Furious 7: An Unforgettable Tribute

I wanted to sit down tonight and write a review of Furious 7. That was my intention. I’ve quickly realized that that’s not going to be possible because there’s simply no way for me to look at this movie objectively. I am biased. I am as biased as can be. It doesn’t matter where this movie ranks against the rest of the franchise. It doesn’t matter how this movie rates against other movies. What matters is this movie and what it means.

One Last Ride

The Fast & Furious franchise didn’t even register for me prior to Fast Five. The films were a joke; I saw the franchise as trash. I think that I had see the first two films on DVD when I was in high school. I remember people thinking that they were cool, but I didn’t much care for them – some of you probably still feel that way about the series. Cut to eight years later and the release of Fast Five. The trailer looked amazing. They got the Rock. I decided it was time to catch up. I watched the first four films within the context of the pending release of the fifth. The first two are tolerable, serving basically as nothing more than introductions to these characters. The third is an awful throwaway made when the franchise was basically on life support (although a large number of people love it for some reason). The fourth, however, I found legitimately compelling. The original cast appears together again for the first time since The Fast and The Furious and, also for the first time, the ending of one movie leads directly into the next. Fast Five was fantastic. It’s still the best film in the franchise and one of my favorite action/heist films. It’s the film that marks the end of the “cops, drugs, and racing” storylines that run through the first four films. It’s the start of something new, something bigger. From that movie on, the Fast & Furious franchise transformed into one of the foremost action franchises in Hollywood. Over the course of six films, the franchise morphed from a small story about a street-racing criminal and an undercover cop to something more reminiscent of the Mission: Impossible franchise. Over the course of three years, I went from not caring at all about these films to caring about them way too much.

On November 30th, 2013, Paul Walker passed away in a car accident at the age of 40. He left behind his daughter, Meadow. It is impossible to discuss Furious 7 without discussing Paul Walker. He and this movie are inextricably entwined. You cannot separate the two. He had filmed approximately 85% of his scenes before the tragedy and after receiving the blessing of his family, director James Wan and the rest of the cast and crew finished the film with the help of Paul’s brothers, Caleb and Cody Walker, and some CGI. They all considered Walker a friend. Some considered him family. They set out to finish the film for Paul, knowing that it’s what he would have wanted.

Furious 7 isn’t the best film you’ll ever see. It isn’t the best film you’ll see this year. It’s not even the best Fast & Furious film. None of that matters. You have to see this film. I have never seen anything like it and I don’t think that I ever will again. I’m not referring to the non-stop action and the incredible set pieces. Action can always get more intense. Set-pieces, no matter how grand, can always be topped. Don’t get me wrong, this is an absolutely thrilling action movie and it’s a fine addition to the Fast & Furious franchise, but what makes it truly special is Paul Walker. From start to finish, this film feels like his swan song, right down to the themes of the story and the final arc of his character. I don’t know how much the final plot of the film changed after Walker’s passing, but it feels serendipitously set up from the beginning to act as a goodbye to the character of Bryan O’Conner. He’s a married man and a father now and this film sees him struggling with the transition between his old life and this new one. Suffice it to say that the film is a fitting send-off to both Bryan O’Conner and Paul Walker and feels like a natural progression of the path his character has been on ever since the first movie. I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but know that the final shot of the film is literally one of the most perfect, emotionally powerful images I have ever seen on screen. I’m honestly not sure that it will ever be matched in my mind. It’s that good.

Listen – I didn’t know Paul Walker. I never had the privilege of meeting the man. From everything I’ve heard, he was just a stellar human being – kind, gracious, caring, and selfless – the kind of person we all aspire to be. Nobody seems to have a bad thing to say about him. Say what you will about his acting, but Paul Walker was the heart of this franchise. One of the things I appreciate most about the Fast & Furious movies is that none of the main characters really seem to be acting all that much. Maybe they’re completely different in real life, but when Vin, Paul, Ludacris, Tyrese, Michelle, and the rest are sitting around a room joking and ribbing one another, it doesn’t feel like a scripted scene in a film so much as it does a group of friends sitting around shooting the breeze. The idea of family is the most important theme in the franchise and it’s the impetus for basically everything that occurs in these films. As much as these characters are a family on screen, they’re a family in real life. That’s what lends such power to the conclusion of Furious 7. When you see these characters saying goodbye to Bryan O’Conner, you know that they’re really saying goodbye to Paul Walker. I’ve never come closer to sobbing in a movie theater than I did in the final five minutes of Furious 7, and if the sniffling around me was any indication, I wasn’t the only one. It was truly, deeply affecting. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

As I drove home from the theater, I listened to the Furious 7 soundtrack. When “See You Again” —the song by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth that backs the Paul Walker tribute—started playing, my reaction was immediate. The tears started flowing and I couldn’t hold them back. I cried all the way home. That’s the impact this movie had on me. As I write this, I am in tears. There is something so valuable here. There are lessons to be taken to heart. Lessons about what it means to be a good man. Lessons about family, and what that word means. Maybe you’re sitting here reading this and you’re like I used to be – completely dismissive of this franchise. I know that this is probably the last thing you were expecting to read about the summer’s first big action blockbuster, but do me a favour and given it a chance. Whether you decide to watch all seven in sequential order (it goes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, then 3, for your information) or to just see Furious 7 in theaters, do yourself a favor and take a chance. You just might find something of value, like I have.

When James Wan, Vin Diesel, and the rest committed to completing Furious 7 in Paul Walker’s absence, they set out to finish the film for Paul, knowing that it’s what he would have wanted. I think that if Paul Walker were here today, he’d be immensely proud of what they accomplished. Rest in peace Paul. You earned it.

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