All For One and One For Paul: Furious 7

paul walker

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Growing up as a gearhead shaped me into the huge fan I am of “The Fast and the Furious” series. The first film I still consider to be one of the best, and while 2-4 don’t rank as high, I hold no shame in putting them on a guilty pleasure pedestal.

Then came “Fast Five” and “Fast & Furious 6,” both of which morphed the franchise into something entirely new. By blending casts from the previous films and introducing grand action set pieces that weren’t always centric on car races, the appeal of the series finally crossed into the realm of mass mainstream audiences.

It’s also worth noting that these two entries have invented an alternate reality where the laws of physics don’t exist and the characters are literally superheroes for how they can survive anything that comes their way. That’s not to say those two aforementioned aspects are a bad thing though because they make for great popcorn entertainment. Of course that also means it’s a necessity to leave your brain at the theater door.

Nonetheless, I would’ve never imagined this franchise still thriving nearly fifteen years after the first film’s release. In what is now the seventh entry in the series (no psychic could’ve foreseen that happening), “Furious 7” carries a lot of baggage in terms of its scale of adrenaline-fueled entertainment, but even more for the heart-rending production process the cast and crew had to endure after the unfortunate death of lead star, Paul Walker.

Thankfully, fans of the series can rejoice for the fact that the strongly bonded filmmakers and cast didn’t shift down a gear in granting a movie that’s not just highly entertaining, but also poignant for properly retiring Walker’s character.

Taking place shortly after the events of the sixth film, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew have retired to mostly low-key lives in Los Angeles. All that is changed however when Han (Sung Kang) is killed in Tokyo by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who is out for no holds barred revenge against Toretto and his crew for nearly murdering his brother Owen Shaw, the villain of the previous film. For Toretto to find him, he’s recruited by special ops head Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) to track down a hard drive that can locate any person of interest on Earth through digital technology around their location, which in turn would help find Shaw.

Since the fifth film released four years ago, the expanded ensemble brought new life as a family of sorts that have each other’s back at every turn. The chemistry between the actors is prevalent because it’s evident how well they all get along together both on and off screen.

Diesel and Walker (in the scenes he shot before his death) display their brotherly camaraderie in expectedly good fashion, as do the rest of the cast playing their closest friends. Ludacris and Tyrese keep up their comedic banter on the same levels of the previous films and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, despite having less screentime than his last two outings, still has scenes of pure badassery against the film’s villains.

In the villain department, Jason Statham’s intimidating English brogue and trademark martial arts style make him transcend the rather one-dimensional antagonists he plays. In addition, Thai martial arts legend Tony Jaa (in his Hollywood film debut) and decorated female MMA fighter Ronda Rousey both get their time to shine in well-choreographed fight scenes.

Kurt Russell, in his first big Hollywood role in almost ten years, still hasn’t lost an inch of his slyly cool demeanor, which fits well for the Frank Petty character. He did have his best days in the 1980s working with John Carpenter in “Big Trouble in Little China” and “The Thing,” but even with a reduced renegade fighting style, he’s just as charismatic today as he was multiple decades ago.

After the departure of director Justin Lin, who directed the last four films in the series, it was questionable for his replacement to serve up the same excellent thrills he did. James Wan however, successfully proves himself as a worthy successor to Lin. Even though his resume consists mostly of horror films including “Saw” and “The Conjuring,” he exhibited a style that featured inventive camera movement and angles, in addition to a smart awareness of the genre he works in.

Wan’s filmmaking style transitions to the “F&F” series with firm precision as he gains a good grip in executing the film’s excessively ridiculous action sequences. Cars skydive, drive through nearly 1,000 feet high skyscrapers and perform vehicular warfare in the middle of crowded L.A. streets.

Regardless of the ludicrous nature of these scenes, Wan clearly knows the type of movie he’s making, and he sufficiently blends practical and CG effects together, in addition to stylistic camera angles in the hand-to-hand combat fights.

“Furious 7” is all-out blockbuster entertainment from the beginning, but of course it has its flaws. The dialogue and music in the filler scenes between the action are repetitively melodramatic and the story is whatever. However, I’m willing to let those things go because they don’t overshadow the testosterone that’s garnered from the glorious action.

Finally, it’s impossible to not mention the send-off that is given to Walker. To be honest, the conclusion of his character could not have been more perfect. It’s profoundly moving for how it allegorizes the brotherhood between Walker and Diesel, and the close friendship he had with the rest of the cast. Most of all though, it was a tender tribute to the genuine, honest-to-goodness human being he was outside the Hollywood spotlight. Ultimately, I don’t blame you for getting misty-eyed and or tearing up by the time the end credits start to roll. I know I did.

“Furious 7” doesn’t rank on the same level of balanced thrills and character in the past two films, but it’s still definitive in firing on all cylinders for the bombastic entertainment it emancipates. Fans of the franchise will certainly get what they want, and the heartfelt drama at the end is a much-deserved  bonus for honoring a sincere man, that like Diesel’s Torretto, lived his life one quarter of a mile at a time.

 

RECOMMENDED: Whether you like it or not, “The Fast and the Furious” series is still proving itself worthy of success after seven films.