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In the beginning, The Fast and the Furious was basically Point Break for street racers. But just like how the original Nightmare on Elm Street series became more about Freddy Krueger the crude jester than Feddy the monster, the Fast & Furious movies have more to do with everything else you can do in a car besides race them. Things like driving them off a plane, or ride them between buildings, or outrunning a drone. You know, regular bad ass spy stuff. Furious 7 continues the bizarre 14 year evolution of this franchise, an evolution that makes this seventh film in the series look only superficially like film that started it all in 2001.

In all honesty, to review Furious 7 is almost pointless because the people that get it already love it, and the people that don’t never will. Furious 7 delivers the same over-the-top entertainment that the series became famous for in the last several installments. Of course, the biggest difference between this film and its 2013 predecessor is that it had to find a way to deal with the untimely death of star Paul Walker. That could have cast a pall over the affair, but the film remains upbeat and relentlessly crown-pleasing. If this had to be Walker’s last film, then this is how he would have wanted to go out.

The plot? Almost needlessly complicated and only meant to service the incredible stunt work and the easy camaraderie of the cast. Picking up on where the last film left off, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew are being hunted by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the bigger and badder brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), the villain of Furious 6. Sensing opportunity, a government agent called Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) offers Dom, Brian (Walker) and the others a chance to get back at Shaw by helping him recover what’s basically the Machine from Person of Interest, an all-knowing, all-seeing computer program that can track anyone.

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Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) come along with Dom and Brian to rescue Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), the computer genius who developed the program, which is unironically called God’s Eye. The villain is Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), some kind of mercenary who undoubtedly wants God’s Eye for nefarious reasons. From there, all that matters is that you’re willing to shake off any presumption that the laws of physics need apply to any of the goings on in the two hour twenty minute running time.

But this isn’t wall-to-wall action, Furious does have its quieter character moments. Rodriguez does more than her tough chick routine as Letty struggles to get her memory back, Brian struggles with downsizing his racing car to a minivan as a family man, and Dom feels conflicted about potentially leading his family to ruin. Gibson and Bridges keep up with the good comic relief back and forth, and Game of Thorne’s Emmanuel manages to fit in quite easily with the well-adjusted chemistry of the core group.

Under the direction of James Wan, who takes over for future Star Trek helmer Justin Lin who’s been the overseer of the Fast & Furious series since part three Tokyo Drift, Furious 7 ups the Mission: Impossible quotient to stratospheric new heights. The ludicrousness (pun intended?) of the stunts and the set pieces remind one of the heyday of the pre-Casino Royale James Bond movies, the idea that each new mission, each new entry, has to be bigger than the last. The heroes herein may not have super-powers, but for all intents and purposes they are super-human. And their cars do more before 5 am than yours does over the entirety of its lifespan.

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The actors, we know, can do all this in their sleep. Screenwriter Chris Morgan too, who has also been with the franchise since Tokyo Drift, can also cook this stuff up while only firing at half-power. The real question mark here going in was Wan, who comes off of numerous low budget horror films like Saw, The Conjuring, and Insidious. It would not be inconceivable to think that something this huge would have overwhelmed a filmmaker used to working with much smaller budgets and a much smaller scale, but fortunately, this is a well-oiled machined that Wan walked into. He puts his own stamp on it sure, occasional bits of directorial flourish, but Wan proves himself more than able to handle a production this immense.

This thing is the Avengers: Age of Ultron of action movie tough guys, even more so than something like The Expendibles, because it feels like no matter how much screen time a person gets it feels like they’re being used to their maximum potential. Tony Jaa, for instance, doesn’t have more that three lines, but he leaves a lasting physical impression as one of Jakande’s henchman. Dwayne Johnson, who returns as DSS agent Hobbs, doesn’t get a lot to do in this outing, but his few scenes include flexing his way out of a cast, and driving an ambulance off a bridge like a stunt driver. He even channels Jack Nicholson from Batman at one point.

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Johnson isn’t the only one that gets to play with his iconic status. All the new players seem to be tailor made for their parts, or at least their parts seem tailor made for them. Statham is basically playing Statham. We don’t really get any personal insights into Deckard beyond the plot driven necessity for revenge, which is fine. Let Statham be Statham I always say. Russell is a presence that’s been missing from movie screens for far too long, and he adds so much cool to the thankless part of the government boss that he just has to turn up in future installments.

Future installments? Yes, despite Walker’s untimely passing there will assuredly be a Furious 8. The fascinating thing about the Fast and the Furious series is its organic growth, changing from one film to the next according to the ideas and the insight of the filmmaking team. So many producers are going into one movie while thinking about what comes next in parts two through five, but the Furious movies show the joy and accomplishment of just going with the flow and being spontaneous. It’s a lesson to everyone in the movie business that getting one movie right, and thinking about it one story at a time, is just as valid a way to build a series that can get everyone excited each new entry as the extensive pre-planning route.

It also makes the series that much harder to predict. What direction might the series go in now, especially with Walker’s story over? Lucas Black would be an obvious successor, and the movie shows the rest of his story from Tokyo Drift and how it interconnects with the rest of the films since, so it might be nice for him to carry on with the group. In the meantime, Furious 7 assures that this series can continue with the same strength and vigor its had in the last several outings, and though a key piece of the puzzle maybe gone, Paul Walker’s real legacy could be that he helped build something that’s bigger than any one actor.

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I have a few more words about how Walker’s passing relates to the movie ends. Spoilers follow so we’ll give you a countdown if you don’t want to know more.

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In the end, Brian is more or less written out with the implication that he and Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their growing family are going to stay away from further high octane adventures. These are the scenes where it’s quite obvious that Walker’s two brothers had subbed for him, but they are also scenes that break the forth wall, and are more about Diesel saying goodbye to his friend Walker than it is about Dom letting Brian lead a boring life away from death-defying stunts.

Honestly, if you don’t get a lump in your throat as the music plays and Diesel monologues, all while he and Walker (with CG assistance) go for one last ride, you’re inhuman. Paul Walker may not have been the most talented actor, or pursued the most diverse series of roles, but his affable nature and charm helped make the Fast and Furious series the success it’s become. Whatever happens with future films, it showed a lot of heart and sincerity to take time out of a big tentpole movie to basically let cast and crew grieve for a friend, and it’s another reason why Furious 7 is a movie unlike any other.

Category: Film, reviews

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