There is a moment in Furious 7, as there is in most of the movies in the Fast and Furious franchise, that achieves what I like to describe as zen chaos – a state of sublime ridiculousness, in which an outrageously impossible action is depicted with uncommon clarity, precision and control.
About halfway through the film, former rivals turned outlaws turned paramilitary partners Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) are leading their team of daredevil street racers on a job to rescue a hostage from a terrorist convoy driving along a winding mountain road. At one point, Dom finds himself side by side with an enemy car, while a truck full of bad guys follows closely behind. He swerves off the road, down the mountain, as the car next to him keeps pace through the rocky terrain. The money shot comes when each rumbling car takes up one side of the screen, leaving just enough of a window between them to allow us to see the pursuing truck misjudge the turn, flip in the air and do a barrel roll down the mountain. Voila! Zen chaos.
Furious 7 has many similar, gonzo moments: two games of chicken, both ending the way they rarely do at the movies; Dom driving another car out of a Dubai skyscraper (I won’t give away where he lands); the team parachuting from a military plane … in their vehicles. Sure, other action movies have tried similar stunts, but few employ this level of discipline in carrying them out.
Other action movies have tried similar stunts, but few employ this level of discipline in carrying them out.
That – along with a reluctance to indulge too heavily in CGI – has been the hallmark of the series, which got off to a strong start with 2002’s The Fast and The Furious, a street-racing thriller that dared to take itself seriously. The franchise then stumbled a bit before finding a match in the kinetic camera of director Justin Lin, who helmed The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Altogether Lin directed four installments – including my personal favorite, Fast & Furious – but has handed the series off to James Wan for Furious 7. A talented horror director (The Conjuring), Wan honors the franchise’s emphasis on lucidity, even as he gets flashier than Lin in the hand-to-hand fight scenes, twirling his camera as if it were one of the balletic combatants.
If it sounds like I’m praising Furious 7 and its predecessors simply for doing what any decent action movie should do, then let me confess that I’ve also found something compelling about the bro bonding between Dom and Brian – men who met as adversaries and grew into fast friends. The scenes between them – often in garages, usually talking over tools, saying only what needs to be said and no more – may be undoubtedly masculine, yet they’re unmistakably sincere. There’s no posing here.
Say what you want about Diesel as an actor, but when he grunts a few words about the members of his team being “family” (especially Michelle Rodriguez, making a welcome return here), you believe him. And Walker, who was something of an outsider in the first film in that he was playing an undercover lawman, eventually brought a sunny comfortableness to his character that serves as a perfect contrast to Diesel’s stolidity. By Furious 7, Brian has found his place: alongside Dom, no longer a cop but not quite a criminal.
It’s no surprise, then, that the ending of Furious 7 is downright touching, as it obliquely acknowledges Walker’s 2013 death within the narrative of the film itself. Brian’s story has already started to diverge from Dom’s, considering he’s married Dom’s sister (Jordana Brewster), fathered one child and is now expecting another. Dom’s idea of family has taken on literal form, in a way that means Brian will no longer be a part of the team. In its picturesque final shot, Furious 7 still finds Brian behind the wheel, yet the movie also elegiacally concedes that the franchise has been irrevocably altered.