Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): ‘Furious 7’

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

If you had told me when I initially saw the original The Fast and The Furious at age twelve that it would inspire a massive franchise, now dubbed The Fast Saga, I wouldn’t have believed you. Nevertheless, it did just that, spanning eight sequels and one spin-off (thus far). I’ll be racing a quarter-mile at a time from the beginning of this franchise to its current finish line of F9. In this installment, we cover the entry that changes things in a big way: Furious 7 (2015)!

In film history, there are two absolute classic films telling roughly the same story: the legendary Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai) (1954) and John Sturges‘ Western re-interpretation of that tale, The Magnificent Seven (1960). Both served as sources of inspiration for the folks involved in the decidedly B-movie movie in review, Furious 7 (2015). At least, director James Wan (of the upcoming pictures Malignant and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom) claims this is the case in regards to the sixth sequel’s title. With Wan, we have the first of two significant changes from the previous four Fast & Furious sequels. That’s right, long-running helmer Justin Lin chose not to return to the franchise as Universal was keen on a quicker turnaround between installments and he wanted a break after four films. Upon departing the Fast lane, Lin chose to be part of an entirely different film franchise and directed Star Trek: Beyond (2016). His exit and Wan’s entry arrival on the scene came as a genuine surprise at the time — Wan had previously been making his bones in the horror genre up to this point.

While Wan may have been an unexpected choice, the new director is undoubtedly part of the new energy this seventh installment needed. At the same time, what’s so surprising about Lin stepping away from this franchise is that it’s a direct continuation of the story that he and screenwriter Chris Morgan had been telling in Furious 6 (2013). As such, Furious 7 finally brings us into a story continuity after the events of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). This film picks up shortly after its immediate predecessor, where we find that the peaceful lives of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), and the rest of their extended, surrogate family have once again been thrown into upheaval. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is on a wrathful path to avenge his now comatose younger brother, Owen (Luke Evans). And as the crew bands together to take down Deckard Shaw, they get drawn into a government operation headed by a fed only known as “Mr. Nobody” (Kurt Russell), who wants them to track down an all-powerful piece of software known as “The God’s Eye!”

Before I delve deeper into Furious 7, I think it’s essential to address the other massive change which occurred behind-the-scenes which irrevocably changed the franchise forever. I’m, of course, referring to the untimely demise of Paul Walker. I’ll never forget the night that happened, as it’s nearly impossible to do so based on the circumstances. A surrogate family member of mine, Jordan, and I had been eating pizza, drinking beer, and watching Hoffa (1992). 

At some point during that night, I checked my phone and learned that Walker had died in a car crash after leaving a charity event. As bad as this initial reaction might be, we first thought this obituary was one of those sick jokes perpetrated by the more tasteless parts of the Internet. Unfortunately, as we all know, that obit was legitimate and one of two main faces of this franchise had passed away at far too young an age. Walker’s death hit with a sting as we’d both been watching most of the his movies for the past decade at that point. 

Despite Furious 7 being announced before the release of Furious 6, production was, understandably, halted temporarily following Walker’s tragic death. Leading up to this entry’s U.S. theatrical debut on Friday, April 3, 2015, you could not help but feel an air of sadness during its promotion. The press wanted to address Walker’s passing and how it affected the film, which put a bit of a shadow over the conversation. I cannot imagine how the cast felt having to deal with this tragedy on every press tour stop, but as an audience member, I could only hope Walker’s final Fast film would be a good one. Well, folks, I’m happy to say that sitting in that theater at the time of the film’s release and re-watching Furious 7 for this column, I was able not to be overburdened with distraction by the tragedy. But, there’s also no doubt that Walker’s passing does change the significance of this entry.

As I mentioned previously, Furious 7 picks up where its immediate predecessor left off. Therefore, this sequel remains in the spy movie subgenre and, thus, carries a lot of the same issues Furious 6. The Fast Saga‘s drift into espionage territory does not work for me. I find it too darn nonsensical — even for these B-movies made with A-grade production values and budget! Thankfully, though, the whole main plot of a villain hellbent on revenge doesn’t leave much room for the movie’s spy subplot; which is a good thing considering how carelessly the two story elements are interlaced.

However, it does not change the simple fact that, frankly, Furious 7 is overcrowded from a story standpoint. They could have used either one of these storylines as the sole main plot. But, they sure-as-Shinola did not need both of them! In my estimation, it would have been better to make this a revenge flick focusing on Deckard Shaw as the sole antagonist. Sure, Statham brings nothing more than his usual talents to the table, but that’s all that’s required to portray this other Shaw anyway. Interestingly, Statham was initially offered the role of Owen Shaw in Furious 6, but declined due to his other commitments: starring in Parker (2013) and Wild Card (2015). Regarding the “God’s Eye” subplot, though, I will say it handled the concept of weaponizing any piece of technology better than The Dark Knight (2008) clumsily did.

Narratively, it sounds like we’re in for a repeat of my opinion on Fast and Furious 6, right? Well, no, thankfully not! See, Furious 7 fixes most of the problems it was saddled with by continuing the story and tone set up in the previous film. In contrast, Furious 7 is not a dull ride, but instead is one which moves briskly and has a sense of fun. 

Wan brings the equivalent of an oil change to the franchise. The director quickly proves that he can jump genres as he directs all the action and car sequences with such aplomb that you would believe he had been working in the action and spy-thriller genres as long as he’d been working in horror. (No doubt the capability the director displays here helped land him Aquaman (2018); one of the better DC movies, in my opinion.) Visually, Wan and his duo of cinematographers — Marc Spicer and, returning shooter from the previous four pictures, Stephen F. Windon — don’t stray too far from the visual tone previously established. The color temperature and style are warmed up a bit, though. More importantly, the filmmaking on display is back to the level it should be at, which energizes the whole affair. Of course, the sense of “freshening up” could be thanks to Furious 7 being the first entry in the franchise to be mainly shot on digital instead of 35mm film.

The behind-the-scenes energy mentioned above also translates to the cast. In contrast to Fast and Furious 6, none of the actors sleepwalk their way through this seventh installment. Perhaps that’s because they all wanted to deliver solid performances in memory of their beloved castmate? While I’m sure Walker’s passing had something to do with it, the cast also seems legitimately reinvested with Furious 7. Everyone gets to have a moment or two of pure emotion, which is not something we often receive from the NoS-tank-injected franchise. The late Walker, himself, gives one of his better performances as Brian, making the movie all the more poignant. And that’s saying a lot considering some of Walker’s scenes were supplemented following his death by the use of body doubles (two of whom being the late actor’s brothers), CGI, part of a deleted scene from Fast Five, and dialogue from previous installments in this franchise.

The only gripe I have with the cast this time around is that DSS Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is largely absent for the majority of this movie’s runtime. While Morgan does come up with a good enough story reason for the character’s lack of “Rock” solid presence in the picture, I certainly missed Hobbs until he re-entered the proceedings with some third-act bravado. Johnson was reportedly written to be less significant in this installment due to the filming of Hercules (2014) — in which he starred — during the majority of Furious 7‘s production. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel that the well-documented feuding machismo of Johnson and Diesel (who also co-produced this flick) had something to do with throwing “The Rock” off-screen for the most part. Thankfully, though, Kurt Russell makes up for this by being immeasurably charismatic and stealing every scene in which he’s present.

Furious 7  corrects course and gets back in the proper cinematic lane, throwing most of that sixth entry’s baggage out in the process. Due to this improvement, Furious 7 qualifies as a Franchise Expansion. But, to be honest, I think the movie being an Expansion is partially due to the emotion and sentimentality that cannot ultimately be detached from the film over Walker’s untimely death. The filmmakers and cast know this, hence the fittingly touching ending we get with this sequel — an end, which, I think, should have wrapped up this franchise for good. Alas, after this entry grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide on a $190 million production budget to become the highest-grossing movie of 2015 (and became the first entry in the franchise to gross over a billion dollars), a continuation without Walker was inevitable.

Furious 7  is available on all home video formats.

F9: The Fast Saga is Now Playing.

Next time, we’ll see where this franchise goes without their beloved family member in The Fate of the Furious (2017)!

Looking Back A Quarter-Mile At A Time:

The Fast and The Furious (2001)

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Fast & Furious (2009)

Fast Five (2011)

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

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