I really have to hand it to the Fast and Furious series. Right when it looks like the series has hit an insurmountable speed bump with its prior installment, it comes triumphantly charging ahead with a successor, as if nothing was wrong. Ok, Universal, you got me. Furious 7 is actually quite a lot of fun!
It’s a movie that really defies the odds too, not merely because it’s the seventh movie in a franchise that has really been reaching with its sheer number of sequels, but because it changed directors, and had to suffer through the tragic death of series lead, Paul Walker in 2013, before Walker’s scenes were fully completed. This latest movie also finally sets the timeline straight, moving events after The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift finally, even if Furious 7 still feels like a direct follow-up to Fast and Furious 6.
Does this mean that the series has gotten any smarter with Furious 7? No. Has it gotten any more logical and grounded? Hell no! Furious 7 is still happily operating well outside the limited reaches of physics and common sense, but its strangely effective formula revitalizes the long-running series in a way that Fast and Furious 6 largely failed to do, and its poignant, emotional tribute to the late Paul Walker is very effective, with its themes of family and loss giving these characters more depth than they’ve had in many years!
It’s no exaggeration to say that Furious 7 could challenge Fast Five as the series’ best entry to date, between its highly enjoyable action and palpable sense of heart. It’s still a ludicrous spectacle of pure action-packed silliness, but its popcorn-friendly mayhem proves to be a highly entertaining prelude to the imminent Summer blockbuster season of 2015!
In the interim between the events of Fast and Furious 6 and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, it looks like Brian, Dom, Letty and Mia are all ready to settle down and be one big happy family… Until their past comes back to haunt them, after an unfriendly former British special forces bruiser, Deckard Shaw breaks into Hobbs’ office, trying to track down the band of racers who left his brother, Owen Shaw, the villain of Fast and Furious 6, comatose. If you saw the credits sting in Fast and Furious 6, you would already be aware of Shaw’s big bad brother, who was retconned to be responsible for Han’s death in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Deckard being played by Jason Statham gives another big name to a huge action movie franchise, and Statham doesn’t disappoint either! Showing up in every action scene like a flesh-and-blood Terminator, Deckard mercilessly hunts Dom and his crew, making impossible tasks even more impossible! Naturally, after Deckard nearly kills Brian, Mia and their child with a bomb that destroys their house, Dom is out to break Deckard’s skull, with the chance promised to him by a mysterious government agent dubbed ‘Mr. Nobody’, played by Kurt Russell, another surprisingly big name.
Though Fast and Furious 6 felt a bit over-crowded with its huge ensemble cast, Furious 7 balances its character arcs a lot better. We still barely see any of Jordana Brewster as Mia unfortunately, and Dwayne Johnson disappointingly sits out most of the movie, only showing up in two big action scenes. That said, Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, and, yes, even Paul Walker, still end up with plenty of screentime, brought together in their common quest to preserve family by neutralizing Deckard.
After having to enlist the aid of Mr. Nobody, the group ends up on the radar of a deadly mercenary as well, Mose Jakande, played by yet another big name making his debut in the series, Djimon Hounsou. Jakande somewhat steals the role of lead villain from Deckard, but somehow, the two don’t step on each other’s toes, despite that. They both beautifully tie into the theme of staying strong for one’s family, against forces both political and personal. It’s quite interesting how these villain arcs all come together, without the movie feeling over-stuffed.
Again, Furious 7 might confuse those who haven’t watched the previous movies with its longstanding personalities, but even if some of their history needs to be gleaned from previous movies, newcomers can still get enough of an appreciation for them, thanks to how well Furious 7 both refreshes and honours their established personalities. This is effectively done thanks to a new addition, a lady hacker named Ramsey, played by Nathalie Emmanuel, who helpfully ‘deduces’ how each member of the team fits into the cast, as well as filling the hole vacated by Han and Gisele alike.
Speaking of the dialogue, it’s astounding how well-written Furious 7 is, at least in terms of providing entertainment value. The incredible wit behind the characters’ lines is surprisingly inspired, and it makes even the dopiest of moments feel fun to see unfold. Diesel and Statham play particularly well off of each other, both having a grand old time that makes Statham feel like he was always meant to be a part of this series, despite making his debut in the seventh movie. Likewise, Russell settles nicely into a role that begs to be the series’ brand new government dick, with his love of craft beer and devil-may-care disposition making him a welcome contrast to other government agent stereotypes in action movies.
There’s little to read into beyond the themes and character traits that Furious 7 wears proudly on its sleeve, even in the case of Brian, who is torn between his new family, and his old life with Dom. Inevitably, things will be ok for Brian, particularly since audiences have to say goodbye to both his character and Paul Walker after this movie. On this note, there’s a genuine tear-jerking tribute to Walker that plays after a new ending that was shot in the wake of his death, and it’s beautifully done. Even in a movie franchise as brainless as this one, it’s very heartfelt to see the cast and crew pay their respects and send off their dear departed leading man, and audiences will feel the love as well, with Walker not possibly being able to get a better send-off than he gets here. It’s even more commendable that it’s done without killing off Brian as well, which director, James Wan vowed not to do, and he kept his promise.
That’s really what makes Furious 7 stand so tall with its personalities, despite the sheer lunacy of its action scenes. It’s a movie that’s made with a ton of heart, not just to make money. That shines through to audiences, and it helps to justify this long-in-the-tooth series’ continued expansion, along with Furious 7 proudly doing the same brand of insanity that the series has often done best in recent years.
Furious 7’s story is a bit of a hot mess, at least in terms of what is actually unfolding. At the heart of it all though, the movie is simply about a family having to come together in a time of crisis. In a way, it’s subject matter that’s especially well-suited to the filmmakers, the actors and the audience alike all coming together to mourn Paul Walker, though even if Walker’s tragic death hadn’t occurred, the movie still presents a surprisingly effective plot, with a simple, but well-executed message.
Again though, fans of Fast and Furious know not to place too much emphasis on the events of the story itself, which rapidly deteriorate into more and more craziness as the movie goes on. The basic idea is that Dom is given a deal by a government agent, after the brother of his group’s former nemesis, Owen Shaw comes looking for revenge. The agency will serve Shaw’s vengeful brother, Deckard up on a platter for Dom, if Dom and his team gets a piece of software for the government called God’s Eye, which can track anyone, anywhere, using anything with an electronic grid. Yes, it’s no doubt an impossibly convenient macguffin, but hey, this is Fast and Furious we’re dealing with.
From there, the movie just moves from one entertaining set piece to the next, constantly trying to top its increasing counts of destruction and character carelessness. Dom’s crew remains the most conspicuous band of racers on the planet, having zero actual credibility in the field of espionage, but that doesn’t matter. This is a movie that’s all about the action, and it delivers on that front.
The rest is just details.
Former series director, Justin Lin seemed to have a great formula down for Fast & Furious and Fast Five at least, having stuck with the series since the likes of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which debuted nearly a decade ago. With Lin exiting the franchise to direct Paramount’s next Star Trek movie however, former Saw director, James Wan has taken up the reins of Furious 7. Turns out, this changing of the guard proved to be highly beneficial for a series that looked like it was running on fumes by the previous Fast and Furious 6.
While Wan could have done with losing a bit of the shaky cam, no doubt a side effect of his history as a horror movie director before this, Wan has made the jump from low-budget horror to massive action blockbuster spectacle with surprising aplomb! His action scenes are intense without being convoluted, and his character direction is sublime, getting all of the charm possible out of long-running leads that audiences somehow still won’t be sick of. Everything feels more fresh and polished than the series has in a while, with Wan’s direction making everything feel invigorated and lively, in a very well-polished final film!
Realizing a barely half-completed movie after the death of one of its core leads was no small feat, and that’s before the need to make it engaging and entertaining. Wan has done wonderful work with the rough hand he’d been dealt with Furious 7, producing a high-quality sequel that triumphantly speeds along as if these movies haven’t aged a day since 2001. In a way, that’s even more impressive than realizing an original new blockbuster.
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK
Furious 7’s music suite is once again packed with the most timely hits possible, at least in terms of the realms of hip-hop and synth. The soundtrack is nicely slick and exotic though, enhancing Furious 7’s sense of novelty and adventure exceptionally. Like a pimped-out cutting-edge import car, it will only feel novel and interesting for so long, but damn if the music of Furious 7 doesn’t exude with impressive sheen for the time of its release!
The rest of the audio is even more impressive, with the roar of engines, the crunch of metal and the grind of wheels sounding with more impressive automotive fury than ever! IMAX showings will provide an especially mighty showcase of high-quality vehicular warfare, with deafening might behind each of the fast-paced action scenes and their mighty beasts of metal and diesel. Even in a standard showing however, every action scene captures the attention and adrenaline of the audience with every iota of possible engagement.
As sad as it is, Brian is one of the best effects that Furious 7 manages, with Paul Walker being digitally re-created using body doubles, stunt doubles and old recorded dialogue, including Walker’s brothers, Caleb Walker and Cody Walker. It’s surprisingly seamless to have Brian inserted into the scenes that Walker wasn’t able to complete before his passing, and the movie doesn’t seem addled by having to digitally insert Walker’s likeness into a bunch of scenes that don’t have him.
Of course, beyond the commendable job placing Brian into these scenes, the action beats are certainly no slouch either. While CGI is still used here and there, many of the high-octane stunts of Furious 7 are still done with good old handmade stuntpeople, giving at least some credibility to the increasingly ludicrous action scenes that this series offers with each new installment. In the case of Fast and Furious 6, the hand-to-hand bouts seemed to clearly outclass the vehicular warfare, but in Furious 7, both the vehicular carnage and hand-to-hand scraps stand equally toe-to-toe, presenting an action blockbuster that feels satisfying and tightly-choreographed all around.
Furious 7 was released in 3D in some international territories, but I can’t comment on the 3D cut, as it wasn’t made available in North America. My screening was however in IMAX, and I can safely say that the IMAX cut is pretty sharp! The increased screen real estate adds a cool sense of scale to the already impressive action scenes, and as I mentioned, the impressive audio work gets all the more mighty and engaging when viewed in the IMAX cut. Those who prefer a standard digital screening, or don’t have the option of seeing an IMAX showing, will still find a very well-produced action movie that fits theatrical screens and speakers most comfortably, but if you have the means to spring for the IMAX cut of Furious 7, I recommend that you do so. It’s very satisfying!
Furious 7 remains unburdened by the need to base itself in any form of physical reality, but the movie is better for it. Its stylish action and slick visual design that only uses sparing use of CGI, all feels very exciting to watch, so long as you’re fine with leaving your brain at the door.
Furious 7 overcomes the overwhelming odds against it, and makes it look easy. Despite being the seventh movie in a franchise that should be overstaying its welcome at this point, Furious 7 is confident, entertaining and heartfelt. It’s a triumphant, emotional send-off to Paul Walker, and it’s a highly entertaining, action-packed blockbuster on its own merits. It also could very well be the new champion of the Fast and Furious series, despite the previous movie really starting to appear tired.
Naturally, if you never liked these movies before, Furious 7 won’t change your mind about them. It’s still the same realism-be-damned extravaganza of mind-blowing vehicular action sequences and raw, unapologetic thrills. The franchise probably isn’t going to break that mould. Despite that though, Furious 7 is a great reminder of why this series has become blockbuster comfort food. When it sets out with the right inspiration, the right script, and the right stunts, it doesn’t need realism. It doesn’t need sense. It just needs to entertain, and Furious 7 does so, effortlessly.
So, if you just want a fast-paced good time, Furious 7 is a great early kick-off to May’s start of the Summer blockbuster festivities. It’s still without a brain, but it’s got more than enough heart to spare.
Furious 7 is an incredible surprise success, revitalizing its long-running series with spectacular stunts and action, and providing an emotional, heartfelt send-off to the late Paul Walker.