Director: James Wan; Screenwriter: Chris Morgan; Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, Jordana Brewster; Running time: 137 minutes; Certification: 12A
“Just promise me, Brian…no more funerals”.
The line couldn’t resonate more if it tried – that is until Paul Walker himself responds; “Just one more”. With the tragic death of Walker half way through filming the seventh instalment of the petrol-headed franchise, the film is unsurprisingly littered with reverence and tribute to its star. His passing is a sonorous and emotional gear of the film that continues to leave a sting in most people and has undoubtedly helped fuel its global success (£800m worldwide, and counting) – but it’s not the sole reason for the rave reviews and plaudits being thrown around since release. Following in the footsteps of the rejuvenating Fast 5, Fast and Furious 7 is seriously good fun.
Remember all the way back in 2001 when a little movie about an undercover cop infiltrating an illegal street racing circuit came out? It was called The Fast And The Furious, and it was an interesting character drama that just happened to be set in the world of street racing, in which a cop began to question his loyalties after falling for the sister of one of the guys he was trying to take down. How amusing it is the trajectory the series has taken since then – we now have parachuting cars, vehicles leaping between skyscrapers and Jason Statham and The Rock (whom there is a sad lack of in this installment) punching each other’s lights out. While there’s perhaps something infantile in lauding a film series for moving from interesting and character-focussed to entirely set-piece oriented with meat-headed dialogue, it was a move they had to make. Crazily, it paid off. Several weak sequels threatened to kill the series dead, then Fast 5 came along (arguably even Fast 4) and pumped new life into it. It’s a blockbuster now, lining up proudly alongside superheroes and Terminators, and Furious 7 may well just be the most enjoyable of the lot. Daft. Ludicrous. Pure escapism.
Already alerting Warner Bros to the director-shaped hole in their Aquaman movie is horror maestro James Wan, whose presence here is immediate. Stepping into the departing Justin Lin’s shoes to helm this one, the sparky, kinetic style he uses so well to plot and deliver scares, within moments, transfers seamlessly to the action genre. There’s something very distinct about the way in which his camera moves through a scene, whether on a steadicam or looping over a bed and tilting upside down to spy on a dark corner of the room. He’s always doing something inventive and fun with it. Furious 7 offers further freedom to do these things, exploding onto the screen with crash zooms, whip pans and rapturous engines, alerting audiences to the fact that this is a guy committed to making his mark on an already well-established franchise, and succeeding emphatically.
Wan also deserves credit not only for figuring out a way to complete the film after Walker’s death, but for making it a beautifully fitting tribute to the guy. Walker’s scenes were reportedly all but in the can by the time he passed away, but a few things still had to be done. Largely unnoticeable CGI helps fill in some of the gaps, and Walker’s brothers (who look strikingly alike) also stepped in to finish off bits and pieces, including the completely re-worked ending which, particularly through one symbolic shot, serves as a genuinely emotional farewell. It’s a film of two parts, really. One part wildly enjoyable escapism that leaves us hungry for more, one part touching eulogy. Paul Walker will be sorely missed in these films (as well as real life, of course), but they’ll go on in his honour – and, if we’re lucky, continue to entertain us relentlessly.