Furious 7

by Jake Mulligan

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 3, 2015

Paul Walker stars in 'Furious 7'
Paul Walker stars in 'Furious 7'  (Source:Universal Pictures)

The "Fast and the Furious" franchise truly is one of a kind: It's the product of an accidentally shared universe. The first few films featured radically different casts, as the series regulars (Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, and the late Paul Walker) saw their stars rise and fall. When "Fast Five" rolled around, almost everyone who even held a supporting part in one of the four prior films was roped in for a reunion -- a one-last-job film. Despite the big crashes and the big leaps in logic -- by film's end, two muscle cars are dragging a multi-ton safe by chains -- Part "Five" had a charmingly tactile quality: Many of the crashes were filmed for real, using antiquated practical effects; the Brazilian setting provided a fresh look unique among studio films; and the 'gang's all here' attitude outfitted it all with a defiantly joyous tone, the opposite of the Nolan-esque grit that so often reigns supreme. It was everything other blockbusters were not; it was the island of misfit drivers.

The sixth film in the series upped the ante considerably, with a number of action-culture guest stars (Gina Carano!) and monstrously large set pieces (they drag a plane out of the air!) that felt more akin to Marvel movies than they did to the series' street-racing origins. "Furious 7" only takes us further down that road: The cast is larger than ever, with the set pieces stretched out elastically to ensure that everyone is granted an Arnold-esque punchline; the cameos are deployed more consistently, with action stars like Tony Jaa and Ronda Rousey showing up in henchmen roles for the sake of more punches or kicks; and the action has grown even more comically oversized, with physics-defying flourishes (cars that fly!) replacing the aforementioned tactility. The plot, which sees Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) tracking down Dom (Diesel), Brian (Walker), Letty (Rodriguez) and the rest of the crew so he can exact vengeance on them for past misdeeds, is almost entirely immaterial. (Statham kills people in every scene he features in -- he's not a developed character, he's a video game's big boss.) The franchise has evolved into pure action spectacle. It has transformed from a car show into a gun show.

One of the features that made the prior "Fast" movies so special was their goofy sincerity. There were no winks or nudges: Dom's platitudes about living life a quarter-mile at a time weren't one-liners, they were straightfaced street maxims. And when he gazed lovingly at Brian's baby son, there was no irony to be found in his sensitivity. But new director James Wan (Justin Lin departed the franchise after "6,") plays the wanton destruction within "Furious 7" for campy kicks. The very first scene follows Statham's baddie through a hallway full of bodies he left in his wake off-camera -- the death of numerous innocents played for hokey laughs. There's nothing sincere about it. Did the "Fast" franchise merge with the "Expendables" movies and everyone forgot to tell me? Roughly two-thirds of the film is taken up by oversized action set pieces, most of which are ruled by one-liners and needless cameos. (And the other third are just scenes of the characters driving to those action showdowns.)

It should be noted that the filmmakers (and the small army of digital effects technicians credited alongside them) have done a mostly seamless job finishing Walker's last performance (he passed away halfway through shooting) with the use of stand-ins and computer effects. Perhaps that necessitated the film's fight-fight-fight-talk-then-fight-again structure, as body doubles are integrated into combat much more easily than they are to dialogue. But you still miss the charmingly rapid-fire shop talk, the camaraderie, the chemistry -- the characters. This crew, and this franchise, used to be defiantly different. Now they're just another gang of superheroes.