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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Blu-ray Review: 'Furious 7'

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

Review by Matt Cummings

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS.

Review by Matt Cummings

When Furious 7 arrived in theaters on April 3, 2015 it was unclear whether audiences would accept the inevitable: that Actor Paul Walker - who tragically died in 2013 - would no longer grace this lucrative franchise. Would the film, delayed almost a year as it was re-shot, bring a satisfying conclusion to Walker's Brian O'Conner story arc? Based on its incredible success out-of-the-gate success, the answer was an emphatic yes. Whether it's the best of the series is open to debate, but as it arrives on Blu-ray it's clear that Universal commands the field, with one of the best looking and sounding affairs of the year.

The Movie - 4/5
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.

Director James 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.

The Video - 4.5/5
While some might have differing feelings about the script behind Furious 7, no one could (or should) complain about the transfer quality of Universal's juggernaut. Simply put, the film shines and flashes its way to being one of the best transfers of the year. You'd never know that it was shot on digital equipment, as there's a noticeable - but unintrusive - grain that looks darn near film quality that sacrifices nothing in the final cut. There's both absolute sharpness in clothing, facial features, and detail on machines and roads. The forest battle is pretty amazing here, showing off individual tree branches as the boys rattle their way to total destruction. For better or worse, we get to see a lot of these actors' base facial features including age lines, pores, Johnson's massive veins, and even razor stubble on Diesel's shaved head. Colors are consistently vibrant and realistic especially when we get to the desert scenes. It's almost as if color has been turned up a notch, but never in a way that looks overdone. And as always there's zero edge enhancement, aliasing, or banding to this image. This is as close to a test case for Universal's perfection if I've ever seen it.

The Audio - 5/5
Furious 7 roars to life with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack that struts its stuff with all the power of Hemi. It's impressive how both loud and complex the track is. The music by Composer Brian Tyler makes its way into every speaker, thumping the LFE with enough to consistent to make you think something is wrong with your set up. But while electronic/Hip-Hop makes up some of the feel behind the film's success, it's the action scenes which take center stage and impress at every single stop. You can feel the explosion at Brian's home as if it happened right next door. Gunfire from every weapon is powerful but crisp, never getting ahead of the race. And of course, every car engine is deep, ravenous, and potent, especially Dom's ride near film's end. The center channel gets every bit of the separated dialogue - not one piece of music or special effect gets a word in edgewise, reminding us how Universal made such decisions from the beginning of it foray into Blu-ray. They didn't simply up the voice and douse the rest, they separated it totally. Left and right front speakers do have mentions of dialogue, but there it's where the music and sound effects thrive. The surrounds get as seemingly involved as the forwards, delivering plenty of environmental chatter, from crowd noise, alarms, and office chatter. And that LFE...All in all, we get stunning proof of Universal's acumen, and a top-rate test platform for today's HD equipment.

The Supplements - 3/5
While Furious 7 fails to contain a director's commentary, it does have a ton of featurettes. Still, I've reduced its score in this category: it's unacceptable that any film of this significance doesn't feature a commentary. At least all of the supplements are in HD:
  • Deleted Scenes: Scenes include Letty at Clinic (2:09), Ramsey/Dom (2:15), Dressed Up (0:57), and Letty Call from Nurse (0:38).
  • Talking Fast (31:47): Director Wan sits down to discuss several key moments from the film. While it's kind of like a mini-commentary, I'm still disappointed that we didn't get a full one. Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, and Ludacris also appear to share a few thoughts.
  • Back to the Starting Line (12:11): A look at the franchise's growth, the recurring theme of family, the introduction of a new villain and the additions of Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Djimon Hounsou, and Tony Jaa. Walker's death is also discussed.
  • Flying Cars (5:42): We learn how one of the action scenes was conceived and shot.
  • Snatch and Grab (7:31): This is part 2 of Flying Cars.
  • Tower Jumps (6:53): A discussion of one of the film's more ridiculous stunt scenes.
  • Inside the Fight: This is a series of featurettes focusing on the film's hand-to-hand fight scenes. Hobbs vs. Shaw (3:15), Girl Fight (3:20), Dom vs. Shaw (2:52), and Tej Takes Action (1:36).
  • The Cars of Furious (10:42): If you want to know more about the cars used in the movie, this supplement does a good job.
  • Race Wars (6:34): This one takes a larger look at the franchise through the eyes of the current film.
  • Music Video (4:05): Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth give us See You Again.
  • Making of Fast & Furious Supercharged Ride (8:15): In a constant effort at cross-promotion, Universal reminds us that they have a Fast and Furious-themed amusement park ride.

    Our evaluation copy arrived as a Blu-ray/DVD Combo, which includes the film's theatrical cut (2:17:26 runtime) and an extended cut (2:19:54 runtime). There is also a UV/iTunes digital copy. In addition, the slipcase is attractive, with a raised title on the front. As of this posting, there were other versions offered, including a Best Buy exclusive steelbook. There is a Walmart exclusive with an alternate cover, but frankly the steelbook is a superior alternate offering.

    The Bottom Line - 4/5
    Make no mistake: Walker's death will have huge ramifications on the future of this franchise; and while Fast and Furious 8 has already been announced, 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 with a great audio and video package.

    Furious 7 is Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language and its theatrical release 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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