As “big, dumb movies” go, the last few “Fast and Furious” films are some of the best – they’re solidly character-driven, and generally pack an emotional heft beyond your average superhero flick. “Furious 7” is no exception: it’s a briskly paced, action-drenched adventure that hits a new high point for the franchise.
In a nutshell, the “Fast and Furious” series centers on Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), and their team of exceptionally capable drivers/hackers/mayhem specialists. While the first few installments focused on the world of underground street racing, more recent films have amped up the vehicular carnage and added in a global/geopolitical focus. This time around, Toretto and company are out for revenge against Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who murdered one of their number in the closing minutes of “Fast and Furious 6.” Cue a series of gigantic set pieces stretching from Azerbaijan to Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles. all jammed full of physics-defying stunts and envy-inspiring supercars. It all builds to a delightfully berserk climax involving Predator drones, Miniguns, parkour, hand-to-hand combat, and dozens of exploding vehicles, which caps off the series in fine fashion. Add in a top-tier soundtrack, solid direction from James Wan (“Insidious,” “Saw,” “The Conjuring”), and “Furious 7” promptly emerges as the best chapter of the saga. (It’s also worth mentioning that the last few “Fast and Furious” films have added Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – one of the most likable actors currently working – into the mix. He certainly steals the show here.)
The “Fast and Furious” franchise has always been a bit of an outlier, characterized by a traditionalist ethos in an era of morally murky cinema (a sincere respect for religious faith, for example, permeates the series). More specifically, “Furious 7” offers an interesting counterpoint to the recent spate of “geri-action” films, in which an aging Hollywood star (or several) delivers beatdowns to swarms of enemies half his age (e.g. “Taken,” “The Expendables,” “The Last Stand,” “The Gunman,” etc.). Here, growing older is linked to maturation, family, and responsibility – which, in turn, are not portrayed as chains to be overcome, but as joys to be celebrated. The franchise also offers an atypically robust example of deep male friendship (Dom and Brian), which goes well beyond a casual “buddy cop” dynamic and leads into a surprisingly emotional coda (Walker was killed in a car accident during filming; the movie is dedicated to him).
Furthermore, Dom’s crew is never portrayed as “anti-heroic” in the sense that they electively violate genuine moral norms at their leisure (breaking traffic laws, after all, is the quintessential example of malum prohibitum versus malum in se). Rather, these characters routinely make the “right choice” between multiple difficult options – a perspective hewing far closer to an Aristotelian understanding of “virtue ethics” than a Batman-esque deontological approach or a James Bond-style utilitarianism.
“Furious 7” will win no awards for its script, which reads like a computer-generated algorithm of action hero clichés (though it undoubtedly does have some fantastic one-liners). Additionally, the camera’s constant ogling of bikini-clad female extras feels gratingly sexist, though it bears mention that the film’s female leads are treated with surprising respect.
That said, “Furious 7” is still a cut above many of its competitors (I confess, I was more excited for this than for the forthcoming “Avengers” sequel). The automotive action scenes grow ever more eye-popping, the cast continues to turn in solid work (as stupid as the dialogue might be, it’s clear everyone is enjoying themselves immensely), and the series’ underlying themes continue to resonate on an unexpectedly deep level.
It may not win an Oscar (as promised by Vin Diesel), but it’ll certainly make a lot of money. And it deserves to.
The Platonic form of the early-summer action blockbuster. Highly recommended.