Over the next several weeks, Game of Nerds will be looking back at our greatest modern soap opera. Each installment of the main Fast and Furious franchise will be covered in preparation for the release of F9 on June 25, 2021.
“They say if you want to glimpse the future, just look behind you. I used to think that was bollocks. And now I realize you can’t outrun the past.”
– Deckard Shaw
Death and memory are at the forefront of every aspect of the 7th Fast & Furious installment. After Dom (Vin Diesel), Hobbs (The Rock), and company brought down and hospitalized international criminal Owen Shaw in the previous film, Shaw’s older brother Deckard (Jason Statham) has arrived to settle the score. You know he’s the bad guy because they gave him the douchy name Deckard Shaw. And because he’s targeting Dom’s crew – it’s revealed that Deckard is intentionally responsible for the car accident that killed Han (Sung Kang) back in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). And he let’s Dom know the rest of the family is next. This makes it personal all around – Deckard wants to kill everyone associated with his brother’s predicament, and Dom wants Deckard’s head on a stake.
Then, out of nowhere, the film’s main plot line is halted to introduce a macguffin. Special Forces ambush an encounter between Dom and Deckard, led by the self-titled Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). After Shaw flees the scene, Mr. Nobody attempts to recruit Dom for a special mission – to rescue Ramsey, a genius young hacker who has been kidnapped. The purpose of this rescue is that Ramsey knows the location of a new technological invention: God’s Eye. The technology can find anyone at anytime, anywhere in the world.
Mr. Nobody gives some half-baked excuse for why his organization can’t physically involve themselves in this mission (a promise the movie doesn’t even keep), thus requiring the help of Dom and crew. The assumption is Mr. Nobody is dangling the possibility of using God’s Eye to find Deckard Shaw as a way to motivate Dom to complete the mission, otherwise this clunky story would fall apart even more. Dom should know Mr. Nobody doesn’t need God’s Eye to specifically find Shaw, he was 15 ft away from all of them just 3 minutes ago and then escaped on foot. Scooby and Shaggy could find this motherfucker.
This leads to a globe-trotting trek involving Dom, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Brian (Paul Walker), Roman (Tyrese), and Tej (Ludacris) to find the God’s Eye. And from an action standpoint, it leads to some visually thrilling scenes such as the crew parachuting out of a plane in their cars, or Dom & Brian taking a joyride through the air and through multiple buildings. My issue is how clumsily the God’s Eye plot is introduced, and how it doesn’t really add anything to the storyline involving Shaw. In fact, once Mr. Nobody enters the picture, Shaw fades far into the background. His story doesn’t really get fleshed out anymore, and Shaw is relegated to just conveniently show up to antagonize Dom during the mission as if to say “Hey, don’t forget about me! I’m still in this movie! I know you’ve barely seen me since the 30 minute mark, but I’m still doing stuff!”
For obvious reasons, the production for Furious 7 was severely compromised. With that knowledge, I had the suspicion while watching the movie that many of the changes affected how the main plotline came together. But in researching questions about the script, screenwriter Chris Morgan seemed to suggest that the film’s main storyline remained largely intact, and that the only big change occurred within the framing of Brian O’Conner’s character arc. Which makes it difficult to cut the film any slack for how poorly the Shaw and God’s Eye story ideas are melded together. The two ideas require a much sturdier bridge to each other, as focusing on one takes away from the other.
It’s worth noting that James Wan assumed the director’s chair for this film, replacing Justin Lin who helmed the previous 4 installments. Like Lin, Wan (The Conjuring, Saw, Aquaman) has a penchant for large set pieces, quick cutting, and lavish production design. While the cinematography in Furious 7 isn’t great (it’s rather muted color scheme compares unfavorably to its franchise counterparts), the action is still intense. Paul Walker gets the best scenes, from a wire act inside a trailer that’s threatening to fall off a cliff, to multiple hand-to-hand duels with an acrobatic baddie (World-renowned martial artist and actor Tony Jaa). Later, Letty is entangled in a showdown with one nosy adversary (played by Ronda Rousey at the height of her UFC dominance) that doesn’t quite live up to the billing, and fledged behind high water mark fight scenes from Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6.
The movie is in some ways a snapshot of 2015 pop culture. In addition to the Rousey cameo, as well as a hit song featuring Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, there’s a brief appearance from Iggy Azalea. She does… nothing, which was probably not a good indication that Hollywood knew how to utilize her overnight fame. The star wattage of these cameos attempt to make-up for the limited screen time from The Rock. Between an abdominal injury suffered at the 2013 Wrestlemania, as well as filming and press for Hercules (2014), Dwayne Johnson’s time was limited. As a result, his Luke Hobbs is resigned to a hospital bed for much of the runtime, until a late call to action which prompts him to tear off his arm cast. Missed opportunity, the cast should have just exploded from his flexing bicep.
Overall, Furious 7 is silly, camp, obnoxious, and very entertaining. Its grounding thread is the ongoing romance between Letty and Dom. Dom keeps trying to remind her of their past life, but her memory loss still leaves her self-conscious about how she should feel about Dom or herself. Unlike Fast & Furious 6, this film questions whether it is right for Letty to re-enter a relationship whose history she can not recall. The script affords her some autonomy, a far-cry from her underwritten portrayal in The Fast and the Furious (2001). Dom himself also learns some maturity, allowing Letty to explore herself rather than forcing her into a deferring role to his patriarchal legacy. At one point, she asserts that the old Letty is dead, but its through the film’s exploration of memory that, later on, offers her a chance to come back to life. However, Furious 7 packs not one, but two emotional beats as the overarching themes of its story.
On November 30, 2013, professional race car driver Roger Rodas crashed his Porche Carrera GT into a concrete lamp post, causing the vehicle to slam into two trees before catching fire. Rodas died at the scene of the crash, along with his passenger – Paul Walker. Walker’s sudden death caused considerable heartbreak for his family and friends, and sent the production of Furious 7 into disarray. While Walker had already completed some scenes in the movie prior to his death, these were mostly action scenes. Writer Chris Morgan has confirmed in interviews that Walker did not get the chance to do most of his dramatic scenes, leaving Wan scrambling to place Brian O’Conner within the rest of the unfilmed portion of the script. This results in body doubles (provided by Walker’s brothers, Caleb & Cody), CGI faces, and somewhat awkward shot/reverse-shot exchanges where it’s clear that Vin Diesel is not in the same room as Paul Walker. But this is, admirably, the best the production could do in the aftermath of tragedy.
Furious 7 has become the most iconic film in the series due to the impact of its final scene. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you know what this scene looks like. And it’s a rare moment where a film becomes truly meta; Dom knows Brian and Mia can no longer participate in these adventures, but his attention and reflection is centered on his friend Brian, not his sister. And we understand why. Furious 7 is the only Fast film whose ending can be described as bittersweet. Dom reminisces on the life he shared with Brian, and what that means to him in the present. It’s not just a stroll for him, but for the audience as well. We still remember that wide smile that defined the Brian character in the first two Fast films. We remember that California accent. We remember Brian trying and failing multiple times to beat Dom in a race. The past can’t show the future, like Deckard says, but it can allow us to cope with death. Memory is paradoxically an intensifier for the feeling of loss, as well as a remedy for that loss.
What makes Furious 7 a weird movie is that there’s no connection between it’s ending and the conflict that transpired in its two previous hours. The relationship between the Shaw brothers is in no way juxtaposed between Dom and Brian, whom Dom refers to as his brother in an inner monologue. This makes the ending powerful, but not something that improves the rest of the film.
Regardless, Brian O’Conner’s swan song is a sad one. The circumstances of Paul Walker’s tragic death mirroring the subject matter of the franchise he is most famous for is indeed a gut-punch. But Wan wraps this parallel in poetry, calling O’Conner’s curtain call by literally having Brian drive off into the sunset on a path separate from his family. As Dom says, it is not goodbye, but an acknowledgement that a loved one is now elsewhere. To be seen again? None of us on earth are blessed with the foresight to say and, for our peace of mind, perhaps that is for the best.
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