Furious 7 is another solid Fast and the Furious installment - one that (flaws aside) provides a nice farewell to star Paul Walker.
Furious 7 (or Furious Seven) picks up with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew/family in Los Angeles, having left their lives as international law-breakers behind them. However, Letty's (Michelle Rodriguez) fractured memory makes it difficult for her and Dom to resume their old life together, while Brian (Paul Walker) is struggling to settle into his new life with Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their child. These issues quickly wind up being placed on the back-burner when Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) - an extremely dangerous ex-special forces operative - enters the equation and starts to wreak havoc on Dom and his family for what they did to his younger brother, Owen (Luke Evans).
The task of taking down Shaw is easier said than done, but Dom and the others soon find an unexpected ally in "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russell) - a mysterious U.S. government official who also wants Shaw out of the picture. "Mr. Nobody" therefore makes a deal with our heroes: if they help him to recover a hacking device called the God's Eye (and prevent it from falling into the hands of mercenary terrorists), then he will allow them to use the device long enough to track down and finally capture Shaw.
The Fast and the Furious movie franchise has thrived both critically and commercially in recent years, in part because installments like Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 have smartly incorporated new genre elements (and a diverse assortment of name actors) into the property's trademark high-octane racing action. This practice continues with Furious 7, as screenwriter Chris Morgan (who also penned the last four Fast and the Furious movies) has once again blended new flavors into the series' recipe for success - giving rise to a chapter that should please the franchise's growing fanbase.
Furious 7, in many ways, provides the entertainment value of multiple genre films - only presented in a single package. The first act often plays out along the lines of a 1960s/'70s thriller throwback, complete with visual flourishes that reference (fittingly) movies like Bullitt and The French Connection; the second act enters globe-trotting covert operations territory in a manner that recalls franchises like Mission: Impossible and James Bond; and by the time the third act is underway, we're in a G.I. Joe-style action/thriller (in a good way, mind you), set against a neo-Noir backdrop befitting the Fast and the Furious series.
The end result: Furious 7 gets increasingly ridiculous the further it goes, but chances are fans will be thoroughly entertained, having long ago accepted that these movies operate on a heightened version of reality (where the Fast and the Furious series' main characters have become like comic book superheroes).
Justin Lin directed the previous four Fast and the Furious movies, but James Wan took over as helmsman for Furious 7. Wan, despite being a newcomer to the world of big-budget tentpoles, manages to leave his own artistic signature on the proceedings here - incorporating visual techniques (zoom shots, vertical camera movement) as well as stylistic choices (fast-mo shots, flashy cuts) that recall his work on such horror films as Saw and The Conjuring (and, to some degree, his revenge thriller Death Sentence).
This approach, combined with the efforts of cinematographer Marc Spicer (camera operator on The Wolverine) and seasoned Fast and the Furious director of photography Stephen F. Windon, gives rise to a number of exciting and well-choreographed close-quarter fight sequences - as well as the craziest set pieces featured in this franchise to date (teased throughout the movie's trailers). However, Wan is less successful with the quieter dramatic aspects of the Furious 7 narrative. They don't fall completely flat, but the moments where characters simply talk tend to feel a little stiff and melodramatic - even by the standards of the Fast and the Furious series.
To be fair, it's difficult to tell how much the dramatic portions of Furious 7 suffered due to the death of Paul Walker, part-way through production. For example, several of the key conversations between characters feel like they must've come from script rewrites that followed Walker's passing, in order to make Brian's storyline in the film a fitting way to "retire" the character. The fact that Walker hadn't shot any action scenes before his death actually leads to some more creative staging of certain sequences (to better hide it when Walker's brothers served as his stand-ins), but ultimately there is some awkwardness that could not be avoided during the movie's non-action beats - as well as how they develop a thematic arc influenced by Walker's real-life death.
However, thanks to the sincere efforts of cast members like Brewster (who steps up her acting game during scenes that fill cracks in Mia and Brian's story) and some genuinely remarkable CGI by Weta Digital, Furious 7 gives a heartfelt sendoff to Brian O'Connor - one that will ultimately leave longtime fans of this franchise a little choked up, by the end. Walker, in the scenes that he did shoot, is as likable and charismatic as ever, as are the series' mainstays: Diesel, Brewster, and Rodriguez, along with Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Tyrese Gibson - back in their respective buddy-duo roles as Tej and Roman.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Elsa Pataky reprise as (respectively) Hobbs and Elena in Furious 7, though their screen-time is limited. Ultimately, they make the most of it - especially in the case of Johnson, who stills gets some wonderfully pulpy dialogue (and some great action). Meanwhile, Jason Statham's in standard but enjoyable Transporter acting mode, making Deckard Shaw a real threat (see: his over the top introduction during the prologue), while he's throwing down with our heroes. Kurt Russell, however, is easily the big scene-stealer among the newcomers as "Mr. Nobody", a charming, yet enigmatic and ultimately badass character who is capable of sustaining a larger role in a future installment (which is, apparently, the plan).
Real-life combat/martial arts specialists Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa aren't required to do much in Furious 7 beyond fighting and stunt work, but even with their brief screen time they leave an impression - one strong enough to even resonate with moviegoers who aren't familiar with their previous work. Meanwhile, Natalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones) doesn't get a ton to do playing Ramsey - the tech genius and inventor of the God's Eye - but holds her own during exchanges with other characters. Unfortunately, those fans eager to see Sean Bosewell (Lucas Black) from Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift may be disappointed by his brief appearance - and the terrorist profiteer Jakande would be by and large forgettable, were it not for the gravitas that Oscar-nominee Djimon Hounsou brings to the character during his scenes.
Furious 7 is another solid Fast and the Furious installment - one that (flaws aside) provides a nice farewell to star Paul Walker. It's a must-see for longtime fans (for those reasons alone), but even viewers who aren't so invested should enjoy it as a ridiculous, but exhilarating, piece of popcorn blockbuster entertainment.
As for the future: it would be fine if the series ended with Furious 7, but even after seven installments there's still (arguably) enough creative potential in the Fast and the Furious franchise to sustain another movie or two.
Furious 7 is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 137 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of frenetic violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language.
For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors, check back soon for our Furious 7 episode of the SR Underground podcast.