The Fast and Furious franchise has an interesting opinion of itself. It reshapes its own canon on a whim while feeling beholden to it. It has slowly transformed genre over its run while retaining a core character value that was used in the first film solely for the purposes of making a supporting character who didn’t even appear in the sequel sympathetic. All of this has helped the franchise anchor itself into its own niche: The Dukes of Hazard meets The Italian Job meets Stagecoach.
With Furious Seven, the series turns meta. And it kicks ass.
Not literally meta; it only breaks the fourth wall once, but casually meta in the sense that its narrative question is the same question today’s audience will bring with them into the film: how does the film deal with Paul Walker’s untimely death?
The story begins with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), one-man-army renegade agent and brother of Furious Six lead villain Owen Shaw, swearing vengeance for his brother and hunting Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel)’s crew. Brian O’Connor (Walker) is still working out the kinks of domesticated life. But when the crew receives news of Han’s death (from the Easter Egg of F6), they reunite for the funeral and rally to take him on.
But wait! This is a Fast and Furious movie with the characters now pardoned citizens with at least one family to consider; by now that entails the crew working in some shroud of legitimacy in pursuit of a mcguffin. That’s the funny thing about this movie. The revenge storyline actually gets interrupted in favor of that formula, with Shaw conspicuously showing up at every point to interfere. The characters paradoxically pursue an objective that will better able them to find and fight Shaw, while basically expecting Shaw himself to intercept them. That becomes its own problem closer to the end when another villain enters the mix and competes for screen time, and the script gets confused as to which of them is the bigger threat. But dwelling on that further misses the forest from the trees.
Fast Five and F6 have raw story function over this one. But I’m prepared to call Furious Seven the best of the series because it pulls that meta trick out of its hat and keeps it in hand.
Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) wrestles with her occasional flashbacks and identity crisis in what constitutes on the surface a B-story picking up where F6 left off, but its framing as another would-be character death (which it actually was in Fast and Furious) allows the almost recycled footage of Han’s funeral to take on a deeper meaning. This family lives by edging and defying death in a world without physics, but it has still buried too many of its own.
Walker’s real-life death fits the opening this dimension provides, because while the film demands that they hunt their hunter, the end goal is really for it and the family to survive the real casualty. Letty’s resolution isn’t the focus or even all that satisfying, but it’s a necessary component for Walker’s ultimate sendoff.
Before now, F6 came the closest to achieving any kind of thematic undertone of familial loyalty winning out in an ideological clash, but it still laid it on a bit thick in terms of dialogue. Here, the film lets the actions speak a little louder, which helps its meta element. From Vin Diesel’s overtly below-average acting talents nonetheless emerges a subtle charm, both to Toretto and to the film, especially at the end. When it finally comes for the film to say goodbye to Paul, well I won’t spoil it, but tears were abound in my theater.
I’ve kept this short, because this is the event even non-fans of the franchise have been waiting for and you’re going to see it anyway. The action scenes are par for the franchise course, and Director James Wan infuses more energy into them than ever before. It’s also fun to figure out when they were CGI-ing Paul Walker’s face onto one of his brothers. And Tony Jaa gets more action screen time than you’d expect. Other than that, by now you know what you’re getting.
Abu Dhabi loved this film; you will too.
The Fast: Cars parachuting out of an airplane.
The Furious: Cars crashing through multiple buildings.
The Farewell: “Shut your mouth for a minute and open your eyes, man.”