It’s been five years since Furious 7 first sped in theaters back in April 2015. On paper, five years doesn’t seem like such a long time. But in movie years, where things move faster than Dominic Toretto’s 1970 Dodge Charger down an open highway, that’s a long way back in time. A lot can happen in half a decade. When it comes to the Fast & Furious universe, five years has helped solidify my firmly-held belief Furious 7 is the peak of this massive action franchise, where it manages to be bombastic and brash without yet being forced to jump the shark, and a perfect presentation of its foundational tenet that family is the most important institution in this life.
Furious 7 is the best movie of the franchise primarily because of its emotional core. This core is largely made up of all the ways in which the late Paul Walker’s memory is preserved on screen. Before seeing Furious 7, I’d been a casual Fast & Furious viewer. I’d seen The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and 2 Fast 2 Furious (in that order, by the way) when they’d made their way to cable. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the franchise for what it was, a set of movies actively working to champion the powerful bonds of family through any and all hardships. Instead, I wrote it off as a franchise which catered to the flashy, adrenaline-fueled, masculine moviegoing populace of which I was decidedly not a part.
Seeing Furious 7 made everything click into place. Here was a movie more focused on exploring what has become its cornerstone theme. This movie succeeded in doing this by honoring Walker, who had been an integral part of the franchise since filming on The Fast and the Furious began in July 2000, in making sure his final performance as Brian O’Connor onscreen wasn’t treated as some afterthought. I’d read the details of Walker’s tragic and untimely passing just a few years before and had been somewhat familiar with how director James Wan and the Fast & Furious team went about preserving his performance and bringing in his brother, Caleb Walker, to serve as a stand-in. But I was not prepared for how well Walker had been digitally integrated into Furious 7, nor was I prepared for the final scene.
One of the most intense sense memories I have as a moviegoer is trying to quietly choke back tears at the end of Furious 7 in a packed IMAX theater. I was sitting in the center of a full house of Fast & Furious fans and could feel the rising tide of emotion as we tried to grapple with the final moments of that thrilling third act. Together, we’d sat through more than two hours of action, cheering on Dominic (Diesel), Brian (Walker) Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) as they battled it out with Deckard Shaw. And while we were still trying to process some of the most bananas action sequences this franchise had ever offered us (including this hall-of-famer), the audience got hit with the final scene, a moment franchise star Vin Diesel today calls the “best moment in cinematic history” (and I’m inclined to agree).
In the span of just a few minutes, Furious 7 managed to summarize what made both this movie so great and the Fast & Furious franchise so great. Seeing Dom and Brian take one final ride together, their cars taking separate paths following a fork in the road as Charlie Puth & Wiz Khalifa’s track “See You Again” swells in the background, was deeply emotional. Sure, it may have been a little over the line in terms of cheesiness, but it was effective. Having that moment cap off a movie where it was clear pains had been taken to make sure Walker’s likeness was convincingly integrated into Furious 7 in the wake of his passing and have it serve as the final time we see Walker on screen in any capacity was just perfect. Even former poo-pooers of the franchiser, myself included, would be hard-pressed to neg Dom and Brian’s final ride into the sunset. It was just too poignant and too well-done to not be affected by watching it in the theater. Hell, it still gets me choked up to this day.
Even before we get to the final scene, it’s evident a decision, either consciously or subconsciously, was made to have Brian’s arc be the emotional core. He has always been an anchor in this franchise, a surrogate co-parent of sorts alongside Dom as one a franchise OG. Furious 7 isn’t just about Brian once again working with his friends to save the world. It’s also about him facing some very real decisions about when he’s going to leave his muscle car in the garage for good and become the world’s #1 minivan driver as he hustles his kids to school. Moments like Brian’s son’s teacher joking, “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to this,” after she helps him figure out how to open his minivan door take on an extra weight upon further rewatch. No doubt originally meant to be a light remark about Brian’s transition into a new chapter of his life, the line hits so much harder given the real-world context around Walker’s passing. Brian’s Furious 7 journey to re-evaluating what his priorities are now that he’s no longer some young hotshot working undercover for the LAPD is really affecting to watch, especially as you find yourself bracing with every potentially bone-crunching stunt he gets himself into. It’s hard not to be immediately drawn to Brian’s arc as you watch Furious 7, where the reality and impact of the loss of Walker colors every scene he’s in and sets the table, so to speak, for how the franchise will have to handle his absence in future movies.
On a final note, Furious 7 is also the best movie of the franchise so far — and probably ever — because it manages to come right up to the line of being over-the-top without actually pushing its luck. Sure, the Fast & Furious franchise has seen its fair share of physics-defying, logic-busting stunts before. Furious 7 is no exception with stunts like the team parachuting a caravan of sleek muscle cars into the Caucasus mountains or watching Dom and Shaw fight with actual heavy auto parts in a busted parking garage without sustaining an injury. But at least these stunts still stay within the realm of car-based action; there’s no submarines, high-tech missiles, or flashy private jet fistfights involving playing “Hot Potato” with an infant just yet. The action in Furious 7 is the platonic ideal of what this franchise has sought to contribute to the genre for years and pulls it off with aplomb.
Will there ever be Fast & Furious movie that can unseat Furious 7 as the best of the lot? I’ll let you know when I see F9.