Furious 7 Is An Action-Packed Finale To The 15-Year-Old Franchise.

Furious 7.
Director:James Wan.
Writers: Chris Morgan, with characters by Gary Scott Thompson.
Actors: Vinn Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrere Gibson (gasp for breath) Ludacris, Jordana Brewster, Elsa Pataki, Sung Kang, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, Lucas Black and Bow Wow.
Opens at: Wide.

Warning: This review assumes you're not some weirdo that is seeing his/her first Fast & the Furious movie with Furious 7. Therefore, yes, it will include spoilers up to and including the events of Fast & Furious 6.

I still remember the night that I saw the first The Fast & the Furious movie back when I was still in high school.

It was at the Cinemark Legacy theater in Plano, it was a Friday night and the theater was packed with kids my age, plus some older dudes in their 20s. After the movie ended, there was a huge wave of applause. And, out in the parking lot, every single idiot with a vehicle — be it a Kia or a tricked-out Acura — was revving its engines and peeling out of the parking lot. I even remember my buddy Ryan saying he wanted to somehow install NOS in his new motorcycle.

Clearly, this movie hit a nerve with us young whippersnappers. Still, we had no idea the ways in which this series would grow.

Years from now, film historians will look back at the Fast and the Furious franchise as one of the more impressive achievements of world-building and serialization in film. No kidding. This series has truly grown well from its humble beginnings as a car-themed Point Break rip-off to this sprawling series of increasingly elaborate stunts. Its plots calls back to itself with better continuity than most TV shows. Now, it its seventh time around, the franchise continues the hot streak it's been on since Fast Five, and in a way that expands and emotionally ends the whole series.

Furious 7 opens with introduction of Jason Statham's character, Deckard Shaw. He just so happens to be the big Black Ops brother of Fast & Furious 6's main villain, Owen Shaw, and we see the path of destruction that Deckard leaves in his wake just to see his brother in the hospital. This scene perfectly sets up the almost super-human threat that Shaw presents to our heroes. At this point, we know too that Shaw is the man who killed fan-favorite character Han during the events of Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift , and that he's also out for revenge on the rest of our protagonists. And so the table is set: Furious 7 is a movie filled with high stakes and tension; not only is this the “last” movie in the series, but our favorite characters are also being actively hunted.

It's also important to note, too, that Paul Walker's death looms throughout the whole movie. I'm not sure how much of this movie was written before or after his death, but there are so many instances where Brian, his character, is put in dangerous scenarios — and, knowing the tragic events of his death, one can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of dread each time. This isn't to say that the movie is exploitative of Walker's tragedy. But it does bring some severity to it.

This movie marks a radical change for the series in that it's the first one directed by James Wan of Saw fame. Wan's style is immediately evident here for fans of that franchise; his directing during the hand-to-hand combat scenes is more intimate, and there's a notable increase in CGI, which takes away some from the old-school feel of the previous movies.

That's a little weird, since this franchise's strength has been its continuity. Still, the movie handles even this well. Events and characters of movies past all have some type of call-back and are consequential to each movie's plot. In this instance, everybody — and I mean everybody — that's still alive or isn't in jail makes an appearance or gets referenced. It's a charming ploy. There's no real reason to show Hobbs' (Johnson) partner Elena any more — but we still see her, and we see how far she's come in her career, even if she doesn't take an active part of the plot. It truly feels like a “best-of” for the entire franchise, and a fitting tribute .

Speaking of Hobbs: One of the most interesting things of the movie is how sparsely he's used. This is interesting because, as Saturday Night Live recently put it, he's become “franchise Viagra” for this series. But it ends up being a great choice for the filmmakers to trust in the original core group. Now reduced to Dom (Diesel), Letty (Rodriguez), Brian (Walker), Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Gibson), the smaller group keeps the movie feeling much more efficient, and it reinforces the themes of family and sticking together. Despite all of this, series' newcomers Kurt Russell and Jason Statham are a great addition to the cast, too. Russell especially steals the show as “Mr. Nobody,” a guy whose quick wit and deadpan delivery brings humor a movie that needs it. He's a secret military type who recruits Dom and the crew to rescue a hacker that designed a MacGuffin program called the God's Eye.

Also, given that this is a series that's obviously known for its cars, let me tell you, they spared no expense here. There's muscle cars, neon racing cars, armor-reinforced SUVs and even a seven-of-a-kind prototype. The car stunts are some of the most elaborate of the series so far. There are cars falling out of airplanes — a whole sequence described by Roman as “car Hot Potato” — and viewers can expect to see some expensive cars get completely obliterated, as is par for course.

Still, the film does want to pull at your heartstrings, too. It does so mostly through Walker's Brian, as he tries to be a good husband and father instead of an action hero. While it has an awkward execution, it works well enough as a bow being put on the series, and it's a nice enough lesson — especially for those of us that have grown up with the franchise since our teens.

If there's a weak part of the movie, it's the editing and the fairly contrived plot. The movie is very episodic in its “action scene – banter – set up for next action scene – rinse – repeat” structure. Keeping in mind that this series has never had deep plot points, this story still stands out as one of the weakest of the bunch. It feels more like a collective of situations and characters thrown together to push the film along. Fun as Russell's Mr. Nobody is, for example, his main purpose is simply to justify the expensive cars and suits the crew rocks while driving them.

But the fact remains: The Fast & Furious franchise is still, by far, one of the most unique surprises to come out of modern blockbuster film-making. Beginning with Tokyo Drift's venture to a foreign country and then with Fast Five's revelation that the events of Tokyo Drift take place in the future, it created a story that took years to fully pay off in a satisfying manner. It also has the distinction of being one of the most diverse casts in Hollywood today. The main cast is not only multinational, but there are various strong female leads who are dynamic characters instead of just arm candy. Whereas most studios are now trying to make movies with simplistic plots to market to foreign countries, FF goes about this by having characters of color and highlighting the culture of foreign countries.

In the end, Furious 7 serves both as an expansion to the world of Dom, Brian and the rest of family as renowned drivers and essentially super heroes. As of this writing, there is no official word on an eighth installment — but money talks and the writers claim to have laid the groundwork for another movie if Hollywood wants one. As of now, however, this movie serves as a victory lap for the entire franchise. More importantly, it serves as a fitting tribute to the work of Paul Walker. And while the series could still go on, it serves as a great ending for this Brian's time with the family and their adventures.

Grade: B+.

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