Furious 7 begins, as it should, with a street race. Gearheads and tattooed tough guys surround a starting line in the California desert. House music plays. Quick cuts take us to girls in bikinis to dancing girls to close-ups of the girls’ backsides. Almost as an afterthought, we see there are cars, too. Sitting in the theater, with the vague memory of six Fast & Furious movies behind me, I smile. Feels kinda like home.
Expectedly, Furious 7 is 137 minutes of pure, unbridled adrenaline. But you already know that. You already know cars parachute from airplanes and zip among high-rise buildings. You already know Jason Statham plays the villain. You already know any plot or story is darn near irrelevant. And I know your decision to buy a ticket is already made. So what good will this review do you? Plenty — because I also know there’s a lot you don’t know and can’t wait to find out.
In the end of Fast & Furious 6 (2013), Deckard Shaw (Statham) declares war on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew. Deckard wants revenge for the crippling of his little brother Owen (Luke Evans), an international terrorist. Furious 7 picks up from there, as Deckard breaks into federal agent Hobbs’ (Dwayne Johnson) office to get info on Dom. Given that Deckard is a former black ops agent who’s survived on his own for years, hitting an American government facility doesn’t make sense. But the scene’s essential, because it allows Statham and Johnson to fistfight, and it’s a good thing, too. At this point, it’s been a good three minutes since the last car race and we’re getting antsy.
What Deckard no doubt saw in Hobbs’ records is that Dom’s “family” is living happily. Brian (Paul Walker) and wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) are settling down with their son, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still trying to get her memory back, and Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are still clowning around. The story would be simple enough if it was just about Deckard tracking them down, but this F&F franchise doesn’t do simple.
Kurt Russell plays covert government operative Mr. Nobody, tasked with procuring a device that can track anyone anywhere in the world. He asks Dom and his crew to rescue the device’s creator, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), from her kidnapper, terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). Because really, who better to track down a James Bond-like villain, with the safety of the world on the line, than a ragtag group of street racers?
None of that matters. It’s all a setup for the action, and there are some impressive set pieces here, including the aforementioned airplane and high-rise sequences, and an impressive finale set in Los Angeles.
Do director James Wan (Insidious) and writer Chris Morgan (this is his fifth Fast movie) top all the other F&F flicks? In ambition, certainly. In execution, marginally. The fight scenes are strong, the chases are fun and the stunts are huge, but it’s hard to say it’s notably more impressive than what we’ve seen. Maybe I’m jaded, but this is what we expect. It would be disappointing if cars didn’t drop from airplanes and parachute down onto a winding mountain road. When the bar’s this high, it’s hard to go anywhere but down. That Furious 7 reaches the bar is an accomplishment in itself.
Walker had finished half his scheduled shooting before his tragic death in November 2013, and you’ll find no spoilers here about how his character is handled. Suffice it to say, it’s done in a touching way that feels appropriate. Rewrites, body-doubles (including Walker’s two real-life brothers, Caleb and Cody) and CGI allowed Wan to finish production. If you’re curious about when it’s Walker onscreen and when it’s not, odds are that any time you see him from afar or from behind, and/or hear his voice off-screen, it’s not him. Digital technology allows any face to be put on any body, so at times, it’s hard to tell the difference. Just enjoy the ride.