“Furious 7” has finally hit theaters across the nation and we think some moviegoers are in for a surprise. After the first hour or so, some viewers will stop and think to themselves, “Wait, why is this flick getting so much hype, again?” Yes, this is when we arrive at the dirty secret of the latest installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise; it's actually the worst movie of the post-“Tokyo Drift”/Vin Diesel-less era. Before you immediately jump to the comments section to protest, please note this isn't click bait masking as contrarian opinion just to get fans all riled up. Sadly, it's the truth, but with one big caveat, the last 10 minutes or so of the picture will simply knock you out. Let's explore why, shall we?
[Note: There are some spoilers from “Furious 7” ahead. If you don't want to know plot points for the main storyline stop here. The ending, however, is not spoiled.]
First, you should know this writer is (mostly) a fan of the last three films in the series. Director Justin Lin seemed to grow as a filmmaker with ever installment bringing great energy and, at times, epic feel to the series. The franchise's longtime producers, the screenwriters and Lin also successfully introduced a “family” theme to explain why these characters continue to go to bat for one another in their unbelievable adventures around the world. This allowed the series to essentially became a gigantic soap opera with increasingly bigger names joining the cast either as adversaries turned brothers (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) or outright villains (John Ortiz to Joaquim de Almeida to Luke Evans to Jason Statham).
Lin also had a flair for raising the bar on compelling action scenes even though they were often shot in a conventional, studio style. That was something many thought would be hard to pull off after Paul Greengrass' “Bourne” films and the “realistic” Bond that began with “Casino Royale.” Instead, the stunts continued to surprise and every once and a while you'd get an unexpected gem such as the rooftop chase in “Fast Five.” Moreover, the romantic storyline between Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Lenny Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) made you at least root for them, especially after a post-credits scene revealed she was still alive after our hero thought she”d been killed in “Fast & Furious” (yeah, it's complicated).
2013's “Fast & Furious 6” is when the series really started to strain credibility, however. Well, the series has always strained credibility, but this is when the seams really started to show. Granted, the aircraft stunt was amazing, but the rest of the time logic was almost completely thrown out the window. Luckily, though, the finale got the characters back to the U.S. and free of the legal issues that had seem to plague them since the first film. And, yes, we get it. “The Fast and Furious” franchise is escapist fun. We love fun (really, we do), but that doesn't mean it”s always a good movie. That also brings us to “Furious 7.”
Even before Paul Walker's tragic death on Nov. 30, 2013, “Furious 7” was on everyone's radar. The previous three films had become bigger and bigger box office hits and that meant “Fast and Furious” had transformed itself into a major Hollywood franchise. Moreover, Lin's departure brought in a new helmer, James Wan, who had just come off a critical and box office smash with “The Conjuring.” Some even argued that Wan was a more talented filmmaker than Lin which inferred “Furious 7” might end up being the best film in the franchise to date. Needless to say, we're dying for Wan to return the more realistic cinematic universe of “The Conjuring” sequel.
The problem with “Furious 7” (again, besides the last 10 min which we'll get to) is that it barely makes any sense. Our heroes are recruited to save a kidnapped hacker, Megan Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), from the clutches from a villainous group who want her advanced hacking technology. Ramsey has developed a program that can hack into all the world”s cell phones at once and act as a “Big Brother” finding anyone, anywhere (we're pretty sure it works faster than it takes you to pay your phone bill online). But, while you ponder that, there”s more! The main villain, Deckard Shaw (Statham), continues to pop up out of the blue when our heroes are in the middle of a mission with almost no explanation as to why he'd even know they were there or in said country, no less. We're told he's a rogue agent that is an expert at being off the grid, but are you kidding me? Things really get silly during the film's final battle where a drone that looks like something out of a “Transformers” movie (or maybe Bruce Wayne's Batcave) wreaks havoc over downtown Los Angeles blowing up cars and shooting up buildings like it's in the middle of Bagdad. The idea that no government entity would engage it for at least 20 minutes (it might have been longer) is preposterous even for a Hollywood action movie. Oh, and that isn't even including the maneuvering Ramsey and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Parker) have to go through to hit the right cell towers to regain control of her program. The finale of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was more plausible than this. It also doesn't help that half the cast seem to realize the whole movie is now gone completely over-the top (Johnson and Tyrese, in particular) and the other half are playing it as a straight melodrama (that would be Vin Diesel and Rodriguez). And, did we mention that Statham's character somehow survives a two-story fall onto a cement floor in a collapsing parking garage? Its just too silly, too monotonous and, most frustratingly, you feel like it”s never going to end.
And then? Then “Furious 7” completely wins you over and you find yourself fighting back the tears.
I've been lucky enough to see a lot of movies over the course of my career. In fact, I probably watch at least 200 films a year, but I cannot for the life of me remember the last time I saw a movie completely flip a switch like “Furious 7.”
Even though Wan, Diesel and other members of the “Fast and Furious” team publicly stated for months they were not going to kill of Walker's character, the only real tension in “Furious 7” is what will happen to him. It's why so many people and even critics are forgiving or ignoring some of the movie”s flaws I just dissected. What was unclear in the immediate aftermath of his passing is that Walker had completed filming almost all of his scenes (or at least what they needed to make the movie work). Plus, he's physically present at the finale of the aforementioned downtown battle that serves as the movie's climax.* There would be no way to say goodbye to his character during another part of the film”s, ahem, “storyline.”
Instead, the two new scenes at the end of the film act as a one-two punch providing Walker with arguably the greatest send-off in cinematic history. It's so well done if Wan or Diesel came forth and said, “Oh, we spoke to Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and they suggest we do A, B and C” you'd actually believe them. Frankly, it works because most viewers have seen Walker interact with his co-stars in at least a few of the previous installments and because, in real life, his early passing was so tragic and in a context similar to the movie. But, Wan and company construct the goodbye so delicately that even before Diesel's voice over begins you're already at a fever pitch emotionally. And that final image? Excuse me while I get a bit verklempt just thinking about it. That's the power of cinema. Right there.
So, is “Furious 7” really a good movie? No, not really. But do yourself a favor and see it for the ending alone. You'll be glad you did.
*We're also going to assume this because when the film uses CG to insert Walker into a scene you can absolutely tell it's CG.