Anything you could ask from a blockbuster action film, Furious 7 does it twice for good measure. Big action, gravity-defying car shenanigans, and unstoppable macho energy make for a ridiculously fun ride. Yes, some sloppy editing bogs down director James Wan’s more-is-more finale, but that’s only in comparison to the other set pieces, which are damn near flawless. Fans of the action genre will want to catch this one early and often.
The Fast and the Furious gang is back, and this time they’re being hunted by a renegade killing machine who eats badass for breakfast! Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) comes to America and quickly annihilates the house of team leader Dom (Vin Diesel), disrupts the domestic bliss of Brian (Paul Walker), and beats the ever-loving hell out of Agent Dobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson). The opening scene, which features a demolition-style fist fight between Statham and The Rock, sets a pretty high standard for the rest of the film. Not only is it a perfectly choreographed villain introduction, it’s an assured introduction into the action genre for horror guru James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious).
Each character in the crew gets a chance to shine. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) tries to piece together her shattered memory, Brian struggles to adapt to family life, while Geek Squad leader Tej (Ludacris) and smooth operator Roman (Tyrese Gibson) crack wise and drive furiously. The newest members of the cast are a computer savant named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) and mysterious operative Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who wants Ramsey’s morally-questionable tracking program. If Dom can recover the program from uber-terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), Mr. Nobody will help them eliminate Deckard Shaw before he can unleash three shades of Hell. It’s an elegant story structure that provides plenty of opportunities for outlandish action and last-second heroics.
Family is a big theme in this franchise, and the untimely passing of Paul Walker only adds to that dimension in Furious 7. His death, which could have been exploited for cheap dramatic effect, is delicately blended into a story about the lengths people will go to protect their own. Wan and longtime Furious screenwriter, Chris Morgan, must be commended for their cinematic handling of a tragic real-world situation.
Emotional flourishes and pop psychology aside (Vin Diesel might be dubbed ‘Zen’ Diesel after this movie), the real star of the show is the slam-bang action. Wan keeps multiple threads unraveling simultaneously, usually involving fist fights in one corner and car chases in another. Mix in a steady stream of hot lead and space-aged gadgetry and you have the formula for some serious fun. It doesn’t hurt that he sprinkles in some beefcake and bouncing booties for the hormonally-challenged, either.
The film’s signature sequence combines multiple levels of daring do, with Dom’s crew chasing a cadre of heavily-armed sleazeballs along a perilous mountain pass. We get kung-fu fighting in tractor-trailers, car chases down a mountain precipice, rocket launchers, people leaping between speeding cars, and a HALO-style jump sequence that expertly blends CGI, practical effects, and some killer one-liners. It’s a pattern that Wan repeats for all the major set pieces, but it never looks or feels better than it does here. It’s action filmmaking at its thrilling best.
Wan also does a respectable job keeping us oriented during the mayhem. He isn’t afraid to let action scenes unfold rather than shredding them into nonsensical micro-second fragments. Furious 7 feels like the direct descendant of big-budget ‘90s actioners that Stallone has been trying to re-create in his Expendables franchise.
Ironically, it’s an Expendables staple, Statham, who shines brightest. Wan understands that you don’t overuse your monster; Statham’s sudden eruptions of violence maximize the chaos and carnage. The Rock also has a blast chewing up the scenery in his limited screen time. The cast works together beautifully, using their familiarity to accentuate the understated humor. There are some big laughs in Furious 7, most of which are intentional.
That’s not to say it’s a perfect film. It is way too long, which you really feel during the epic final sequence that involves helicopters, drones, racecars, building demolition, and the dreaded computer status bar. Here, Wan and his editor struggle to find the right balance between the various character threads. You almost forget what’s happening to some characters before they finally re-appear in a different place. It gives you a new appreciation for something like the ending to Inception, where Christopher Nolan makes this type of complicated juggling look almost pedestrian.
Still, it’s hard to imagine action junkies not getting their fix from Furious 7. Larger-than-life characters do larger-than-life things with lots of ‘splosions happening around them. It’s hard to say whether there will be more installments in this continually-evolving franchise, but it will almost certainly have a different look and feel. With Walker gone, Diesel might be advised to start fighting crime with a new crew of lovable scoundrels. That’s for executives and industry analysts to figure out. For now, just enjoy this quality action film for the absurdly fun romp that it is.
— J.R. Kinnard