You don’t know me.
But you’re about to.”
In the cutthroat world of Hollywood movie-making, there are not many franchises which can limp their way to seven or more entries, and even fewer which can inspire one to issue a statement as seemingly ridiculous as the one I am about to make:
Furious Seven isn’t just the best entry in the Fast & Furious series; it’s an action masterpiece on par with the best James Bond, Indiana Jones, or The Avengers have to offer. It’s a magnum opus of smashing cars, brutal fistfights, bloodless shootouts, silly one-liners, and musclebound ass-kickers with no hair.
Vin Diesel is back in the driver’s seat for one last ride with his crew, most of whom we’ve come to know and love from earlier films. This time, they’re here to do battle with Jason Statham, the big bad brother of the vanquished villain from the previous film. It’s a simple and effective premise, and it works to the film’s benefit. The high stakes are immediately set when, in a scene which ties into Fast & Furious 6’s surprise ending, as well as the climax of the overlooked The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Jason Statham kills one of Diesel’s crew. From the jump, Statham is established as a truly hardcore and intimidating villain. Every time he appears, the film gains both a sense of rising dread and palpable excitement. Aside from a somewhat undercooked detour to a swinging penthouse party in Abu Dhabi, the action hits the high notes every time. An absolutely insane convoy chase makes the tank battle from F&F 6 look like a round of carnival bumper cars, and the masterful editing in the ambitious grand finale puts F&F 6’s schizophrenic airplane skirmish to shame.
These chases and fights are lovingly crafted, every punch, crash, barrage of gunfire, and flying wreck treated with the utmost care. Though there are perhaps hundreds of wrecked cars, each one is more impressive than the last. When The Rock and Jason Statham are going at it, it feels like they’re really trying to kill each other, throwing each other through walls and into tables with bone-crunching force that would kill any mortal man. Meanwhile, martial arts enthusiasts should nod their heads in approval of the high-flying acrobatics in Paul Walker’s fight scenes with The Protector himself, Tony Jaa.
New director James Wan (Death Sentence, Saw) brings a brutal edge to the fight scenes but, despite the violent proceedings and dangerous stakes, the film never loses track of its focus on fun. Whereas earlier films may have had a problem suspending the audience’s disbelief, Wan lifts the world to the same level of fantasy as the action, and when Kurt Russell shows up to drink beer with Vin Diesel and politely asks him to indulge in some spy games which, in any other F&F, would seem downright silly, the audience is on board before Vin is. The whole movie is both more audacious, yet somehow more believable, which just makes it even more awesome.
Going into the film, the elephant in the room was, of course, the tragic death of co-lead Paul Walker. Unlike in F&F 6, in which he is side-lined for much of the film (something about going to half-way across the world to hang out with Jon Ortiz, remember?), Walker is on the front-lines for the entirety of this adventure. While there are a few scenes wherein he seems to be standing around doing nothing while other actors presumably speak lines he never got to record, his presence is still felt through the entire film. The CGI technology used to put his face on stand-ins (Walker’s own brothers, Cody and Caleb) is so perfect that it’s nigh-on impossible to tell the difference, so the viewer quickly stops trying to notice, and cinematic transcendence is achieved.
The rest of the crew is as reliable as ever: Vin Diesel is still Vin Diesel, and we would expect nothing less, though his dramatic scenes with Michelle Rodriguez add a healthy dose of romance for fans of their characters; Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Hobbs is as muscular as ever, and he still gets the best one-liners; Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris are still enjoyable, but their schtick, in which Tyrese says something funny/dumb and Luda says something like, “Did he just say that? I can’t believe he just said that” is beginning to wear thin, especially since Tyrese’s comic interludes don’t stick the landing as often as in prior films; Kurt Russell is the most notable new addition. As the old-school black-ops badass of the piece, “Mr. Nobody” doesn’t let his age get in the way of his willingness to get in on the action, Snake Plissken-style.
Of course, it wouldn’t be F&F without gratuitous and obnoxious objectification of the female form: it gets most of the T&A out of the way in the first act, though it ironically starts showing a lot more skin in Abu Dhabi, a conservative city which bans bikinis on its public beaches. That being said, I am grateful to see comically extreme close-ups of Nathalie Emmanuel’s body. It is a fantasy film, after all.
It only takes one word to describe Furious Seven, and that word is “awesome.” Furious Seven takes the charisma of James Bond, and puts it in one car. Then it takes the unchained irreverence of Smokey and The Bandit, and puts that in another car. Then both of those cars crash into each other at 120 MPH. Next, a third car, loaded with nothing less than the righteous honesty of Vin Diesel, falls out of the sky onto the wreckage. Finally, Dwayne Johnson shoots the rusted heap with a minigun, and the huge pile of twisted metal is blown into an active volcano.