Furious 7, the latest iteration of the Fast and Furious franchise, is an unstoppable juggernaut of an action film. A rollicking, nonstop thrill ride that is a throwback to the very best action movies, while simultaneously leaving most of them in the dust. As a spectacle, it's nearly unparalleled ... except, perhaps, by Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6.
I'm a late convert to the franchise. Having recently watched them all in preparation of this movie, I stand by my assertion upon first viewing way back in 2001 that The Fast and the Furious is absolute garbage, but little-by-little everything fell into place until, by the time Justin Lin was taking his third turn as director for Fast Five, the franchise had become an unabashedly fun heist series that tried to cram as much action into as little time as possible.
Furious 7 is the first film without Lin since The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, but new director James Wan (who also directed the first Saw) is more than up to the task. He nearly matches Lin in terms of capability of action directing and he's only going to get better from here.
As far as plot, it's perhaps the most airtight and streamlined of any of the movies in the franchise to date. A (sort of) simple tale of revenge and espionage, redlined and balls to the wall. There may have been plot holes in the story, but there was no time to process them, because whoops, there's Jason Statham throwing a grenade at someone.
The Verge presents: Bryan Bishop's mission to see "Furious 7" at SXSW
As a sheer spectacle, Furious 7 is nearly impossible to beat. Here is just a partial list -- just a partial list -- of things that happen in Furious 7 (minor spoilers might be in this list, but nothing is really really spoiled for you here, unless you're just being difficult):
- Jason Statham killing no fewer than 50 people
- The Rock and Jason Statham punching each other through a series of plate glass windows
- The Rock performing his actual pro wrestling finishing move on someone, through a glass coffee table
- A cameo by a thoroughly reviled hip-hop superstar that probably seemed like a great idea when they filmed the movie
- Two games of chicken in which neither party swerves
- Cars literally being dropped out of airplanes
- Two Tony Jaa fight scenes
- T-Pain DJing a house party in Abu Dhabi
- Ronda Rousey and Michelle Rodriguez beating the everloving piss out of each other while wearing ballgowns
- Vin Diesel just straight-up picking up a car
- A $3.4 million car getting totaled
- Kurt Russell putting on night-vision aviators
- Djimon Hounsou using a helicopter to destroy a skyscraper
- Vin Diesel fighting Jason Statham while wielding TWO ENORMOUS WRENCHES
- THE ROCK DRIVING AN AMBULANCE OFF A BRIDGE INTO A PREDATOR DRONE
And I left out about six massive things that happen that do not make this list.
The Fast and Furious franchise continues to be the greatest action movie franchise on the planet because it just gets action movies on a level that no one else seems to get these days. James Bond movies are great in theory, but in execution are just three or four mild action set pieces spaced an hour apart. Furious 7 is at least eight action set pieces, interspersed by periods of no longer than five minutes of exposition or character development before people are driving cars really fast, shooting at each other or blowing stuff up. It's invigorating and exciting -- pretty much everything an action movie is supposed to be.
Beyond just fundamentally getting it, this franchise has set itself apart in two very important ways. First, it relies almost exclusively on practical effects, with a refreshing minimum of CG shots. Yes, they actually dropped those cars out of planes. The Fast and Furious films would expect nothing less, nor would its fans. These are real cars being driven and wrecked, for the most part. That's exciting. That's really Vin Diesel swinging two ridiculously huge wrenches. It's somehow more exciting than anything in film since the Battle of Helm's Deep.
The second important thing the franchise does is very earnestly believe its own message of family, as ludicrous as it seems in these films that have essentially become an autotuned version of "what if the Avengers pulled off heists?" Yes, it's absurd that soft-talking Vin Diesel would believe in nothing except the concept of family in between smashing people through concrete walls and flattening an entire city with a giant safe. But dammit, they've never for an instant wavered from that core conceit. For seven films, these actors have all sold those concepts with all of their hearts and all of their considerable ability. It all adds up. You believe these characters love each other and would do anything for each other. You care about these absurd, unbelievable caricatures of human beings. The Expendables franchise, for example, delivers every death and explosion with a wink and a nudge in the ribs and a "hey, remember this?" The Fast and Furious franchise delivers its action with a deep, unwavering look into your eyes while softly saying, "please remember that you are loved."
All of which serves to lend immense weight to the elephant in the room that is the death of Paul Walker. You watch the film knowing it's his last and your mind is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. The work done on the film, via re-writes and re-shoots after his death, leaning on his two brothers for stand-in and voice-over work, is respectful and nearly perfect. The denouncement of the film is -- there is no other word for it -- poetic. It lends a staggering and unexpected emotional heft to the film that is beautiful. It may not affect you the way it affected me, but it is as respectful and elegant as anyone could have pulled off under similar circumstances.
For a franchise that began as a garbled mess of style over anything resembling substance, it's evolved into something that -- for all its lack of brains -- contains nothing but fun and heart. Somehow, that's everything action movies were always trying to be. We just didn't know it.