“Furious 7” Movie Review

     It was clear after viewing 2013’s “Fast and Furious 6” that in order to fully enjoy any upcoming installments in the series, you best adopt Catherine Tramell’s philosophy on suspension of disbelief.  If not, you’re in for two hours of constant eye rolling and snickering courtesy of some of the most ridiculous and far fetched stunts and action sequences ever committed to film.  And I have yet to refer to “Furious 7”, the latest chapter in the long running “Fast and Furious” franchise which has somehow found a way to up the ante in the crazy action scene department by having the series’ signature cars finding a way to fly, whether it be out of airplanes or through one skyscraper to another.  Now how can the filmmakers constantly get away with this foolishness you might ask?  After all, the first three films in the series stayed, for the most part, grounded in reality, relying primarily on the exhilaration of illegal quarter mile car races and the personalities behind the characters who were at the wheel.  After the first three films milked that particular trope to its absolute maximum, Vin Diesel, who had only appeared in the first film at that point, stepped in and reinvented the franchise.  The rest, as they say, is history.

     2009’s “Fast and Furious”, the fourth film, reunited the original cast, including Diesel, and began the trend which would define the next three films to follow.  You may recall an early scene in that film where Dom (Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) were faced head on with a fiery tanker truck rolling on its side down a hill and directly towards them.  Dom then revs his engine and waits calmly until the moment is right to drive directly toward the tanker truck and time it just right as it rolls in the air and our hero’s car rumbles under it and out of harms way.  It’s funny how scenes like that appear a whole lot more plausible after viewing “Fast Five”, “Fast and Furious 6”, and now “Furious 7” where I can only assume the next logical step will be borrowing Rick Deckard’s flying police cars from “Blade Runner” and showing up with it at one of the franchise’s signature street races.  What else could they possibly do?  Could this be why the first name of the villain in “Furious 7” is actually Deckard?

     I thought highly of 2011’s “Fast Five”, which featured the introduction of Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs character and an “Ocean’s 11” style plot that fit seamlessly with Dom’s crew and their high end criminal operation.  Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who has been with the series since the third film, along with director Justin Lin, injected “Fast Five” with several notable action sequences including a foot chase through the favelas in Rio de Janeiro and a massive car chase in which two muscle cars pull a stolen bank vault through the city’s streets with an army of police cars in pursuit.  In my opinion, this is where the franchise reached its peak, but the allure for all involved when considering the film’s substantial box office take meant more installments were surely coming.

     With 14 plus hours of screen footage, the “Fast and Furious” franchise has the kind of character development now that you would only see in a television series.  We are clearly at the point where one cannot simply walk into “Furious 7” and understand what’s going on.  The characters have been through too much and the filmmakers aren’t interested in catching the audience up.  After directing the last four installments, Justin Lin has moved on to tackle other projects, namely the next “Star Trek” film, and has been replaced by James Wan, whose previous credits include “Saw”, “Insidious”, and “The Conjuring”.  Wan’s horror roots don’t seem on the surface to be the right experience for directing a project such as “Furious 7”, but the result here certainly indicates he was not only highly capable of filling Lin’s shoes, but also has added a unique visual style to the series that gives it a different kind of polish.  Not missing are the gratuitous shots of bikini clad women and their backsides meticulously cut into nearly every scene, as these filmmakers definitely know their audience.

     “Furious 7” was meant to be a quick turn around after the Spring 2013 success of the sixth film, but tragedy struck in November 2013 when Paul Walker died in a car crash while the production was on Thanksgiving break.  Walker, who plays series regular Brian O’Conner, had completed the majority of his scenes, but his death shut down the production for months and left Universal with a decision to possibly scrap the entire project.  Rather than doing so, it was reported Wan and Morgan tweaked the script and poured over archived footage of Walker from previous films.  With the help of Peter Jackson’s WETA digital effects house, they were able to successfully use Walker’s two brothers as stand ins to complete unfinished scenes and digitally mask them with Walker’s face.  The results of which are brilliant as I would challenge anyone to try and determine which scenes in “Furious 7” are the actor and which are his digitally recreated likeness.  In essence, “Furious 7” has become the ultimate send off for an actor who was beloved by fans of the series, but also by the actors and filmmakers who have no doubt become like family over the last 14 years these films have been being produced.  The final minutes of “Furious 7” will likely send more than a few people out of the theater in tears.

     During the after credits scene in “Fast and Furious 6”, Han (Sung Kang) returned to Tokyo only to meet his demise when the ruthless brother of the sixth film’s villain, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), begins seeking revenge against Dom’s entire crew.  The brother, Deckard Shaw, comes in the form of Jason Statham, who serves as another welcome addition to the series.  Morgan’s “Furious 7” script doesn’t really go any further than that.  The story begins with attempts to kill Dom, Brian, Letty, and Mia (Jordana Brewster) by Shaw and results in the predictable reaction from Dom in which he vows to go after Shaw and kill him.  In order to make this a bit easier, Morgan writes in a convenient character called Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell hamming it up to full effect).  Mr. Nobody runs a covert government agency that is willing to bring Dom and his team together for the purpose of rescuing a computer programmer named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) from a band of terrorists.  Ramsey is the creator of a technology called “God’s Eye” that allows a user to find anyone in the world via any electronic device.  Mr. Nobody seals its validity in the eyes of the audience and the characters on screen when he states the device could’ve found Osama bin Laden in a matter of hours instead of the 10 years it actually took.

     Mr. Nobody’s deal with Dom includes the use of the “God’s Eye” to find Shaw and kill him if they are successful in their mission.  And so the film rolls into action scene after action scene, some of which are wildly creative and others seem run of the mill.  There are several of which that feature various characters in one on one martial arts inspired fist fights that seem to miss the mark only because we have seen these types of scenes done significantly better in other films (Once you watched “The Raid” and its sequel, everything else tends to be a bore.).  If you’ve watched the trailer, you’ve already seen the best stunt and the most awe inspiring shot in the whole film.  With Brian O’Connor trapped in a bus that is about to slide on its side off a cliff, he climbs out the front windshield and runs up the side of the bus as it’s falling, jumping toward the cliff for his life as Letty spins her car around at the very second he would need as he grabs the rear spoiler and lands safely on the ground.  That scene caps off a ferocious car chase sequence that begins with the crew jumping out of an airplane in their cars in an attempt to land on a secure road and attack a convoy carrying their target.  Action sequences simply don’t get much better than what “Furious 7” offers here as its centerpiece.

     The filmmakers manage to include everyone from the previous films and Morgan’s script attempts to give even those in bit roles a few one liners to stake their claim to a scene or two.  Hobbs has a couple of these moments, but is off screen for the majority of the film, as is Mia who is left with her and Brian’s child in the Dominican Republic for all but the first and last scenes.  Ever present though is Dom’s regular cast of characters that includes, Brian and Letty as well as Roman (a wise cracking Tyrese Gibson) and tech wizard Tej (Ludacris).  As the key antagonist, Statham performs just as you would expect from his previous efforts.  His presence as the main adversary for Dom doesn’t quite compare to the testosterone fueled confrontations between Dom and Hobbs in the fifth film, but he does bring his own brand of bravado which seems to work  well enough to sell the possibility that he is big enough to go toe to toe with Dom.  I really don’t understand; however, why these two feel the need to begin each fight by first surviving a purposeful head on collision before exiting their vehicles and fighting hand to hand.  I suppose there really is no explanation for any of this, since the film continually moves into “Looney Tunes” territory with every action sequence intent on outdoing anything seen previously.  Even if that means throwing every law of physics right out the window, or in this case through a skyscraper or two.  GRADE: B-