Universal Pictures and the entire production team of Furious 7 were faced with the type of difficult decision that no filmmaker ever wants to make when star Paul Walker suffered a tragic accident during a filming hiatus that ended up costing him his life. It’s not a unknown occurrence; Oliver Reed passed away during the shooting of Gladiator and was digitally added in to finish his scenes, as was Brandon Lee after his fatal accident-turned Hollywood mythology on set of The Crow. More recently, we’ve sadly seen Heath Ledger pass away during the filming of The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus and Phillip Seymour Hoffman during the Hunger Games: Mockingjay. But, aside from the yet to be seen work from Hoffman, there has really not been a death that has affected a film series of this magnitude before. With Walker being one of the central characters of the franchise, it left the filmmakers with some tough decisions to make.
As for the film itself, the gang is all back for another go around. This time the story takes on less of the “caper” feel of the previous 2 entries, as this is just a pure revenge film. Older brother Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to Fast 6‘s Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), upon seeing his brother clinging to life in a hospital bed, decides to exact revenge on his behalf. Shaw starts by breaking into the office of CIA agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) for information and taking him out of action. After killing Han (Sun Kang), the older Shaw sets his sights on the Toretto household, nearly killing Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Walker), Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their young son. Knowing that they are all targets now, Tej (Ludacris), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who has yet to recover her memory, join with Dom and Brian in a attempt to track down Shaw before he finds them. But, government covert ops spook Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) has different plans that change everything for the crew.
Furious 7 is a very fun ride, but manages to fall just short of the two previous entries. The multiple villains approach dilutes the focus of the story, so the side mission to save a computer hacker that has created a world altering tracking device does feel a little tacked on to increase the action factor. Though the resulting action sequences with a motorcade and skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi are extremely satisfying. We get two high profile fighting henchmen here with Tony Jaa making his English language film debut and an appearance by UFC Champion Ronda Rousey. And while Jaa is used to perfection – his fighting style and athletic ability are integrated flawlessly and he is given plenty of screen time to show them off – Rousey is barely in the film leaving the audience clamoring for more, as we are not given nearly enough. Johnson’s Hobbs is also a victim of the script as he is only used as the bookends for the film, laid up in a hospital bed for the majority of the action.
For the rest of the crew, this is old hat by now; Diesel, Walker et al could play these characters blindfolded in a deprivation tank without anything but a script outline. The cheesy lines about family and sticking together from Dom, Walker’s goofy grin, Gibson’s chatterboxing and Rodriguez’s stone faced stares are all here, and we the audience would have it no other way. The action set pieces this time around are even more insane than usual, especially the ‘jump in Abu Dhabi,’ but they feel less grounded. That’s because of director James Wan‘s wandering camera and reliance on camera tricks. The director of the previous 4 films, Justin Lin, used a cleaner approach to the filming, relying on the positioning of the camera and the action in front of it to drive the picture without integrating too many camera tricks into the process. While Wan does not do a bad job per se, the difference in direction is visibly noticeable.
All that said, the real reason people flocked to the theater in droves this weekend was to see how the film handles Walker’s passing. As this review pondered off the top, it’s a daunting task to decide how to wrap up the story/life of one of the franchise’s stars. Simply stated, the ending of Furious 7 is devastating, in exactly the right way. It’s a beautiful and touching send off to their friend that will bring the burliest of gearheads to the verge of tears. And in the end, that’s all the motivation anyone should need.