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FURIOUS 7 (2015) review

April 6, 2015

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written by: Chris Morgan
produced by: Neal H. Moritz
directed by: James Wan
rating: PG-13 (for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language)
runtime: 134 min.
U.S. release date: April 3, 2015

 

Since the massive success of 2011’s “Fast Five”, the sequel that surprisingly invigorated the “Fast and Furious” series that was sputtering on fumes, the goal has been to make more and make them faster and more furious. 2013’s “Fast and Furious 6” did just that, by piling on the crazy stunts and insane hand-to-hand combat, solidifying that a certain amount of ridiculousness is a given in what is basically now a team of urban superheroes that overemphasize “family”. Now comes “Furious 7”, with the shadow of Paul Walker’s death upon it. This sequel will undoubtedly draw an even bigger crowd to the multiplex, so curious fans of the series and the actor can find out what kind of closure the movie went with.

That being said, it’s hard not to keep Walker’s death out of your mind while watching “Furious 7”, especially considering the way he died. It seems unbelievable to me, but the bro-bonding between Walker’s Brian O’ Connor and Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto has been quite a genuine development throughout the series. Even more surprising is how, outside the expected collisions and mayhem of these movies, their friendship has become a big draw.

As much as “family” is thrown around endlessly in these movies, Walker and Diesel (and their characters) have sold us on their commitment to each other and the others in their diverse ragtag family crew. So, despite the consistent groan-worthy dialogue and the implausible action, at the heart are these human characters. Sure their kind of soapy, but we’re more invested in them because they show their humanity and that’s impressive for a series that on the outside looking in, shouldn’t be taken seriously.

 

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That’s not to say that Diesel’s recent predictions of “Furious 7” scoring a Best Picture next year at the Oscars deserves any consideration. That’ll never happen, but it does go to show just how serious he is about these movies. After all, he’s spent a good chunk of his acting career in them and he developed a best friend in Walker. This movie, which carries the same tone and spirit of the last two, will pick up zero awards. But who cares? At this point, it knows what it is and it does it well.

Picking up where the last movie ended, “Furious 7” kicks off with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) visiting his comatose brother, Owen (Luke Evans) in a Tokyo hospital, vowing vengeance on the crew who took down his criminal sibling. Of course, we know that crew was led by Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) and we saw Deckard appear in an end credit scene in the last movie. Statham is a perfect antagonist and is great in this opening sequence, with screenwriter Chris Morgan and director James Wan set the tone of violence and humor right away as we see the carnage trail Deckard Shaw has made of a SWAT team in this supposedly secure hospital to his little bro. It’s the perfect scene for a straight-faced Statham to walk out of as his character begins tracking down each member of out Fast and Furious crew.

His first stop is breaking into the DDS office of Lt. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, offering another MVP performance) in Los Angeles in order to download files he has on the FF crew and antagonize Hobbs along the way. Since both of these characters are uber alphas, we know a knock-down brawl comes next – and it’s a doozy. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an office setting take it so hard in an action flick. This one gets obliterated by Hobbs and Shaw throwing each other around. It’s insane and plays out as an action junkies “What if?” Ultimate Smackdown checklist. Because Hobbs is played by The Rock, he survives albeit hospitalized and knows that Dom and his crew need to be warned.

 

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But what has become of Dom and company since he and his crew earned amnesty and their “normal” lives in the last movie? Well, Dom is trying to help his girl Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) regain her memories (see? I told you it’s soapy) and Brian is trying to settle in to the domestic life with Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), as they raise their toddler son in Los Angeles. That all explosively changes (literally) when they learn of the death of their friend Han (Sung Kang) in Tokyo. NOTE: this is where the end credit scene from “Fast & Furious 6” was shown, with Statham killing Han and sending Dom a warning, “You don’t know me. You’re about to.” So much for the peaceful life.

Dom finds out from Hobbs that Shaw is a rogue former special forces assassin who will stop at nothing to take down his targets. When Dom confronts Shaw, both of them behind their respective wheels in L.A. for a game of chicken, a covert team interrupts allowing Shaw to escape. A frustrated Dom learns this interruption was led by a shadowy government figure who introduces himself as Mr. Nobody (a welcome Kurt Russell), a guy with a plethora of resources interesting in recruiting Dom and his crew. Mr. Nobody offers Dom a deal: help rescue Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, from “Game of Thrones”) from a terrorist named Jakande (Djimon Honsou) and in turn acquire a top-secret digital device, called God’s Eye, that monitors every single electronic device on the planet. It’s one of those McGuffins that could prove deadly in the hands of the wrong guy. In return, Mr. Nobody will back Dom and allow him use of God’s Eye to take down Shaw.

 

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Knowing Shaw won’t stop and motivated by Han’s death, Dom is joined by the rest of his crew: Brian, Letty, tech guy Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and comic relief Roman (Tyrese Gibson, annoying as ever). With Mia and her son lying low in the Caribbean (tough life), the crew jump (literally) to the Caucasus Mountains to swanky Abu Dhabi, in search of God’s Eye. Along the way, they pick up Ramsey and encounter new baddies such as Thai martial artist Tony Jaa (in his American debut) and briefly MMA fighter Ronda Rousey (“The Expendables 3”). Their war against Shaw (who now has a partner in Jakande and his team of mercenaries) concludes in Los Angeles, where they are rejoined by Hobbs, as the entire city is lit up with explosions, collateral damage, machine gun-toting drone controlled by bad guys in a helicopter. It’s nighttime in L.A., so it’s okay, no one is around.

This is the first big-budget action flick for director James Wan (known for his success in the horror genre with “Saw”, “Insidious” and “The Conjuring”) and he kills it. This is established in the opening and carries on in the hand-to-hand action sequences. In fact, although there are some fun vehicular stunts (like Dom and Brian careening a fancy sportscar through two Abu Dhabi skyscrapers), the fights in the movies (like the last two) are the most memorable.They’re the kind that fanboys (and girls) fantasize about, elevated by a certain flare that Wan brings.

 

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His camera flips and falls, following the actors as they pummel each other and destroy everything around them. Each fight is easy to follow (something that can’t be said for other action flicks these days) and each blow is felt, delivering action that impresses as much as it entertains. While the expected zoom-in pan-and-scan of picturesque locales these movies are known for are accounted for, action junkies will come back for: Statham vs. The Rock, Walker vs. Jaa, Rodriguez vs. Rousey and Statham vs. Diesel.

The difference between the movies in this series compared to say, the “Transformers” movies (another seemingly endless series), is we’re invested in these characters. They have become like family. We expect their action to be nuts, stunts to be over-the-top and storyline to be ridiculous. The villains in these movies really don’t factor. You’ll find no indepth characterization of any of them (Hounsou and his horde are here to simply fill out the threat) and none of that matters.

For those curious – yes, there is a tasteful send-off at the end to Walker and his Brian O’ Connor character. It’s a touching coda to the bromance between Dom and Brian set to the tune of “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth. It definitely made me miss Walker all the more.

Of course, this isn’t the end, there’s also a ridiculous set-up for still more movies (reportedly three) – and why not? Keep the engines revved, I say. As a convert since the fifth movie, I fully appreciate that heart, sweat and tears that go into these movies. They have become the essence of escapism at the movies.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

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