Universal Pictures presents a film directed by James Wan. Written by Chris Morgan. Produced by Neil H. Moritz, Vin Diesel, Michael Fottrell. Music by Brian Tyler. Photographed by Stephen F. Windon, Mark Spicer. Edited by Christian Wagner, Leigh Folsim Boyd, Dylan Highsmith, Kirk M. Morri. Production designed by Bill Brzeski. Costumes designed by Sanja Milkovic Hays. Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Djimon Hounsou, Kurt Russell, Michelle Rodriguez.
Furious 7 is dumb, over-the-top action nonsense, executed with superior craft, exceptional skill, and more than a little cheeky self-awareness. Its characters are charitably called cardboard. Its stunts are preposterous. To summarize the plot is to launch into merely a list of action sequences. But when the action sequences are done as well as they are here, is there that much to truly complain about? It helps, of course, to have an action movie with well-drawn characters—that can catapult it onto the list of greats (see Die Hard, Bullitt, etc). But it is not easy to make a movie like Furious 7, and whatever its flaws, it succeeds handily at being tremendous fun.
That this series has evolved this way is a surprise. The 2001 Fast and the Furious was an uninspired Point Break riff, and John Singleton’s 2003 follow-up, 2 Fast 2 Furious was more a videogame and less a movie. But something changed around Furious #3 or 4. That’s when the series hired newcomer director Justin Lin, who knows how to stage a heart-pumping action sequence, and he brought to the franchise both an irrepressible energy and a devotion to strengthening the series’ core ensemble.
Here, Lin steps aside and is succeeded by James Wan, who cut his teeth on horror films (Saw, The Conjuring). Surprisingly and encouragingly, Wan does a fine job of building on Lin’s contributions to the series: whirlwind elaborate set pieces, considerable technical ambition, and some low-grade soap opera. He even enriches the series’ already impressive all-star roster: when your franchise already has Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Michelle Rodriguez on standby, what else can you do but add Jason Statham and Kurt Russell? Indeed, the Fast films have pretty much become a more macho version of The Avengers, to such a degree that sometimes a few members have to sit out for a few minutes or so—the band is too big for everyone to be onstage jamming at once.
The story, thin as it is, involves a vengeful villain named Deckard Shaw (Statham). For reasons tied into series history, he has an axe to grind with the crew of Dominc Torretto (Diesel), which includes affable Brian (Paul Walker), the motormouth Roman (Tyrese Gibson), the laid-back hacker Tej (Ludacris), and the scrappy Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who is still working out the amnesia she had last time (don’t ask). Torretto’s team gets a mysterious benefactor, Mr. Nobody (Russell, having enormous fun), who will give them a way to find Shaw if they do a little low-profile (heh) espionage: going up against a terrorist (Djimon Honsou), rescuing a beautiful hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel), and recovering a computer program called “God’s Eye,” which can track anyone in the world. And then they can fight Shaw.
What a goofy mess that plot is, but who cares, because it strings together audacious action scenes with sly humor. There’s a heist sequence involving dueling caravans on a treacherous mountain pass. And a ridiculous climax on the streets of L.A. that involves so many scattered characters, the geography alone becomes a high-octane juggling act. One over-the-top set piece in Abu Dhabi pits Rodriguez against UFC veteran Rhonda Rousey, and while you’d think Rodriguez would be no match for Rousey, you’d be wrong. Meanwhile, Brian and Toretto are trying to steal a muscle car out of a billionaire’s top-floor penthouse, and while you’d think there’d be nowhere for that car to go, you’d also be wrong. Every goofy stunt is delivered with a “can you believe we’re doing this?” wink, which makes it endearing.
A shadow, of course, hangs over this Fast film. That would be that of Paul Walker, who died before filming all of his scenes. What remains works, and the gaps filled in with CGI and body doubles are as seamless as possible. The film closes with a tribute and dedication to Walker, who has been consistently co-lead with Diesel for this series, give or take an entry. The series will probably continue, but Walker’s exit is a fine one, and it helps that’s a part of the Fast movie that’s maybe one of the best.