If you enjoy white-kuckle entertainment in all its forms (cars, guns, fights, family, etc.), then this is most likely the movie for you.
There are few cinematic roads that seem to keep evolving the way the Fast & The Furious franchise has. The series has transitioned from a street-racing one-off that jumpstarted the careers of both Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker to a legitimate blockbuster powerhouse with a somewhat interconnected continuity over the course of a decade and a half. I was always on board with this series, as disjointed as it was in its formative years, but it really did find itself in Fast Five, with its combination of crazy car stunts and big-name stars hamming it up as one big family. It’s changed into its own brand of ridiculously silly fun since then, and aside from acting as a 130 minute tribute to Walker (who died during the filming process), Furious 7 is no exception. If you enjoy white-kuckle entertainment in all its forms (cars, guns, fights, family, etc.), then this is most likely the movie for you.
This time around, the gang, including Dominic Toretto (Diesel), Brian O’Connor (Walker), and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) have returned to the U.S. after busting crime lord Owen Shaw and having their names cleared by Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). Shaw’s younger brother Deckard (Jason Statham) is none too happy about his brother being hospitalized, and so he vows to take down the gang in vengeance, starting by killing off Han (Sung Kang). The crew’s lives are in danger once again, so they’re joined by Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) under the watchful eye of Frank Petty (Kurt Russell), in order to bring Shaw down.
Thinking of ways to top the crazy stunts in these movies must be a job in and of itself within the filmmaking division, because Furious 7 is firing on all creative cylinders. The two big stunts involving driving cars out of a cargo plane and across glass-lined skyscrapers in Abu Dabi are obvious highlights, as is a sequence at the end involving a chase through the streets of a city with a tactical military drone in hot pursuit. The action is choreographed and edited nicely, considering that new director James Wan is a horror movie staple (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring) who is one of the best in the business at building tension through shots. I couldn’t think of another mainstream director who was better suited for this job.
The cast is fine as always, mugging their way through talk about family, honor, and cars in a way that’s just grounded enough to not be portentous. It throws me off when in one scene, Diesel and Walker are sharing a moment about how this will be their last ride together (the script was changed to reflect Walker not being around after this one), then seeing Diesel effortlessly lift a super car or crack the pavement of a parking complex underneath his feet, and then being treated to a poignant clip show of Walker’s best moments. Walker’s untimely demise has infused this film with quite a bit of poignancy, but even against the silly action, it all gels.
It’s also worth noting that the cast of Furious 7 is arguably the most diverse in the Hollywood blockbuster scene, which is a refreshing change of pace. Walker is the only “conventional” white face in the good guy stable, which is otherwise both racially and gender-ly diverse and full of fleshed-out characters. Even if it were actually considered for an Oscar, as Diesel suggested it should be, it’s way too progressive for The Academy to touch it with a ten foot pole.
The one thing this series has been lacking ever since its inception, however, is a compelling villain, and Statham attempts to bring his well-worn tough guy anti-hero antics to the series. The only problem is that Statham and Djimon Hounsou, in a smaller villain role, are given no kind of time to make an impression beyond “these guys are evil,” so even though they’re giving it 110%, both heroes feel flat and underdeveloped next to their good counterparts. The stunts and character interactions are always fun, but when the villains are as cookie cutter as they come, it serves to ramp the tension down a bit. Thai martial artist Tony Jaa and MMA Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey show up in henchman roles, but the same logic and unfortunate underplaying applies to them, even though their fight scenes are some of the best in the entire series. Why waste the money hiring professional fighters like them if you’re not going to use them better?
All of that considered, though, Furious 7 ultimately proves that the series really has found itself. Whether you’re a car aficionado, an action movie junkie, or a devoted fan who’s been following the series since Diesel and Walker had baby faces, Furious 7 is as fun a blockbuster thrill ride as they come.
-Dylan “CineMasai” Green