Box Office Democracy: Furious 7
Justin Lin was the architect of the most dramatic film franchise turnarounds in my lifetime. When he signed on to make a third Fast & Furious movie the franchise was a laughing stock (I heard more jokes about the name 2 Fast 2 Furious than any movie before or since). He would, over the course of four films, turn the franchise in to the best original action movie franchise of the modern era. Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 are the best action films of this decade and it isn’t particularly close. The mid-credits scene of Fast & Furious 6 revealing Jason Statham as the villain for the next installment was one of the happiest moments I’ve ever had in a movie theater. If I knew anything in the world of cinema I knew Furious 7 would be a fantastic movie and that I needed to wait on the edge of my seat for it to come and deliver another transcendent action movie experience.
Then Paul Walker died.
This might a failure of my own capacity to suspend disbelief but I simply couldn’t put Walker’s death out my mind watching Furious 7. I was constantly aware of his place in the story and how it might have changed. Any long bit of dialogue I wondered if it had been changed. A key fight scene late in the movie is in a suspiciously dark building. The breadcrumbs are everywhere. The Fast & Furious franchise hasn’t been free of plot holes or impossibilities up until now honestly the absurdity is part of why I love it so passionately. That impossibility worked because of the quick pace and how seamless everything felt; the rewrite needed to cover Walker’s death exposed all of those seams. If I’m thinking anything during these movies other than “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” or “I wonder what cool thing is going to happen next” it breaks the spell of the film.
Furious 7 has no shortage of cool moments. The sequence that starts with the parachuting cars that you’ve undoubtedly seen in the trailer is as good as any car sequence ever committed to film and is easily the equal of the safe sequence from Fast Five or the tank scenes in Fast & Furious 6. When they drive that Lykan Hypersport from one Abu Dhabi skyscraper to another and then to a third it’s an unparalleled delight. These are the things I go to the theaters to see and I was not disappointed here.
While the car scenes were as good as ever the fight scenes felt kind of off. I think we can attribute this to the change from Justin Lin who directed four of these movies in a row but decided he didn’t like the production schedule required to make this installment and passed the helm on to horror movie veteran James Wan. Wan has an aesthetic for his fight scenes– when characters fall, the camera often stays oriented on them while the background turns behind them and I found that shot quite irritating and often nauseating. There’s also the choice to have the action sequences in a much more traditional kind of way where everything else stops and two people punch each other for a while. Fast & Furious needs tempo and a freneticism that I will never get from watching Vin Diesel and Jason Statham try to kill each other with tools and scrap metal while a car chase happens in a different part of town. I need something more like people having a fist fight on a cargo plane barreling down an endless runway while people in cars try to shoot harpoons at the wings of the plane and people frequently jump in to and out of the plane. I hope Wan either gets on board with the previous aesthetic or makes his stay with this franchise a short one.
Ultimately what makes this film special is the cast. The characters are constantly calling each other family and while it’s sometimes cornier than anything it feels true because of the earnestness of the performances. I believe these characters love each other because when they aren’t saying they’re family they act like one. In almost any other movie I would have no patience for a character like Tyrese’s Roman Pearce but I love him in this because I know earnest corny fallible people that I would go to the ends of the earth for even if none of them happen to be world-class drivers. It’s part of what makes the end of the movie off Paul Walker so perfect and so touching. In any movie production I would believe that the actors were sad that their friend and co-worker passed but by layering that on top of the goodbyes these characters need to say to each other brings it to a whole extra level. Furious 7 may not reach the dizzying heights of its predecessors but when Dom and Brian reached that fork in the road and went their separate ways I was sure I was watching one of the greatest things I’d ever seen. It doesn’t matter if it’s true it just matters what it feels like and that’s why I love The Fast & the Furious.