Moviegoers fall into roughly two categories: Those with a decade-long love (and there really isn’t a better word) for the Fast and the Furious franchise, and those who can’t wrap their respective heads around the idea of anyone loving, letting along having any kind of affection, for the Fast and the Furious franchise. By now, moviegoers should have a clear idea where they fall. The latest entry in the seemingly unstoppable, inescapable series, Furious 7, won’t change those perceptions either way. It does what the better (“better” being a relative thing, all Fast and Furious things considered) entries have done: Throwaway, forgettable plots, fast cars (muscle and otherwise), gravity- and physics-defying stunts (aided, with increasing regularity, by CG), and hard-to-repeat (otherwise it’d be repeatable) chemistry between and among a multi-ethnic cast headlined by Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto, criminal with a hardwired “family” first code, and the late Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner, a one-time fed-turned-career criminal/wheelman for Toretto’s crew.
When we last left the Fast and Furious crew, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older, even more badass brother of Fast 6’s villain, Owen (Luke Evans, seen briefly in a hospital), had put a revenge plan in motion, killing — or rather re-killing — Han (Sung Kang), a member of Toretto’s crew (first seen expiring at the end of the third entry). It was (and is) a clever piece of retconning, but Han’s return in the later entries already played with the series’ chronology, essentially placing the third entry before Fast 6’s mid-credits sequence. Audiences, of course, rolled with the time shifting, but unsurprising given the series’ repeated penchant for logic-rejecting plot turns. Over multiple entries, the Fast and Furious series also shifted from its primary focus, street racing, to a heist template and with that shift, Bond-inspired globetrotting and the addition of a federal agent, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a onetime antagonist, to their makeshift team as a key ally.
But that’s all background for Deckard’s first appearance in Furious 7, vowing revenge on the rest of Toretto’s crew moments after laying waste to an entire police squad. He’s more Terminator than man, though director James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious, Saw), stepping in for Justin Lin, the director of entries 3-6, dials back Deckard’s power level in subsequent scenes. He’s still practically superhuman, but he’s more Steve Rogers/Captain America than Terminator. Wan wisely gives Statham not one, but two fight scenes, first with Johnson, a knockdown, glass-breaking mano-a-mano inside an empty federal building, and later, against Toretto on top of a parking garage. Deckard’s motivation, revenge, makes him, at least on paper, a singularly bland villain, but Statham, a physically gifted, charismatic actor, elevates him more than a few levels. Alas, Wan and veteran screenwriter Chris Morgan (the screenwriter of entries 3-infinity) push Hobbs offscreen for the bulk of Furious 7’s running time, only bringing him back for the action-heavy third-act climax.
Deckard’s near invulnerability (he’s Special Forces, in case you’re wondering) creates the opening plot wise for a double heist, first for a genius-level hacker, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), from mercenaries in the Caucasus Mountains, and later, the recovery of computer code necessary to hack (or re-hack?) an NSA-inspired super-surveillance program called GodsEye (or God’s Eye, it’s never spelled out), from a billionaire in the steel-and-glass towers of Abu Dhabi (c.f., Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). The globetrotting, espionage plot turn comes courtesy of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), the head of a super-secret, nameless government agency. Given that the climax involves a super-advanced drone in Los Angeles, no less, it’s obvious Wan and Morgan wanted to add topical gloss and contemporary relevance to the long-running series. It’s an unnecessary, clumsy choice, but ultimately has a minimal, negligible effect on Furious 7’s entertainment quotient.
Predictably, Furious 7 delivers in all the usual, crowd-pleasing ways. The characters audiences have come to know and love no longer fight, break up, and get back together, though Michelle Rodriguez’s character, Letty, takes an early break to find herself and her lost memories. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris), the series’ reigning comic duo, are back too, offering the usual mix of hit-or-miss jokes between necessary exposition dumps and the car-centered set pieces that have defined the series. The Caucasus Mountains set piece, a chase sequence that starts on a cargo plane and ends at the bottom of a mountain, confirms Wan’s action bona fides (if, however, still a step or two below franchise-maker Lin). It’s also one of the best in the series. Unfortunately, the final, chaotic set piece in LA feels like a major letdown (because it is).
Given the obvious difficulties and obstacles related to Walker’s untimely passing, it’s not surprising that Furious 7 suffers from pacing problems. Overall, however, they’re barely noticeable and thus minor. More importantly, Wan and Morgan give Walker’s character a proper sendoff, giving the series’ fans a much-needed sense of closure. The series will go on until Diesel and and the core cast age out of their roles or, more likely, moviegoers find another franchise to entertain them, but that’s still another half-decade away (if not longer).