FILM REVIEW: ‘Furious 7’ lives in its own universe—and we’re lucky to ride shotgun

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The Fast & Furious films came to an impasse after anticipation ramped up for more vehicular mayhem following 2009’s Fast & Furious. Do they go down the more realistic route and keep the accustomed story about family grounded? Or do they veer off into the stakes-raising phenomena that envelops every blockbuster today?

Well luckily for the viewer, Vin Diesel and the gang have been doing their damnedest to achieve a mixture of both. Furious 7 is no different from its two predecessors. The stakes are raised in terms of possible mortality of the main players, the cars are more expensive and harder to wreck, and the overlying theme about family as the source of adrenaline-induced fury is enough to destroy a whole urban city (literally). Fast Five and Furious 6 may have been cohesively better shot, but Furious 7 has enough gonzo stunts and jump cuts to satiate even those with a slow pulse.

After Furious 6’s villain, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), flew off a cargo plane to his imminent death, his brother Deckard (Jason Statham) took up the cause to take revenge on those who put him in a hospital. Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are trying hard to make their relationship work, Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) are starting a family together and Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are enjoying their riches. That is, of course, until Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) gets attacked by Deckard, pulling everyone back into the violent fold. Now, the gang must recoup to bring Deckard down or it’s their way of life that will pay the price.

CGI as a replacement for large practical sets and effects is the norm today. Griping about it is like yelling into a void where hope shouldn’t enter. Then again, Furious 7 pulls off such ridiculous action set pieces that you think that there was no way this could have been done practically. That of course comes with the fact that these films exist in their own visceral reality. One where the bikini-clad girls and musclebound men must also be well versed in hand-to-hand combat and all drive with the proficiency of a Steve McQueen character.

Franchise newcomer, director James Wan (Insidious), doesn’t seem to have the same grip on the frenetic material as the series’ previous director, Justin Lin. Lin’s direction never faltered in showing off the most insane of stunts in the most digestible fashion. Even with the cargo plane finale in Furious 6, the viewer always knew who was where and what was happening. The camera never jerked and shook enough to lose sight of the mayhem-taking place.

With Wan, his strengths lie in more grounded fare. The big motorcoach chase at the midpoint of the film was handled extremely well. The battle between skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi worked as a model for wide-angle shots that reverberate through the franchise. The rumpus in LA that brought on the big finale, on the other hand, had so many moving parts that more than just a wheel fell off. Save for a couple of 180-degree flipping camera flourishes, Wan’s action craft could have used some honing before coming onto Furious 7.

Cinematic gripes aside, the ensemble cast here stands as a testament to most unlikely franchise in recent memory. These films also exist in a universe where the caricatures already drawn up for the actors/actresses are heightened and that’s still all right. The Rock grins, punches, throws out bad puns and flexes his biceps as much as engines roar. His kitsch is welcome in the world of vehicular acrobatics, though. Vin Diesel’s stoicism in the face of danger and grumblings of family amid all of the violence provides at least some emotional context. Jason Statham’s menacing phone calls and kicks to the face are still intact—only this time, he gets to play the villain. He doesn’t chew scenery like a bad Bond villain; if anything, his character is more dispensable than any of the other ones. A shame for such a physical talent. By the way, Kurt Russell shows up in a bit part, shoots people, kicks ass and takes names. If you aren’t shouting “Snake Plissken!” at the sight of him, then you must look into what this franchise owes its grittiness.

With Furious 7 serving as his swan song, Paul Walker remains as the emotional foothold of the franchise. His constant trepidation between being with his family and ensuring their safety through bullets doled out plays as the emotional tissue holding together everything. Before the closing credits, a small video tribute via flashbacks from the whole franchise gets inserted after the finale. We get reminded once again that among all of the dull action movies, Walker was one of the only people who could ground them with his charm.

For a film that is marketing itself as the “One Last Ride,” Furious 7 seems complete. All loose ends are tied up. The tarps are pulled over the stories, resting up until the next time they get dredged up for some loose reason. In the realm of superhero movies, Furious 7 exists as an antithesis to the expensive slop studios are serving up. It’s unapologetic for the threadbare morals it employs and could give less of a shit if you don’t like seeing cars driven into oblivion.