The “Fast & Furious”-series definitely is a phenomenon. The first one was a nice “Point Break”-like undercover/action movie that definitely hit a nerve. The sequel was disappointing, and I still haven’t watched “Tokio Drift” yet. But instead of slowly letting the franchise drift away (sorry about that pun), they decided to give it one last try. They reunited Paul Walker and Vin Diesel (advertised with that great tagline “New model. Original parts.”) and strayed further and further away from the franchise’s “illegal street racing”-roots to more Bond-like spy movies. And suddenly, they kept getting better and better. On the one hand, parts 4-6 were great fallbacks to the hilariously over-the-top-action movies of the 80s, but on the other hand, there was a heart and a soul to them; thus there were more than just superficial, shallow, fluff action-entertainment. A progression that very much continues with “Furious 7”.
I’ll admit that I was a little sceptical. Given the circumstances of Paul Walkers death, I feared that “Furious 7” could feel like a cynical cash-grab. I was also worried that losing Walker during half of the shoot may prove too big of a problem in order to finish the movie in a convincing way. And the loss of Justin Lin, who had been the caretaker of the franchise for such a long time, further added to my anxiety. And at least when it comes to that last part, my worries seem to have been partly justified. James Wan does an ok-job as new director of the franchise, but it’s clear that action isn’t really his forte (at least not yet). There may be the occasional slow motion-effect to celebrate a certain moment, and he also makes some nice use of the “Wan-cam”, but otherwise, the action is directed and edited a little sloppily, with far too many cuts and too close zooms to really be able to follow the action. It’s not as bad as “Taken 3”, not by a long shot, but it’s also not as clear and comprehensible as I’d like. Thus, apart from a couple of really cool “Hell yeah!” moments (like the shot from the trailer with Brian running along the transport that’s about to fall from a cliff, jumping off just in time to catch the rear spoiler of Letty’s car), the action was inferior to parts 4-6. The showdown in particular was a little disappointing. That whole drone stuff didn’t really grip me, and I would have preferred more emphasis on the emotionally charged final fight between Dom and Shaw. Overall, no comparison to that great showdown from “Fast 6” (which also did a better job giving every one from the team his or her moment to shine). I also felt that Ronda Rousey (one of the best things about last years “Expendables 3”) was shamefully wasted. And I could have done without Letty’s sudden, unexplained recovery.
However, the cast and the emotional tone of the movie more than made up for that. It was great to see Paul Walker and Vin Diesel together for “one last ride”. Dwayne Johnson also proves again to be a real asset of the franchise. I’ll never grow tired of Michelle Rodriguez’s bad-ass-chick shtick. And Jason Statham gives the franchise the best villain that it arguably had so far (he really should play more bad guys in the future). Also, the action, even though shot a little more sloppily that I would have liked, is still quite imaginative and gloriously over-the-top. The movie also moves along at a brisk pace, finding a nice balance between the action and the “family”-stuff. It’s entertaining from start to finish, and a worthy swan song for Paul Walker. As for the scenes that were finished with his brothers: It’s noticeable here and there, but it didn’t really bother me. The biggest strength of the movie, however, were the last five minutes, which offered a very moving tribute for the late Paul Walker, a satisfying conclusion to Brian’s story, as well as an absolutely perfect last shot. They simply couldn’t have ended this in a more appropriate, satisfying and graceful way. A huge part of me hopes that they’d lay this franchise to rest now, since this was such a perfect ending; however, given its box office-draw, Dom’s return is probably inevitable. Let’s all hope that it will be at least as entertaining and this one, and won’t turn out to be the cynical cash-grab that I – wrongfully – feared “Furious 7” to be.