Looming over this movie is the shadow of Paul Walker’s death midway through filming. We can attempt to read the film dispassionately, and pretend that the route the Brian takes is the one that was always intended to be made, but honestly, his death corrupted the picture. His performance is an amalgamation of pre-shot footage, deleted scenes from previous movies and a CGI composite of his face placed on two of his brother’s bodies. The fact that they still manage to give character development to O’Conner amongst such trauma is extraordinary, but the temptation when watching this film is to morbidly try to spot when we are and aren’t seeing Walker on screen. It’s occasionally distracting.
Narratively, the film was retooled as a consequence of his premature death. Few details have emerged of the original intended movie, but most of the incomplete footage seems to have been material set in Los Angeles. We can suppose that the film had a darker thrust, with Deckard Shaw eliminating the team one by one. I have no evidence of this, but I always assumed that something was meant to happen to Mia; an idea possibly abandoned after one real-life tragedy – though she is clearly sidelined from the narrative. It’s a shame – the series has often been at its most vital when it has featured its couples working together, Dom/Letty, Brian/Mia, Han/Giselle have all been terrific to watch. But it couldn’t be helped in this instance, and we have to accept, that even at its best, we’re watching a diluted version of an original intention. A shadow of an original film.
After working through the comic-book style trope of ‘the evil alternate team’, Furious 7 adopts the single, all powerful opponent villain that fuels so many tedious comic crossovers. Continuing the approach of employing established action stars (see also Tony Jaa, Kurt Russell and Ronda Rousey), Jason Statham storms into the franchise like an absolute star. His Deckard Shaw is hilariously incongruous, a man who uses a sledgehammer to crack open a peanut, but equally, a terrifying opposition to the established family. But quickly, the movie shies away from making him a true foe, and places him in an anti-hero role, flitting in and out of the narrative. He is no ‘big bad’. It’s almost as if his stardom was too great to play the prototypical Limey bad guy.
The title itself recalls the revenge crews of The Magnificent Seven (1960 – John Sturges) or The Dirty Dozen (1967 – Robert Aldrich), though the film bizarrely avoids the essential narrative of the whole crew hunting down Shaw in preference of another instalment in a Bondian, globetrotting action adventure series (this instalment even puts our working-class street heroes into tuxedos and ballgowns). Kurt Russell is even established as a kind-of M simulacra in the form of Mr. Nobody, an easy resource to stop the series tying itself in knots in its attempts to make the crew ‘good guys’. Russell is clearly playing this role as the early nineties Nick Fury movie he never got to make. To incorporate so many new individuals, some established heroes have to be put to one side. Dwayne Johnson is incapacitated for much of the film (as much a product of Johnson being a far busier movie star than anyone else in the cast), but when he returns toward the end of the film, legs-astride shooting helicopters clear from the sky, he is defined as an absolute icon, a character who has outgrown the series.
James Wan takes over from Justin Lin and does little to change the feel of the series. He maintains an emphasis on physical action (they actually chucked cars out of a plane for one sequence), though he perhaps employs even more aerial shots of action, and is quicker to root his characters in CGI environments (though this may be a product of having an absent lead character). Dom is given a more rebellious streak – at times he seems hellbent on recreating the final moments of Thelma and Louise (1991 – Ridley Scott), but his character progression becomes intimately entwined with Letty, as the series performs another one of its retcons in establishing the two of them as married. Once again, the franchise draws upon its ballooning history – here Lucas Black pops up again as Sean Boswell, his hairline receding significantly in between two scenes that in continuity happen minutes apart.
But the film belongs to Paul Walker. His Brian O’Conner is located as the true hero of the film. He is hilarious in portraying the frustrations of a thrill-seeker coming to terms with school runs and people carriers and stars in the two stand-out combat scenes against Tony Jaa. O’Conner’s fear of screwing up, of letting down his family, feels less like the slightly jarring character transitions he has been through in previous instalments, though it places him contextually closer to Dom, a man who was always driven by a fear of slipping up. The final scenes, as Diesel grunts his way through a saccharine, anodyne voiceover are profoundly moving, such is the loss we feel of an easy-going, highly physical performer. I have no shame in admitting I well up at the very thought of that final car race.
Fast & Furious rankings:
- Fast & Furious 6
- Fast Five
- The Fast and the Furious
- Furious 7
- 2 Fast 2 Furious
- Fast & Furious
- Los Bandoleros
- Turbo Charged Prelude
Brian & Dom street racing scorecard:
Dom: IIII (I’m declaring the final scene a draw… which ends the series on a tie-break. Quite sweet actually.)
‘Wrong. Double Alpha.’ Tyrese excels at self-delusion.