“Promise me, Brian. No more funerals.”
It’s impossible to hear these heartbroken words from Roman Pearce, spoken at Han Seoul-Oh’s funeral, and not immediately think of the great tragedy surrounding Furious 7: Paul Walker’s death.
It’s everywhere you look in the seventh installment in the Fast and Furious franchise. Every moment fast-racing ex-cop Brian O’Connor plunges into a hail of gunfire, every time he steps behind the wheel of a car, every second he spends in a graveyard — every single scene he’s in could be his very last… and eventually, one of them is.
In a very real way, Furious 7 is a ghost story. But not all ghost stories are nightmares. Some ghost stories have happy endings. Fewer ghost stories feature two men slugging each other with wrenches and car shrapnel, or a third man shooting a helicopter out of the sky with a mini gun, or an extraordinarily rare race car plowing and jumping through three Abu Dhabi skyscrapers — but this one does. Which is to say, yes, there’s an unavoidable amount of sadness and sentiment here in Furious 7, but it only serves to enhance the kind of extreme action these films pull off unlike anyone else in the business.
Walker aside, even the premise of Furious 7 centers on ghosts, in a manner of speaking. Following an epic ass-kicking at the end of Fast and Furious 6, terrorist Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) now lives his days in a coma, under the watchful eyes of highly trained authorities — but not highly trained enough to tango with Owen’s older brother Deckard (Jason Statham). The movie begins with Deckard vowing vengeance upon all those who put his baby brother in the hospital, and we believe that he’s a man of his word, given the carnage he wreaks in order to pay his incapacitated sibling an in-person visit.
If Deckard’s unbelievable takedown of his brother’s top-level security doesn’t make his capabilities clear, his fistfight against Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs does the job. In what’s easily the greatest fight scene since Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson came to blows in Fast Five, we now have Johnson versus Statham within the first twenty minutes of Furious 7, an epic beat-down involving couches, tables, light fixtures, glass shards, guns, and a whole lot of fists applied directly to the face. It’s the kind of scene action nerds dream about seeing, and almost impossible to believe in how much it lives up to the potential.
Who wins the brawl, aside from the audience? No spoilers here, but the match’s winner doesn’t matter nearly as much as the consequences. After introducing himself to Hobbs, Deckard walks away with crucial information about the team of car-racing criminals responsible for his brother’s weakened state, leading to the moment that Fast and Furious fans have dreaded ever since Tokyo Drift: Han’s death.
It’s the kind of scene action nerds dream about seeing, and almost impossible to believe in how much it lives up to the potential.
There’s no walking back what happened to Han. There’s no side-stepping the inevitability that one of the greatest, coolest characters in the entire series must meet his maker. Furious 7 leans directly into Han’s death and uses it as the launchpad for everything that comes next, with Team Toretto joining forces once more, Avengers-style, to avenge their fallen comrade. Just as Walker’s real-life fate lurks over everything in Furious 7, so too does Han’s in-movie ghost haunt his still-living comrades; they don’t want to end up in the ground like Han, but that’s exactly where they want to put his killer.
Easier said than done. Even though Team Toretto has pulled off impossible missions and survived against all odds, they’re up against their biggest hurdle yet. If I haven’t made it clear already, Deckard Shaw is the most formidable foe we’ve ever seen in a Fast and Furious movie. His brother Owen relied upon a team of highly-trained soldiers to get the job done — expendable and replaceable soldiers, sure, but a small army all the same. Deckard needs no such thing. He’s more than capable of getting his mission accomplished all on his onesies. In fact, he prefers it. Statham plays Deckard with all the old-school, no-B.S. ferocity and brutality he brings to his various action heroes, which makes him all the more menacing when he’s directing that ferocity and brutality at people we love.
With Statham in the mix, Furious 7 steps the action up to his level. Looking past the Statham-Johnson fistfight, Furious 7 features some of the craziest set pieces in the entire series, from cars parachuting out of planes and driving straight off cliffs with no real regard for personal safety, to our heroes racing around Los Angeles while evading helicopters armed with heavy duty machine-guns. And while these kinds of exhilarating, unrivaled action scenes certainly continue the franchise’s trend of veering away from its simpler car-racing roots, Furious 7 manages to squeeze an old-school race or two into the mix, in one particularly clever wink and nod to The Fast and the Furious.
In other words, Furious 7 strikes the perfect balance between what made these movies successful in the first place, and what they’ve become: Huge money-making blockbusters with ridiculous action sequences unlike anything else out there. And it doesn’t come at the expense of the huge heart that keeps these films beating along almost 15 years since the original, either. Han’s funeral, for one, is one of the most moving scenes in the entire series. Dom and Letty’s continued struggle over her inability to remember life before her Fast & Furious accident plays a big part here, as well.
And then there’s everything with Walker. When we first see Brian in Furious 7, he’s a long way from the crustless tunafish sandwich days of Toretto’s Market & Cafe, but even further from the airplane-crashing antics of Fast & Furious 6. The white picket fences of domestic life, alluring as they sound, don’t appeal to him nearly as much as the days of thunder. “He misses the bullets,” Mia tells Dom at one point, and it shows; as soon as Brian gets to work on tracking down Deckard, it’s like he’s never been happier, with that big, open-mouthed Paul Walker grin on his face at nearly every turn, even the deadliest ones.
Diesel proves himself more than capable of leading the franchise forward, in a world without Walker and O’Connor.
It’s great to see both Walker and O’Connor so energized throughout Furious 7, even if it’s often tough to watch, knowing that the actor is no longer with us. But his final film in the Fast and Furious franchise, and his final film period, is a testament to how much Walker loved this world, and how much his energy mattered in keeping the series afloat. Diesel’s Dom shoulders most of the storytelling burden in Furious 7, both because the story demands it and because Walker hadn’t finished all of his scenes before his death, necessitating some changes to the script. Through that, Diesel proves himself more than capable of leading the franchise forward, in a world without Walker and O’Connor. Of course, it’s not a world that anyone wants to live in. But Furious 7 manages to make the best out of a terrible situation, sending the beloved actor and character off into the sunset with the dignity, respect and warmth he deserves.
Granted, my time with the Fast and Furious films has been brief; I binge-watched the entire series for the very first time over the course of a week. With that said, having crammed Dom and Brian’s adventures over such a short period of time, I feel confident in calling Furious 7 the best of the series. It features the best action to date, the best villain to date, and the most emotional story to date, fueled by Walker’s final ride as Brian O’Connor. It’s not the end of the franchise, but it’s certainly the end of an era — and man, what an ending it is.
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