Watching Furious 7, the latest installment of the adrenaline-fueled Fast & Furious franchise, one gets the distinct impression that, when faced with a creative choice, the filmmakers asked themselves, “What’s the most insane, over-the-top thing we can do here?” Then they did just that. For a series of films that, especially over the last few chapters, has been a continual escalation in physics-defying stunts, Furious 7 takes it to an entirely new level. The result is a damn lot of fun.
Furious 7 is part revenge thriller, part daring heist, and more than a little of a loving goodbye to a dear friend. Franchise star Paul Walker died in a car crash before filming was complete, and both his life and death loom large over the movie. As his character, Brian O’Conner, experiences one harrowing escapade after another, you wait for the moment where he meets his end. It feels inevitable, and waiting around every corner. There are more than a few instances where Walker’s face is digitally pasted on another body—his brothers stood in for him to help finish the production.
The movie is also a celebration of his life. There’s much talk about family in the Furious films; the gang’s been picking up strays and bringing them into the fold since day one. The chemistry between the cast is undeniable, and it’s easy to see how much everyone involved enjoys themselves. History is important to this movie—possibly a bit too important at times, and those who walk into Furious 7 without prior knowledge might be a bit lost, especially early on.
All of the key characters have backstories with each other. Brian and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) have been through hell and back together and come out brothers. Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) have a past, even as she struggles to remember, thanks to her bout of amnesia that carries over from the previous film; she recalls things in fits and starts. It’s this history that catches up with them and forms the basis of the plot for Furious 7.
In the last film, they tussled with Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), and in the best opening scene of the year thus far, it is revealed he has a big bad older brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who’s out for vengeance. At the end of F&F 6, he showed up and killed one of their crew, finally catching the timeline up with Tokyo Drift, nine years later. There’s more going on, including a convoluted side plot about a shady government agent named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) who enlists the gang’s help, and a terrorist (Djimon Hounsou) who mostly just scowls, but the main narrative thrust is their hunting and being hunted by Shaw.
Realistically, all of the plot, all of the playing on the inherent emotion of Walker’s death—some of which, like a legitimately moving tribute at the end, works, while other moments feel cheap—everything, is in service of the action. The action has always been what this franchise is all about. That doesn’t change here, and it gets ratcheted up to ludicrous, delirious, gleeful highs. Oh, Brian is going to run up a bus as it slides over a cliff? Sure. You want to jump a million-dollar car from one skyscraper to another? Go for it. The bad guys are shooting machine guns but that’s not enough? Obviously it’s time for the rocket launcher. Each sequence tries to one-up the next.
Frenetic car chases pepper the film. It’s the series’ bread-and-butter, but it’s also a real strength. With the addition of Statham and the likes of martial arts star Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak) and UFC champ Ronda Rousey, the hand-to-hand combat side of things includes two of the better fights in the franchise. There’s a brutal early throw down between Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw, and if you’re familiar with Jaa, you know what he can do onscreen. At times during these scenes, director James Wan (Saw) gets too cute with the camerawork, spinning the frame along with bodies as they fly through the air. It’s distracting and unnecessary and, in a few instances, ruins otherwise strong choreography. Thankfully, he avoids this impulse when the action is more vehicle-centered.
You probably already know whether or not you want to see Furious 7. If you enjoyed the last two, you’ll especially dig this—and, for good or ill, you know what you’re going to get. Expect some truly mind-boggling action sequences, slick cars and hit-and-miss comic banter between Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris). The Rock flexes out of a cast in slow motion, there are way more close-up shots of butts than ever necessary, and things get fully melodramatic on occasion. There’s also a ton of cheesy lines, which will turn some viewers off, but the dialogue is delivered with total earnestness and a sly, tongue-in-cheek touch. Furious 7 traffics so heavily in history that it will carry the most weight with already extant fans, especially in an emotional sense. That said, there are enough WTF action moments and eye candy to sell the movie to more than just diehards.
Director: James Wan
Writer: Chris Morgan
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou, Ronda Rousey
Release Date: April 3, 2015