Some franchises really overstay their welcome, but that’s never been the case with The Fast and The Furious. While it looked like this series was running on fumes by the time Tokyo Drift came around, the main characters from the original came back for the fourth entry which re-energized everything to a major extent. Now we arrive at Furious 7 where the action remains top notch even as the filmmakers defy logic more than ever before, and there’s also a lot of emotion and poignancy as we are reminded of what brings us back to these films more than anything else: the characters. Deep down we care a lot about Dom Toretto and his family and of what happens to them.
After vanquishing Owen Shaw in Fast & Furious 6, Toretto and company now have a new nemesis to deal with in Owen’s older brother, Deckard Shaw. Played with villainous relish by Jason Statham, Deckard vows vengeance against Dom and his crew for what they did to his brother, and he starts off by eliminating Han Seoul-oh (Sung Kang) and then obliterating the Toretto family home. This disrupts their lives as Brian O’Connor (the late Paul Walker) tries to settle down into a regular suburban life with Mia (Jordana Brewster), and the death of one of their gang forces them to take matters into their own hands.
There’s actually some quite nice about calling Furious 7 a sequel instead of a prequel or intra-sequel. The three previous entries took place before Tokyo Drift, but now we have a Fast & Furious film that actually takes place after Tokyo Drift. As a result, the fates of these characters are now up in the air more than ever, and we can’t be sure of what will happen next.
The presence of the late Paul Walker casts a heavy shadow over Furious 7 as there is no way we can watch this film without being reminded of the fiery car crash which claimed his and Roger Rodas’ life back in November 2013. It’s nice to see Walker play his star making role one last time, and his entrance into it is very inspired. Walker died halfway through filming this movie, so the filmmakers ended up using stunt doubles and CGI effects to fill in the missing blanks. Honestly, the results look seamless and I couldn’t tell how exactly they pulled it off. Just like Brandon Lee in The Crow, Walker gets one last ride that is worth the trip.
It’s also fun to see Vin Diesel back in action even as his dialogue becomes rather cringe-inducing at times. There’s certainly no replacing him as Dom Toretto, and he has a number of nice moments with Michelle Rodriguez whose character of Letty is still struggling to remember who she once was. It’s also nice to see Jordana Brewster and Dwayne Johnson back as well, and that’s even though we don’t see enough of them this time around. As for Johnson, he looks more massive than ever and has a nice little Incredible Hulk moment that will have the audiences cheering. And yes, he sure can wield an enormous machine gun like the one Jesse Ventura wielded in Predator.
Among the new additions to the franchise in Furious 7 include Kurt Russell, and it’s always great to see him in anything. Russell plays Frank Petty, a.k.a. Mr. Nobody, who heads an ultra-secret covert ops group which comes to help Dom and his crew take down Deckard. After all the law breaking Toretto and his gang did previously, it only makes sense that they team up with a group that bends the law as well. The Escape from New York star remains as cool as ever, and if they do decide to make an eighth film in this franchise I hope they bring him back for more.
Djimon Honsou also shows up as a bad guy named Mose Jakande, a character whose last name reminded my friend Courtney of some lyrics from the song Iko Iko. The Gladiator actor lends another strong villainous presence to a movie that already has one with Statham. Ronda Rousey, one of the very few bright spots in The Expendables 3, makes a cameo as a character who tries to beat the crap out of Letty. And of course, you can always count on Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges (a.k.a. Ludacris) to keep chewing each other out with glee as Roman and Tej.
Once again, the movie employs a number of stunts which defy the laws of gravity and logic among other things. But it’s our love of the characters that we don’t let it bother us much, and that’s especially the case when Dom and Brian drive an incredibly fast car from one high-rise building to another in Abu Dhabi. That moment almost tops Tom Cruise climbing up another building in that country in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Also, as I’m sure you’ve seen in the trailer, the gang parachutes out of a plane in their cars and manage to land on the ground below with relative ease (their shock absorbers may need some work though). Lord knows how you can steer a car while it is skydiving to the ground, but these drivers are all about the impossible and they make us want to buy into their craziness.
I do have to give Diesel some extra credit here. His character of Dom Toretto ends up surviving so many car crashes and head on collisions in this sequel, not to mention driving out of a parking garage as it collapses around him, to where I’m not sure how many other actors could pull that off and make you believe that would come out with only a few cuts and scratches (at least, until the movie’s last half). Only an actor like Diesel can sell that kind of survival to an audience these days, so it should be no surprise that we are willing to accept all he endures here no matter how improbable it all gets.
With Justin Lin out of the director’s chair for this installment, James Wan of Saw and Insidious fame steps behind the camera to direct his first mega-budget blockbuster. This is kind of a hard franchise to bring anything new to at this point, but Wan does bring an unexpected amount of emotion to the material. Granted, a lot of that comes from Walker’s tragic demise, but even he understands the need for the audience to be emotionally invested in these characters for a movie to work at all. Jumping from small budget films to a studio tent pole franchise is no easy feat, but Wan makes Furious 7 work as a go for broke action extravaganza that never ever lets up. He is also backed up by another kick ass music score by Brian Tyler who returns to the franchise after sitting out Fast & Furious 6.
I have to believe there’s an eighth Fast & Furious movie coming our way, but if this is to be the last one then the franchise is certainly going out on as high a note as any franchise can ever hope to. Still, I’ve got to believe there’s still some life left in this series as I am very much impressed at how long it has lasted.
At the very least, Walker gets a better and more heartfelt sendoff here than he did with Brick Mansions. Even the toughest guy in the audience is likely to shed a few tears at the dedication made to the actor’s memory. He’ll tell you he didn’t get choked up, but you can tell he’s lying to you.