I kept this review SPOILER-FREE. I never go beyond the basic plot description.
In the beginning…
Whatever you think of the F&F franchise, you have to admit that the development of this series is a highly interesting phenomenon.
The longer it was going on, the more outlandish it became, yet this worked surprisingly much in favour of the movies and not against it, like it happened with the Die Hard films for example.
Personally I had to warm up to this car-centric saga, as the first part (The Fast and the Furious, 2001, helmed by the unbearable Rob Cohen) with its faux-grittiness and its annoying poser attitude struck me as rather tedious. Not to mention the somewhat off-putting screen presence of Vin Diesel ( and to a certain degree Michelle Rodriguez) who just does not exude the same effortless coolness as the real big names in the action business, like Arnie and Willies.
2Fast 2Furious (2003, directed by none other than John Singleton) was even worse, an uninspired piece of celluloid trash. Unexpectedly the series took an upward turn with the charming The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), a kind of spin off-sequel that worked like a 1980s teen movie throwback and also marked the entry of director Justin Lin into the franchise, who would be in charge for three more F&F movies.
Unfortunately, the oddly titled successor Fast & Furious (2009), which boasted with the return of the original cast (with the excpetion of Rodriguez), was despite Lin’s involvement a setback in terms of quality: A boring storyline and a fake-looking CGI-race in the showdown bogged the movie down.
The even more ridiculously titled sequels Fast Five (2011) and Furious Six (2013) though are widely rightfully considered as a rebirth of the series. This has partly to do with Justin Lin improving as a director, partly with the stacked up budget and the international locations and partly with the addition of the charisma behemoth that is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the cast. And most importantly, any remaining traces of self-earnestness (that plagued the first two movies) were thoroughly erased, while all connections to what we call “reality” that there still were left became more and more tenuous. Furious Six did not even shy away from including Bmovie elements like a cheesy soap-opera amnesia subplot and Mission:Impossible- inspired tech gadgets.
In that the series is not unlike the James Bond movies during Roger Moore’s run, as they also became increasingly cartoonish, with superheroic and SF-like elements entering the plots, which were counterbalanced by a healthy sense of self-irony and a good amount of hit-and-miss one-liners.
To keep up with the analogy, if Furious Six is the series’ The Spy who loved me, then Furious 7 would be its Moonraker, meaning that it repeats the formula of the predecessor while pushing the already exaggerated character of the film even more over the top.
If that is a good or a bad thing you have to decide for yourself.
The plot sets in where Furious Six ended, with all the heroes retired from their dangerous car-related activities. Of course the hard deserved harmony does not last long, as the equally ruthless brother of the villain Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) from Part 6, Deckard (Jason Statham) has come to exact revenge on the motley crew. After a failed attempt by Deckard to kill Brian (Paul Walker) and his family with a bomb, the gang reunites to counterattack the apparently almost invincible gangster.
They get unexpected assistance in the shape of a shady government agent called “Mr. Nobody” (Kurt Russell, a frontrunner in our Action Hero Throwdown), who promises to hunt down Deckard with his team, if they help him to free a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel), who is the only person that knows of the whereabouts of a mysterious powerful device called “God’s Eye” and is being held captive by a terrorist group led by Jakande (Djimon Hounsou).
As I mentioned above, this sequel is closely following the template that was created in the two preceding films, just with new stunts, new cars and new locations.
This time, the plot needs a little longer to get into gear though, which I think is owed to the fact that Justin Lin was replaced by James Wan in the director’s chair. Wan, who has his roots in the horror genre (Saw, Dead Silence, The Conjuring), is a less self-confident action director than Lin, who showed a great sense for timing, geography and rhythm in the way he captured the action scenes. It is owed to Lin’s talent that many of the absurd action scenes in the franchise worked, as he managed to sell their cartoon-physics with flawless editing and choreography.
Now Wan on the other hand seems to be a little less assured in the way he directs action, he seems to think he has to accentuate the OTT-qualities with fancy stylistics like “ramping”, tilting cams, nervous zooms and so on, which can make it hard to focus on the shown and be tiring at some points. He lacks the precision of Lin and tries to conceal that fact with a random directorial playfulness.
Thankfully, he is still far above shaky cam-hacks like Michael Bay and as the film progresses, the action gets better and better, as if he was improving on his craft while filming. Particularly impressive is a chase down a steep mountain slope in the middle of the movie, which is also exactly the moment when the plot picks up steam. Some mediocre CGI effects are marring the experience here and there, but overall the film delivers in the “Ka-Boom department” and the bombastic showdown poses the inevitable question where the film makers will go from this point as it is hard to top this “More is more” approach.
The acting is, for a feature like this, pretty solid. Diesel and Rodriguez seem to have matured and omitted their grim poser-images from the beginning of their respective careers, even if their love story is a plot element I could have done without.
Such maturity sadly did not come to charisma-vacuum Jason Statham, who still acts like a hooligan stuck in arrested development and continues to make me wonder why this man has an acting career. The third buff and bald-headed man in this film, Dwayne Jonsohn, who is in one scene shown watching the “Hulk” TV-series as some sort of meta-commentary, reveals to be, despite a drastically reduced role, the secret star of the franchise. The hilarious montage that shows him preparing for the end battle could turn out to be one of the best moments of the movie year 2015. This man fully embraced the fact that he looks like a action figure and plays his character Hobbs as such, only to occasionally let shine through some self-awareness with a raised Roger Moore- eyebrow.
Russell’s part does not add up to much screen time, yet it seems as if his character could have a bigger role in the sequel, while martial arts star Tony Jaa makes the best of the few minutes he is on screen- but yet again we are ought to believe that this man is not invincible, which is of course absurd.
Actor Paul Walker, who died in a car crash in 2013, is paid homage in a decent montage at the end.
Furious 7 is the XXL- refill-package for fans of the franchise: A bigger scope, more action and a good dose of self-awareness, like a blue collar-version of the Bond and Mission:Impossible franchises.
A few bumpy spots along the ride due to a new director don’t hurt the impression of a reliable franchise that continues to fulfil expectations among fans as well as among detractors. Whether you already decided to watch it or not, depending on your taste, you can’t do wrong in either case.
And for keeping its promises alone the film is a success, one has to admit (begrudgingly or not).