Making films under ordinary circumstances is an enormous challenge. If you think you have a job in which Murphy’s Law incessantly rears its groan-inducing head, spend a few hours on a film set and you’ll really see movie magic. Most of what people mean by that has less to do with effects and more so with just getting simple but necessary shots made more complicated by miserable weather, camera problems, malfunctioning set pieces, bad crafty….you get the idea. But I shudder to think of the daunting challenge director James Wan had when his Furious 7 second billed star, Paul Walker, tragically died in late 2013. Shooting had yet to be completed, scenes would need to be re-worked and worst of all, is the overall gloom that would hang over the production the rest of the way like a dark, despairing cloud. There had to be takes where this tightly-knit cast just lost it. Wan literally had an unprecedented challenge on his plate.
Furious 7 picks up shortly after the last installment of the Furious franchise to find our familiar heroes struggling. Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) struggles to keep his family together. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) struggles with frustration from her lost memories while trying to rebuild a life with Dom. Brian (the late Paul Walker) struggles with civilian life and desperately trying to figure out his minivan’s amenities. However, when the maniacal Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) begins targeting Torreto’s crew as revenge for leaving his brother in a mummified state, Dom and the gang again bond together, this time with a new unlikely ally, the mysterious Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). They face off with Shaw in a variety of exotic global locations from the Azerbaijan Mountains to the skyscrapers of Abu Dhabi, yet it all culminates into a final showdown on the city streets of downtown Los Angeles. Sorry, Burbank….maybe next time.
Longtime F&F fans will surely not be disappointed. These movies clearly pride themselves on pushing adrenaline saturated badassery to the next level. The franchise has really transformed in recent years, going from being centered on relatively lowbrow flicks about street racing to international espionage thrillers with a more Bondesque feel. They embrace the absurdity of the franchise without remorse and rightfully so. All the action sequences are top notch and it’s fascinating to see the integration of technologies such as drones playing an integral role in one of the film’s key scenes. Several moments are over-the-top and completely implausible in anything else, but in a Fast and Furious movie, those scenes always make perfect sense and rev up the silliness and fun as much as the muscle cars and exotic imports we see throughout. Game of Thrones veteran Nathalie Emmanuel is a welcome cast addition and it’s fun to see Ronda Rousey go toe-to-toe with Michelle Rodriguez. This installment also references its predecessors more than any of the others before, creating a handful of saccharine nostalgic moments that provide plot functionality as well.
Now for the elephant in the room…the Paul Walker thing. In short, it is a plaudit to James Wan’s direction and the film’s masterful effects team that anything that had to be re-worked due to Walker’s demise was largely seamless. During one particular fight sequence it was obvious that we weren’t seeing Walker because of the mostly dark lighting and lack of “hero shots”. It’s really not anything that glaring, and it happens during a rather frenetic portion of the film so I really doubt it’s anything the average moviegoer would notice or even care about. Overall, I would have to say it was handled beautifully—true movie magic at the height of its wizardry.
The future of F&F seems to be ambiguous at this point, despite rumor of three more films in the pipeline. Nevertheless, no matter what direction the franchise takes, Furious 7 proves to be a fitting chapter that will always carry slightly more emotional weight due to the tragic circumstances surrounding its production. These movies, going back to the very first installment, have always emphasized strength in familial bonds and the loyal fan base that has grown exponentially over time is an extension of that. As years go by, it will be less remembered for the parachuting cars and more so as Paul Walker’s final, heartbreaking turn as the beloved Brian O’Conner. Who would have ever thought a franchise born revolving around candy-painted fast cars, testosterone-fueled musclemen and scantily-clad ladies could evolve so drastically to evoke such heartfelt feelings 14 years later? There’s certainly no tragedy in that.