“You ever heard the saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend?”
“I don’t got friends. I got family.”
Does anyone remember the first movie in this series? The Fast and the Furious? It tells the story of an undercover FBI agent infiltrating a group of street racer thugs who steal dvd players from trucks on the road. This was considered extremely dangerous thieving to them; hijacking vehicles in transit. Characters get shot at and killed. Were the truck heists over the top? Maybe a little bit, but it’s an action movie for car junkies, right? Hyperbolic reality is forgivable. Let’s fast forward then, six movies down the road, to Furious 7. Now we have cars being launched out of airplanes, free-falling for a solid five minutes, ejecting giant parachutes before landing safely on the road. And not just one car pulls this stunt off, but four. Just another day for them. And this is the same team that had a hard time stealing DVD players a few years earlier.
This installment contains every ridiculous action movie trope from the last ten years in one convenient package. So, if you missed the more recent Die Hard sequels, The Expendables, Crank, The Transporter, et al, this movie can fill in the blanks for you. You’ve got (bulletproof) cars in high-octane chase sequences. Computer hackers who can infiltrate any system in seconds using only a laptop in a moving car. Protagonists who needlessly pursue a MacGuffin rather than taking action that would actually resolve the plot. Gratuitous, exploitative angles of scantily clad women (not that I’m complaining about that one).
Director James Wan really likes to remind you where girls poop from.
Woven in with all the action is this forced attempt to touch viewers on an emotional level. Using heartfelt dialogue, campy music and meaningful looks between characters, the filmmakers try way too hard to coerce audiences to feel something. Vin Diesel uses the word ‘family’ to describe his team countless times, but it never sounds natural. It’s just overkill. They’re trying to imply substance and meaning where there is none.
Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), for example, has memory problems in this film after a car accident in the previous installment. In the end, when she magically recovers her memories, she demands to know why Dominic (Vin Diesel) kept their marriage a secret. Dom’s attempt at a heartfelt, wise answer is near soap-opera levels of simplicity:
“You can’t tell someone they love you.”
Early in the film, an explosion at Dominic’s house alerts Dom, Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), and their street-racing ‘family’ that someone is coming after them. Knowing this, their only course of action should be to find the threat and stop him. But that would make too much sense. Instead they’re recruited by the military to go on a useless tangent mission that doesn’t really help them.
Let’s back up a bit though. Before being recruited, Dom quickly discovers who is threatening him and chases assailant Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) into a highway tunnel. The established mystery and suspense behind their attacker’s identity is now gone. The two of them engage in a fight to the death, when suddenly, an entire army repels down from the ceiling! Guns drawn, a group of soldiers have both Shaw and Dominic cornered. Rather than shooting Shaw to a million pieces, thereby solving all the conflict in the film, Shaw just… runs away. And the armed soldiers let him. I guess they had to, because otherwise the movie would be over in twenty minutes.
Wait, how the hell did these troops know Dominic and Shaw would stop in this exact spot to fight?
The soldiers surrounding Dominic are led by secret agent ‘Mr. Nobody’ (Kurt Russell), who probably has a subscription to Exposition Magazine. Antagonist Deckard Shaw, he explains, is a rogue military assassin seeking vengeance following the murder of his brother, who I assume was a major player in the last Fast and Furious film. Shaw’s a shadow with speciality training, and he’s targeting Dom and his team to avenge his fallen sibling. Mr. Nobody offers Dom a deal: a computer hacker with the alias Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) has created a technology called God’s Eye. If Dom can bring him Ramsey, Mr. Nobody will let him use God’s Eye to track down and kill Shaw. But wait – didn’t you just have Shaw, a threat to the nation, cornered at gunpoint only minutes ago? And why do these secret agents need a group of street racers to do their bidding, don’t they have enlisted men for this kind of work? Dominic should have said no right there. But instead of pursuing the villain, the team travel the world to find ‘God’s Eye’ to help out ‘Mr. Nobody’.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t look like this.
So what is God’s Eye? This is where the filmmakers again borrow from other movies. Remember the incredibly immoral SONAR concept from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight? The technology that grants Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) the ability to track down villains using the signal from traffic cameras and cell phones in the city? God’s Eye is the exact same thing, except in this film there are no moral concerns regarding the invasion of privacy generated by this technology. Dominic thinks he needs God’s Eye to track Shaw’s location, but he could just set a trap and wait for Shaw to attack again; something the assassin continues to do throughout the film.
Once the team rescue Ramsey, they’re shocked to discover she’s a girl, because hackers can’t be sexy. Since she mailed God’s Eye to a friend, they have to travel again and we have even more tangents racking up the running time. Speaking of tangents, did I mention Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is in this thing? Like most of the characters, he doesn’t serve much purpose other than to make the plot more convoluted.
I’m here because paycheck!
Once they get God’s Eye, they use it to pursue Shaw at great cost to their team. Oh wait… at no cost, actually. The stakes are pretty low. Again I cite the first film in the series, where the characters were more believable because they weren’t invincible. No one gets a harpoon shot through their leg in this film. Dominic’s car rolls, but he is only knocked unconscious for a few minutes. Otherwise everyone survives without a scratch.
Well, not quite everyone.
I’m sure everyone knows that this was Paul Walker’s last film. Having died halfway through production, with a lot of scenes still left to shoot, the studio executives were faced with a very difficult decision: Money, or respecting the dead? They made the wrong choice, of course, but it sure paid off for them. The movie grossed over one billion dollars at the box office in just a few weeks. If the film were closer to completion at the time of his death, I might have given this a pass, but a good portion of the film had to be rewritten to explain Paul’s absence. They also brought his brothers in as stand-ins, pasting a CGI Paul-face onto their bodies. I guess the decision of how to proceed should be left up to Paul’s immediate family, and since his brothers took his place on set, they must have given their blessing. I wonder how much Universal had to pay them for that?
It just looks wrong. Sort of like the decision to finish the movie.
In the film’s final moments, we’re treated to one last race between Brian and Dominic, along with a highlight reel featuring Paul’s legacy throughout the series. It’s corny, there’s an awful ‘bro-love’ voiceover, and the music is manipulative… but it worked for me. I admit, I got a little choked up. It was effective, but for the wrong reasons. With this scene the real world spills into the narrative in attempt to pull at your heartstrings.
Narratively, thanks to CGI Paul-face, Brian O’Connor is still alive. So to Dominic, this would just be another race. Dominic Torretto doesn’t know Paul Walker died, Vin Diesel does. So why is Dominic saying goodbye to his friend for no reason? They race neck-and-neck, evenly matched until a fork in the road sends them on their separate ways. The film is then dedicated to Paul.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that they respected him with a sentimental sendoff for his character. It’s effective, but it’s also kind of sinister. And the worst part? They will do this again. I guarantee Fast 8 (coming in 2017!) will continue to reference Paul’s passing in attempt to connect to the audience.