Furious 7 (2015)     ★½

In a seventh time around the track for this popular action franchise Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers go up against a criminal mastermind bent on using a device called God’s Eye to take over the world, while nefarious villain Deckard Shaw gets his origin story. Oh wait, I think I have my superheroes mixed up.

Some people like to say “if you’ve seen one Fast & Furious movie you’ve seen them all” or “if you didn’t like the previous Fast & Furious films you won’t like this one,” but I don’t think that’s true. Over the last five years this series has completely divorced itself from reality, rapidly devolving its characters into cartoons, and becoming increasingly ignorant of the laws of physics in its set pieces, up through this year’s Furious 7, which is virtually indistinguishable from any of the films currently found in Marvel’s ever-expanding, flatulent universe. The Furious films used to at least pretend to be about real, human stories, pulp fiction framed against the backdrop of street racing; but now it’s all about being bigger and better and faster than the one before, and riding that milquetoast, lowest common denominator line of repugnant, condescending, blockbuster filmmaking. I freely admit I am not a fan of this series, even of the original fourteen years ago, but I keep coming back because I know it’s possible to make a good film out of this mess, they did so with the highly original Tokyo Drift, a continuity-shaking, indie-rooted drama-at-heart, that had the audacity to race cars inside a parking garage, which to this day remains the best of the series.

And Furious 7 is the worst of the series. Aside from a few entertaining action spectacles, this film is as bad as a film can be. Not a single plot point makes any sense, and it would take me a review as long as the screenplay itself to detail every flagrant violation of logic. This time Jason Statham joins the ever-expanding cast as Deckard Shaw, the brother of a man Toretto and his crew killed in the last film, who hunts our heroes, offing them one at a time. But even though he appears randomly throughout the film, at the whim of the screenplay, to the extent that he is able to follow them half-way around the world, Toretto (Vin Diesel) and O’Connor (Paul Walker) willingly accept a black ops operation to take down a man who is trying to get his hands on a device that can locate any specific person in the world. And that is all you need to know about the story. The rest of the film is non-stop obligatory pandering humor, vile misogyny where cars are treated with more respect than women, and conveniently compartmentalized characters so the film doesn’t have to constantly juggle its already over-crowded cast.

Directed by the unlikely James Wan, who began his career with the sleeper horror hit Saw, and most recently helmed 2013’s magnificent The Conjuring, the difference he brings to the franchise is subtle, but I doubt anyone could create something singular out of the the incessant tick-tock of screenwriter Chris Morgan’s attempts to outdo himself. The best moment in the film, and aside from the occasionally breathtaking but inane action sequences, the only time Wan’s presence is felt is an early series of quick cuts of Brian O’Connor behind the wheel, which subverts expectations when we realize he’s in an SUV dropping his kid off at school. Little things like that go a long way, but those times are rare, leaving most of the downtime in the film to be spent in ridiculous conversations such as when Mia (Jordana Brewster) tells Brian over the phone that she is pregnant and he responds talking about a sandwich he ate the first time they met. This is Morgan’s idea of the calm before the final act.

Furious 7 is unique, of course, in another way, as the final film of Paul Walker, who died in a car crash shortly after filming began. Much is being written about the way the film ends, most of it in high praise, but for me, the fate of Brian O’Connor is incongruous with the way the filmmakers handle it, shooting for a high emotional response that is frankly unwarranted by the story. Strangely enough it’s as if Wan has found a new way break the fourth wall, where suddenly everybody comes out of character to pay respects to the actor and not the character. Call me insensitive but it feels like a blatant acknowledgment that this series is no longer interested in telling stories. For all the talk of family and brotherly love, it never once becomes a real emotion, and the awkward way in which O’Connor and Walker are treated as two separate people, overselling it to an audience the filmmakers clearly don’t think very intelligent, is about as offensive and self-aggrandizing as can be. A title card on fade-out has always worked in the past to honor an actor’s passing, but perhaps it’s yet another sign of the times, a symbol of our overly-vigilant, political correctness that even paying respects has to be market-tested so as not to appear uncaring by not doing “enough.” In a way I’m glad the rest of the film was such a pathetic, token cash grab, because tacking this tacky ending with a smiling digital Paul Walker on an actual good film would have been infuriating. As long as people keep lining up for these films and helping it break records there will never be any hope for the series to get back to where it once was. But what can you do when today’s audiences just love watching the wheels spin.

The Verdict: Pan