Film Review: Furious 7

Furious 7 wastes no time in establishing a new mortal enemy for the crew of street racers led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker); in the opening moments, haunting the hospital room of a comatose Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), the group’s previous nemesis, is the elder brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, the Transporter himself).

As the Fast and Furious franchise has increasingly relied on the notion of family – now emphasized more than ever for the series’ farewell to lead actor Paul Walker – to counterbalance its physics-defying vehicular mayhem, it is only fair that the antagonists should have relatives too.

“Everyone’s looking for the thrill,” asserts Dominic at one point, setting the tone, “but what’s real is family.”

Furious 7
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Directed by James Wan.
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Kurt Russell, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa.

Having dispatched Han (Sung Kang) during the end credits to Fast & Furious 6 – which further served to reconcile all six films so far into a clear chronology – Deckard pursues the rest of the team stateside, hell-bent on vengeance.

As a set-up, it could hardly be simpler. But thanks to an ever-expanding roster of characters and the underlying adrenaline addiction that keeps producing bigger, higher-calibre sequels, things quickly get complicated.

In order to stop Shaw, Dominic makes a deal with covert ops squad leader Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). If Dominic and his crew help rescue a hacker called Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) from the mercenary Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou, playing the terrestrial version of his Guardians of the Galaxy character), they can use Ramsey’s creation, a groundbreaking people-tracker called God’s Eye, to locate Shaw.

All of this occasions the reassembling of the team for yet another off-books mission with the full financial backing (and surely the complete disavowal) of the U.S. government. 

Their destinations include the remote Caucasus Mountains, for an ambush on a heavily armed convoy; the United Arab Emirates, where Dominic drives a supercar through the void between Abu Dhabi’s lofty Etihad Towers, dozens of storeys above the ground; and ultimately – bringing things full circle – Los Angeles, where the climax unfolds, upping the ante with a weaponized aerial drone.

Dwayne Johnson returns as agent Luke Hobbs, joining Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej (Chris Bridges), Mia (Jordana Brewster), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) – who is still spouting subpar wisecracks as the token voice of incredulous reluctance.

This being a Furious movie, each major interaction between the players involves fast-moving vehicles, with an occasional exception for a gunfight accentuated by mixed martial arts. To this end, Ong-Bak star Tony Jaa plays a close-combat specialist serving under Jakande, repeatedly facing off with O’Conner, and UFC champion Ronda Rousey makes an appearance as a billionaire’s head of security, putting her toe to toe with Rodriguez’s Letty.

Since its fifth instalment, the Fast and Furious franchise has focused less exclusively on street racing, pivoting instead toward less specialized fare with more global box-office appeal: at this point, it combines the high-stakes, destination-hopping intrigue of James Bond with the amped-up, “ensemble cast before plot” approach of The Expendables – and with as much willy-nilly use of excessive firepower as either of those properties.

Director James Wan is a series newcomer, but he serves up car chases and gunfights like an old hand, employing cameras that spin with the choreography as characters tumble and flip one another.

Furious 7’s Caucasus highway scene in particular is a sprawling action sequence worthy of Michael Bay (like much of the script’s lowest-common-denominator humour), and might be a high point for the series – an observation which can be taken literally, since it begins with our heroes parachuting out of a plane (inside their cars, of course) and ends with O’Conner dangling over a cliff edge on a teetering bus chassis.

Eventually, the time comes to wind down this instalment, which means bidding farewell to Brian O’Conner and also – transcending story arcs and movie franchises – to Paul Walker himself. A few choice snippets of footage comprise a tasteful if heavy-handed swan song; with 14 years of Fast and Furious in the rearview, nostalgia comes easily.