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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Movie Review: Furious 7

Filled with high-octane stunts and likable additions, Furious 7 roars to a tearful tribute.

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS.

Review by Matt Cummings

It goes without saying that Furious 7 has been on the minds of every moviegoer since Actor Paul Walker tragically died in 2013. Among the many questions raised was how Director James Wan would find closure for a character that wasn't supposed to die. With a frantic script re-write resulting in an extension of the release date now in its rear-view mirror, audiences this weekend get to judge whether Universal made the right decision to move forward instead of cancelling the project as some have suggested. And while it's not as effective as other entries, this one will delight audiences with its purely over-the-top action, new characters, and a touching tribute to Walker.

With Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) defeated in London, Team Furious doesn't realize that Shaw's meaner brother Deckard (Jason Statham) has vowed a blood oath to kill them. After a vicious attack that leaves Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) critically injured and Han (Dijmon Hounsou) dead, the remaining members gather to take Shaw down. But with Hobbs laid up, they'll need help which comes in the form of a shadowy operative named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell); he's got the tools including a device that can track him, provided that the team can secure the services of a tech genius that Deckard has already captured. With their newfound allies, Dominic (Vin Diesel), Brian (Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Ludcaris) travel the world to exact their own style of revenge, wrapped in steel and the roar of high-performance engines.

A review like this is particularly vexing to wrestle, as you hate to be critical about a film that was on life support after Walker's untimely death. You want to honor him, yet you're aware of one giant-sized elephant: the manner in which Walker is written out. It's the least satisfying scenario imaginable and the way Wan and Diesel envision its conclusion bears no fruit and takes zero chances. Popular opinion was to give O'Conner a violent death, because anything less would leave a huge plot hole that could never be closed. What we're given instead is a brotherly body double and Walker's head CG-ed onto it. It looks a little creepy and out of place in parts, reminding me of CLU in Tron: Legacy. At least there it was integrated into the story; here it oddly sticks out.

Experience holds true that you can't take the core out of someone no matter how hard you try. O'Conner has gasoline and NOS in his veins, which makes his rather sudden retirement all the more difficult to appreciate. There's no big "You have to quit" scene, no "I'm tired and want to quit," no big death that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Perhaps a more violent ending was discussed and ultimately shot-down by Universal, but their decision to press on makes the film less effective. The alternative would have provided for one of the most gripping endings any film had undertaken; imagine audience hatred of Deckard spanning multiple films as Team Furious tracks him down in a big kill scene to end the series. But don't get me wrong, I didn't have a huge problem with their decision, but the one I imagined would have resulted in a much more emotional - and effective - film.

Wan steps in nicely to steer this ship though one of the most difficult productions in recent memory. He has an eye both for the dramatic and for cinematic over-the-top action, the sheer amount of ridiculous stunts seemingly doubled from Fast 6. The amount of excess here is like an exercise in motorcar masturbation, with fast whips, quick cuts, and Fastlane-like slow-mo to keep things moving. But there's also signs that Wan understands the traditions laid out in previous Furious movies: there's the token booted girls dancing in Tokyo, the bikini girls in Dubai, and more bikini girls in the desert. But more important, he gets the central theme of family, making the most of Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson's script (and its re-write), veterans of the franchise who understand these characters' every heartbeat.

Diesel is still classic Dom, his deep nasally delivery providing the heartbeat for his love of this fast family he's assembled. Johnson perhaps suffers the most here, for he's only in about 20 minutes of the movie, giving Rodriguez the time she needs to put Letty back together. That kind of character growth is about all you get, so don't expect anything new from Ludacris or Gibson, the one remaining the tech genius and the other the simpering whiner comedic relief. And then there's Walker, whose charm has evolved over the years, pitting his career strangely at odds with itself. Put him in anything other than a speeding car and he was a disaster; give him a ride and the guy transformed into Bullit. Those scenes in which he's featured in Furious are some of the most memorable, with his reactions to a particular sequence in the trailer about as classic Brian O'Conner as you'd imagine.

The real reason why Furious 7 succeeds lies squarely on the addition of Statham, a great follow-up to Luke Evans' character and a genuine bad guy that few films these days are willing to provide. He is the real deal, a definite threat each time he appears, with the real ability to wreck anyone who comes his way. Russell is a genuine surprise, giving us a combination of Snake Pliskin and Wyatt Earp that works every time he's in scene. I hope we'll see more of him in future installments, because he's frankly a badass whose wise-cracking is a perfect mix for Diesel's team. On the other side, I was disappointed that Lucas Black was offered such a minor role: like Russell, perhaps there's larger plans for Black, but here it's just a glorified cameo.

Make no mistake: Walker's death will have huge ramifications on the future of this franchise; and while I'm sure there will be a Fast and Furious 8, anything moving beyond that must start with a serious and potentially difficult decision to write off Walker with more finality. Until that moment comes, Furious 7 will delight in its place and should make a few tear up at the end.

Furious 7 is Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language and has a runtime of 137 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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