Furious Seven Review

(3.5 STARS)

The spectre of death hangs heavy over Furious 7, the latest in the mega-crazy-super-duper popular franchise based around the words “fast,” “furious,” and “family.” The big elephant in the room, of course, is the untimely death of Paul Walker, one of the franchise’s stars, which occurred off-set while filming was underway. His character is present throughout the film—a combination of stand-ins and CGI helped director James Wan complete his film without any signficant rewrites. But even discounting the meta-ness of what’s going on with Walker, Furious 7 is full of talk of funerals, tearful goodbyes, and “meeting our maker.”

In other words, the stakes and the body count in this edition are higher than any other Fast and Furious film. But what makes this one so special is that it doesn’t for a second betray the spirit of the franchise. You’ll sit waiting for something grim to go down, but instead, Diesel and his cohorts go sappy and earnest and it’s so stupid but it’s so not stupid too.

“The sins of London have come home.” It’s a potentially cheesy tag line for this movie, as well as an actual line of dialogue. It’s also the very best way to briefly sum up the plot of Furious 7. After stopping the maniacally power-hungry Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), the fast and furious family is threatened by his terrifying brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). He kills Han (Sung Kang) in Tokyo—an event we saw in both The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious 6—and detonates a bomb at the residence of the O’Conners, Brian (Walker), Mia (Jordana Brewster), and their little son Jack. They survive, as does Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) who gets thrown out of a fourth-story window, but all are put on notice.

This sets Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), their crew’s leader and Mia’s brother, on a collision course with Shaw. He’s been busy trying to help his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) regain her memory, but that gets put on hold when a shadowy government agent called Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) promises Dom he can get him Shaw in exchange for his help in obtaining a powerful tracking device called God’s Eye. Fine, Toretto says, but they’ll be using his crew, his family.

It’s at this point that the film’s action really heats up. The two set pieces that define this film’s middle act are the two best of the entire series. Cars fall from the sky in the Caucacus Mountains, while a party in Abu Dhabi goes, um, over the edge. Furious 7 will arguably end up being the movie of 2015 that must be seen in theaters. These sequences deserve the biggest screen and loudest sound system possible, and Wan deserves a ton of credit for directing them with coherence and flair. (The same can’t be said about his hand-to-hand combat scenes, but that’s arguably the film’s only drawback.)

Acting-wise, you ought to know better than to expect Oscar-caliber work, but that doesn’t mean these actors—some of whom are five or six films into these characters—don’t know how to give the people what they want. Vin Diesel is perfect—the ultimate softie who’s chiseled like the statue of David. Tyrese Gibson is, as always, an excellent comedic sidekick. Michelle Rodriguez’s character gets a major upgrade over where she stood in Fast & Furious 6. And both Russell and Nathalie Emmanuel fit the family like a glove as an irreverent agent and a sexy hacker, respectively.

Then, there’s Walker. The series asked him to do less and less as it went along, which was probably fine. That trend continues here. He’s along for the ride with Diesel and has some moments where he wonders if what he’s doing is worth it considering his growing family and the danger they’ve been put in. Ultimately, however, his and his character’s contributions to this film will be remembered for the way in which he exits. Even those without a connection to this series or these characters will find themselves moved. It’s hard not to when the film so wears its emotions on its sleeve.

With more than a billion dollars in the bank, it should come as no surprise that an eighth F&F film has received the green light. I think it’s great. Screenwriter Chris Morgan knows these characters well and has proved more than able to adapt and keep his audience engaged. What started out as a Point Break rip off has morphed into Mission: Impossible with a brief stop at Ocean’s 11 on the way. And while we don’t know exactly the future holds for Dom and Letty and Roman and Tej and Hobbs, we now know these filmmakers are capable of something creatively awesome, so bring the next mission on.

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