Paul Walker’s last ride is a fitting ‘end’ to the definitive action series of this generation.
Since The Fast and the Furious debuted in 2001, the series has had its fair share of haters. On the surface, it’s easy to see why. The original (and still the best) was dismissed by many as little more than a chav’s turbo-charged fantasy, while the first two sequels were weak in comparison. Fast & Furious (2009) lit the fuse once again with the return of the original cast, although it wasn’t until the addition of Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five (2011) that the series really lit up for a second time and found it’s new home in the modern era of the outrageous, but occasionally very well made action flick (see also 2011’s The Raid, 2012’s Dredd, and 2013’s Snowpiercer). Doused in hilariously bad humour and oozing fanboy appeal, things went from sublimely ridiculous with the safe chase, to outright mental in the sixth instalment, released in 2013. Now I won’t pretend that my enjoyment of the latter two films wasn’t enhanced by my state of mind at the time, influenced, shall we say, by the fact that films are rarely watched sober by tourists in Cambodia or Amsterdam respectively, but flicking on to them frequently during subsequent years has only reinforced my view that they remain great, tongue-in-cheek action films.
And so we come to Furious 7: Paul Walker’s Last Ride. Complete and utter nonsense from the first frame on, it certainly doesn’t disappoint from an action point of view, succeeding also in terms of laughs, emotion, and overall completely brainless popcorn entertainment. The untimely death of Walker in late 2013 gave Universal and director James Wan a difficult decision as to how to proceed, but considering the circumstances under which the film was completed, the finished article is highly satisfying and a fitting tribute. Although it’s evident during the LA-based finale that Walker wasn’t present (single shots, long shots, quick cuts, a heavy use of shadowing, and very little actual screen time), the use of body doubles (primarily his two brothers) and CGI doesn’t detract from proceedings. The filmmakers also made the sensible choice to essentially break the fourth wall for the final scene, allowing Vin Diesel to do the honours as the defining memory of Walker peels off into the sunset, providing arguably the sole moment of reality, and a genuinely touching one at that.
The rest of the film is what we’ve come to expect since Rocky got involved. Outlandish car chase sequences (there’s a cracker up in the mountains), trips to continents yet to be covered during the series with a mere throwaway line of explanation, vehicular manoeuvres that go out of their way to defy the laws of physics or are played simply for laughs (effectively, I might add – dodgy CGI and all), cheesy-as-hell dialogue (including the now standard multiple-use of the word “family”) and related humour (Minivan Brian), plus, of course, completely out of place, over the top villains.
The latter, comprised of Jason Statham (clichéd, no-nonsense, vengeance seeking Brit), Djimon Hounsou (clichéd, no-nonsense African mercenary), and Tony Jaa (fuck me, he’s alive…or rather, clichéd, no-nonsense Asian martial artist) form the unlikeliest antagonistic triumvirate throughout. Thankfully however Statham and Hounsou can, you know, act, a skill the majority of the main cast seem to leave at the door when returning to the series. Not that it’s a problem, in fact in an odd fashion it’s almost charming to see Michelle Rodriguez completely forget what she’s supposed to be doing when placed in front of a camera as Letty (perhaps getting into her character a little too literally). Jaa’s long-awaited (or incredibly late) Hollywood debut won’t be anything special to most, but personally it was gratifying to see the man who redefined martial arts cinema with 2003’s Ong Bak finally get a well deserved chance to show his stuff on the mainstream western front. A bonus highlight is the inclusion of cult classic legend Kurt Russell, who brings a touch of veteran class to proceedings and puts his trademark smirk to good use throughout.
Talking about the plot is utterly pointless as it’s all about the in-jokes, character history, and action set pieces, but director Wan manages to hold it all together in pretty seamless fashion. Having excelled in horror at the helm of Saw (2004) and The Conjuring (2013) amongst others, Wan makes a successful action transition by doing what he does best; creating a tight, appropriately paced production within which the carnage is permitted to unravel. A great purveyor of scale who knows when and how to go big in order to fashion appealing entertainment from the age-old action clichés – just as he did with his ability to create fresh claustrophobic tension on the horror front – Wan works his magic with what he’s given. The result is a picture that passes the ultimate action movie test with flying in colours, in that it keeps the audience engaged and is certainly never dull, propelling you along every step of the way.
Though the series looks set to continue without Walker, for those who grew up with it from the start this will be the original ending of what turned out to be an epic ride of polar extremes, producing both the good and the bad, the serious and the ridiculous. Also The Rock and Vin Diesel. Together. Onscreen. Staring at each other. Steroids. The haters will continue to hate of course, but, to be honest, they’re the ones missing out. As the sun sets slowly in the west, I bid F&F as we know it a fond farewell.