to have one big brawl with Johnson, and two very good confrontations with Diesel. Meanwhile, Walker gets to have some fun fighting Ong Bak’s Tony Jaa (who finally shows up in a Hollywood movie after having been held back by a troubling contract) and there’s even another impossible catch resembling the one from Furious Six. Actually, you’ll be surprised how long Paul Walker sticks around. Just like Craig Robinson in Hot Tub Time Machine watching the one guy to eventually lose his arm, I wondered when Brian would finally bow out. I won’t reveal how long he’s in it, but just let me say two things. You will never guess how they solved it and it’s a fitting way. Sadly though, Walker’s character is a mindless drone in this. Brian O’Conner was never the most complex character to begin with, but in this he’s only ever shooting and shouting commands. At least the VFX (by WETA, I think) are mind-blowingly good. There’s not a single scene where it’s obviously one of his brothers with his digital face CGI’ed on. It’s really marvellous and you may even shed a tear when it’s time to say goodbye.
Furious 7’s biggest mistake is an overblown third act. Wan was obviously trying to match or outdo the endless runway gag of the last movie, but it turned out more like a Transformers showdown. I won’t go into details, but it mainly deals with distracting and evading an army helicopter with cars while chasing one of the surviving main villains. It’s too long, too unfocused, and the pay-offs are merely mediocre.
The new additions to the cast are great on paper, but aside from Statham they’re either weak (Russell) or just bland henchmen without personalities. I know you don’t cast Tony Jaa and Ronda Rousey for their acting abilities, but they don’t even get to shine as martial artists. Both of them get adequate fight scenes, but you never get the feeling you’re seeing two of the greatest show off their talents. No one unfamiliar with them will be inspired to Google them. It’s a pity, as they’re truly great at what they’re doing. Their scenes should have been jaw-droppingly great, but ended up being just okay. Two-time Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou is among the bad guys and yeah, he too is completely wasted. He looks cool, but his role is pretty much just “generic helicopter pilot”.
Remember the scene in Fast Five in which Dom declaires “The most important thing in life will always be the people in this room. Right here, right now,” with both Tego Calderon and Don Omar present who are obviously not important to Dom? There’s way more stuff like that in Furious 7, and it gets even worse once Morgan goes for overused cliches. You’ll know what I meant.
Note: This has no post-credits scene.
Maybe I’m being too hard on this, but to me it simply couldn’t live up to its outstanding predecessors. On the one hand the action set pieces are mostly great and there are enough references, cameos and throwbacks to the previous movies to make any longtime fan smile big time. Jason Statham makes for a great villain and you’ll love the way they deal with Paul Walker’s tragic fate. On the other hand though, the characters don’t feel natural anymore and spout terribly written lines. Much of the humor feels forced, and the whole third act is an overblown mess. Maybe Wan too needs more than one movie to find his peak – Lin needed three tries.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars