Statham makes a great addition in this sad but spectacular send-off to Paul Walker
Despite tragedy, the latest in the Fast & Furious franchise holds no punches in the all-star action stakes but the globe-trotting big budget antics barely hold together the hit and miss plot.Fans may still be arguing over which is the better chapter in this franchise – the fifth or the sixth entry – and this new chapter, purportedly the start of a new trilogy, probably won’t affect that argument, but it certainly will appeal more to those who embraced the sheer ludicrousness of Furious 6 than those who firmly favour the franchise-redefining propulsion of Fast Five. Taking a step back from that argument, though, you realise that it is an unquestionable testament to the franchise that it generates such animated debate as a result of reaching its peak in its latter chapters: what other film franchise secured the hearts and minds of a devoted following in its fifth instalment? And judging by the standing ovation that this entry received once the credits rolled, we have plenty more to come, and if they continue on like this, that's far from a bad thing.Indeed for a franchise that generally favours brawn over brains, it’s commendable that they continue to try and mix things up with each chapter, and deliver more than just fast cars and furious fights. The first three largely revolved around simple street racing antics, with the original no more than a low budget – if enjoyably effective – reworking of Point Break, with fast cars. The fourth was a limited budget Hail Mary towards resurrecting the franchise, returning its lead star – Vin Diesel – after a two-film absence (cameo notwithstanding), and aiming for more gritty, revenge-fuelled antics to change the dynamic. It’s Fast Five, though, that really changed the game. It brought back the whole team for what was far more the Ocean’s Eleven of the series, blending fast cars and elaborate heists, with The Rock’s deliciously over-the-top cop joining the party.
For many, Furious 6 was simultaneously a superb celebration of all that had come before, and a worrying sign that the franchise was dangerously close to jumping the shark – in a muscle-car, no less – and it nearly imploded with a marginally ineffective villain and with what will one day be remembered as The Infinite Runway (TM). For devoted followers though, it brought back one great thing – in one great moment – and that was Dom’s once-thought-dead, now-almost-amnesiac soulmate, Letty. When those two finally shared their gravity and physics-defying embrace, audiences had a choice to roll their eyes and groan, or simply go with it, and those who were prepared to do the latter will likely find this new chapter almost entirely constructed out of that kind of deliriously exciting implausibility.
If you embraced the excess of Furious Six, then buckle-up for even more gravity-defying insanity.
Fast & Furious 7 starts with a great introduction to one of the single best elements in this latest chapter – Jason Statham’s villain. A frequently quite literal one-man-Army, this ex-black ops assassin is a walking cliché, but he’s also the best thing to happen to the franchise since The Rock turned up. Indeed an early highlight is his first encounter with The Rock, and you genuinely sense that this guy is going to be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to keeping the rest of Dominic Toretto’s extended family alive. Unfortunately the initially well-established revenge narrative does get diluted by the subplots necessary to extend the runtime, budget and landscape, indeed so much so that the end result is dangerously close to being more of a bloated, misguided beast than the streamlined hunter vs. hunted predator it could and should have been. Thankfully it just about holds it together for a third act that is probably more touching than truly satisfying, but which has enough retrospective nods to previous entries, and sad tributes to fallen souls, to make up for the throw-everything-and-hope-something-sticks approach to the multi-tiered climax.
Not wanting to lose the heist dynamic previously used to such great effect in the last two entries, Fast & Furious 7 crams a couple of Italian Job-esque heist sequences into the piece when, really, they almost do as much damage as they do good. For all the grand stunts and set-pieces (and there are some great moments) that they provide, they also rob the film of much of the welcome tension and urgency it worked so hard to establish at the outset. And even those more interested in the slo-mo bikinis and shiny cars are going to wonder about just how redundant the main sub-plot is, which sees out team – purportedly still reeling from the loss of one of their own, the hospitalisation of another, and the potential threats against the lives and families of the rest – traipse halfway around the world in order to get hold of a device which can help them catch the man doing this all to them. This might have just about worked as a slightly tangential Macguffin-hunting side-plot, but the writers obviously thought – quite rightly – that they don’t want Statham’s nemesis off the screen for very long, and so he turns up everywhere. Which, in turn, makes the device itself - and the mission - entirely pointless: they don’t exactly have to look very hard to find the guy who ambushes them at every turn.
Although we didn’t come here for the logic of the plot, and shouldn’t be too disappointed that it doesn't hold up, there's a fine line between physics-defying insanity which just about works within the ludicrous comic book world of the movie (c.f. The Infinite Runway (TM)) and things which don't many any sense in any universe, and 7 tramples clumsily all over this line with its globe-trotting subplot of no consequence. Honestly, though, we probably have little right to be disappointed about anything in this entry; after all, it had to be completed under extreme circumstances, after the tragic loss of one of its two lead stars halfway through production.
There’s an undeniable sadness to the piece as a result of Paul Walker’s passing. He may not have been the world’s greatest thespian, but he sure as hell proved himself integral to the Fast and Furious franchise, which is saying something when he’s sharing the screen with the likes of Vin Diesel, The Rock and now Jason Statham and Kurt Russell (not to mention facing off against Tony Jaa). And they worked wonders to complete the film when they clearly hadn’t shot everything they needed to with him (there are only a couple of moments, including the genuinely touching closing tribute, where the CG / use of his brothers, becomes evident), giving him some of the film’s best setpieces to single-handedly rise to, and reminding you of just what a loss his passing is to the series.
Closing this particular 'chapter' in the saga with a fond and furious farewell, it's easy to see why fans are still reeling from the finale.
It may not be perfect, and it may not hit all the right notes in the way that Fast Five did, nor quite get the whole Dom/Letty thing right after their beautifully preposterous reunion in the energetically over-the-top Furious 6, but in many ways it makes up for its shortcomings purely thanks to the demented destruction dished out by Jason Statham, giving us a series of immensely satisfying clash of the titan moments (although they never really best the first one) and the nemesis that the franchise truly deserves. Fast & Furious 7' has got stunts and spectacles that not only justify the budget but also do diligent fan service, remembering those who have been along for the ride right from the start almost 15 years ago. It's got yet another impressive ensemble cast, and knows largely how to use them; indeed, despite its understandable PG-13 rating, it has some of the best all-star action - both in and out of cars - you've ever seen: The Expendables series could seriously learn some lessons here. Whether they can keep this whole thing going without Walker is a genuine concern, but undoubtedly they will try, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what happens next.
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