It barely takes fifteen minutes into Furious 7 before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham go head to shaven head in a landscape-rearranging dust-up that ends in broken bodies and a smoldering building. In any other film franchise, a clash of such titanic action hero proportions would indubitably be the headline act, but here it’s merely the warmup, with everything just getting dialed up exponentially from then on out.
With heroes who express more through their fists than their faces, cheesetastic one-liners, an admittedly holey narrative and a Wile. E Coyote-like disregard for the laws of physics, Furious 7 is infectious B-movie shlocky fun with triple-A production values. The result is the best live-action adaptation of a non-existent 1980’s Saturday morning cartoon that you will see this year. And if you thought that you would have to wait for the new Terminator movie later in the year to see two robotic, musclebound, walking acts of destruction throw down in an earth shattering brawl, then a third act fight between the aforementioned Statham and star Vin Diesel may have something to say about that.
In fact, Furious 7 has a few things to say, even though they are mainly repeats about the series’ themes of family and loyalty. And although most of this is said through mono-syllabic grunts and macho posturing, there’s an authentic emotional weight added to proceedings by the very real tragedy of star Paul Walker’s off-screen death. Faced with an almost impossible logistical and personal situation, director James Wan and his crew managed to not only believably pull off the digital smoke ‘n mirrors to get around Walker not being able to complete shooting his scenes – the seams of their patchwork occasionally rear their head if you pay extremely close attention – but also admirably tweaked the script to give the late actor a truly moving and heartfelt send-off/eulogy that will probably leave a lump in a few throats.
While I think Fast Five still pips Furious 7 at the post when it comes to the overall best quality product in this series, it’s hard to deny that potent combination of bleeding heart and fun action here. And Wan, taking over the directing reins from long-time franchise architect Justin Lin, makes it all work like a finely tuned engine. Yes, he occasionally gets a little too “hip hop music video” in his direction, but you would never say that this is the man who up until now has only been known for micro-budget, slow burn horror tales like The Conjuring.
With a game central cast also including Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, helped out by such martial arts standouts as mauy thai movie star Tony Jaa and UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, Wan expertly stages and choreographs a non-stop barrage of highly-inventive and even more highly-explosive setpieces that just stop never pumping along. Hell, there’s more exciting action to be found in the film’s final act alone than most movies boast in their entire running time, and it never gets tedious thanks to Wan and co never seeming to run out of new ways to make things go boom.
For the record, the reason for all this pyrotechnics is Statham’s Deckard Shaw, an ex-super assassin who just so happens to be the protective big brother of Luke Evans’ Owen Shaw, last seen being crippled by Diesel’s Dom Toretto and his “familia” in Fast & Furious 6. Shaw the elder doesn’t take too kindly to this and starts hunting down the crew one by one, starting with Sang Kung’s Han. And in so doing finally brings this surprisingly ambitious narrative full circle with 2006’s Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, while also tying off every disparate story thread that’s been left behind in the entire series until now.
Meanwhile Kurt Russell’s shadowy G-Man needs a crew with plausible deniability to pull off a series of daring jobs around the globe and prods and pokes Toretto and friends into service. The deal sweetener? The job they’re assigned is to rescue Nathalie Emmanuel’s Ramsey, the creator of a revolutionary new piece of tracking tech known as “God’s Eye” which will in turn allow Dom to track down the location of the slippery Shaw and take the fight to him.
But really, the previous two paragraphs can readily just be summarized as “obligatory reasons to hit people/drive fast cars/hit people with fast cars/blow everything else up spectacularly”. This is not a movie to come to for multi-layered characters and thought-provoking plots. And with the franchise now become so completely self-aware, knowing exactly how much its universe errs on the side of superhero cartoon ridiculousness and playing up all that this in-joke entails to maximum enjoyment for both the audience and the filmmakers, this is not only perfectly okay, but is in fact a massive drawcard of cynicism-free escapism.
With all the eye boggling action beat highs, the nostalgic nods back to every single entry in the F&F franchise thus far, and of course that incredibly poignant and genuinely touching send-off for one of the series’ most beloved actors, I truly believe that Furious 7 is the absolute perfect high note to call it a day on this series. Not because I don’t want to see any more of these movies – hell, no! – but rather because I just don’t know how they can possibly top the action packed spectacle on display here.
Last Updated: April 1, 2015