Furious 7 Glorifies The Very Thing That Killed Paul Walker

By  · Published on April 7th, 2015

Universal Pictures

Like almost everyone else, I saw Furious 7 over the weekend. The blockbuster opened to a ridiculous $143 million domestic gross ($384 million worldwide), but more amazing is its warm reception from the critical community. It currently has a 83% rating on critic-aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, but even those who praise the film do so with a caveat. The words “dumb” and “ridiculous” frequently find their way into even the most positive reviews, and many critics have advised their readers to turn off their analytic brains and enjoy the mindless entertainment.

Sorry, but I simply don’t have that gear. Furious 7, and indeed each entry of the series since its reboot with Fast & Furious, is more than mindless. It’s dangerous, and if you want evidence, you need look no further than the death of its star Paul Walker. Here are a few details from his death last November that you may have forgotten.

Walker was involved in a single-car accident on a stretch of road in Los Angeles known as a spot for “drifiting,” the reckless driving maneuver glorified in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. The coroner’s office estimated that the car, driven by Walker’s friend Roger Rodas, was going 100 miles per hour at the time of impact in a 45 mph zone. Rodas died from “multiple traumatic injuries,” while the cause of Walker’s death was “traumatic and thermal injuries.” In other words, Rodas died on impact, while Walker was still alive when the car burst into flames.

Investigators found no trace of drugs or alcohol in Rodas’s system, nor could they find any technical problems with the car or damaged street surface that could have caused the accident. The only logical conclusion is that Walker and his friend died re-enacting the same stupid macho bullshit that these movies celebrate.

The Furious films are a paean to violent alpha-masculinity not seen since the ’80s, when rogue cops (Die Hard) and hardened war veterans (John Rambo) reigned supreme. Three decades later, we were supposed to be done with all that. Of late, America preferred heroes who were brainy and skeptical of the use of violence. Batman and Jason Bourne were the apotheoses of the form, and scientists superheroes like Tony Stark and Bruce Banner reinforced the trend. But the astounding success of the Furious franchise could mark a change in our cultural values. Maybe, once again, it’s all about muscle.

This franchise celebrate brawn over brains, with extra points going to whichever character acts the stupidest and drives with the least concern for their own lives. In this latest installment, Vin Diesel’s character twice plays a game of chicken with the villain; in both instances, the drivers simply ram into each other. If this scene looks familiar, it’s exactly what happens when you give a toddler a couple of toy trucks to play with. Another sequence finds Diesel in a car trapped at the edge of a cliff. Instead of scheming up a clever rescue – as Batman or James Bond might do – he simply drives over the cliff and miraculously survives.

In fact, “miraculously survives” is a phrase that could apply to nearly any action sequence in the Fast and Furious franchise. Laws of gravity do not apply to the cars – that much is to be expected – but more troubling is how the characters routinely suffer accidents that would be crippling or deadly in real life and simply get up and walk away from them. We are used to seeing this in action films, but Furious 7 and its predecessors takes this invincibility to new heights.

It makes for gripping entertainment but raises serious questions as to its offscreen impact. People, especially the teenagers to which the Furious films are most heavily marketed (yes, they are all amazingly PG-13), imitate what they see onscreen. This is often raised as a point to be debated, but the science is very clear on it. For example, study after study has shown that onscreen violence causes real-life aggression, while corporations have made enormous investments in product placement based on the notion that viewers unconsciously imitate what they see.

When it comes to driving irresponsibly, movies like Furious 7 may exacerbate an already-serious problem: reckless teenage driving. According to CRC Health Group, teenagers have an accident rate four times that of adults. Further, drag racing itself remains popular – and deadly – in America. Statistics remains elusive because it is not always clear when an accident has been caused by an actual race, but one study found 1,047 racing deaths from 2001 to 2008 in the U.S. alone.

Skeptics will question whether victims were actually inspired by the Furious films to take these risks, or whether they would have done it anyway, but the circumstances of Walker’s death are enough to give pause. We will never know how many others died trying to recreate the amazing stunts depicted in the film. They are not around to tell their stories. But what’s concerning is that the death of the franchise’s star caused no introspection on the part of the studio or the actors who claim to have loved him like family. They will go right on promoting the film and celebrating the mindless, ride-or-die values that got their friend – sorry, “family” member – killed.

In death, Walker should not be lionized. By acting like a teenager on a joyride, he has ended his young life and inflicted a terrible loss on those who loved him. He should be a cautionary tale. But Universal Pictures has a profit margin to think about, and decrying the values of their most successful franchise is surely the last thing on their mind. Film critics, on the other hand, have no excuse.