Big on sentiment and low on subtlety, Fast & Furious 7 is a romp of a love letter to the series as well as to its fallen star.
Longevity – and creating one of the biggest film franchises in history – probably wasn’t on anyone’s mind when The Fast and the Furious reached screens in 2001. Director Rob Cohen and writers Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer ostensibly took the basic details of Point Break and swapped surfing for street racing, in an effort packaged as equal parts action and high-octane fun. Seven features later, and all things Fast & Furious are still rocketing ahead, including what may have been the most difficult and delicate instalment to make. Over the course of 15 years, the series has weathered chapters good and bad, just as its characters have, before both reached a point of legitimisation.
It is here that Fast & Furious 7 starts, with its gang of former outlaws now somewhat heroes, and its brand of speeding and sparring comfortable in its mix of stunts and speeches, frenetic chases and missives about family, and comedy and drama. The usual suspects are all accounted for, including unofficial leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, Guardians of the Galaxy), former cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker, Brick Mansions), their significant others Letty (Michelle Rodriguez, Machete Kills) and Mia (Jordana Brewster, TV's Dallas), offsiders Roman (Tyrese Gibson, Black Nativity) and Tej (Ludacris, New Year's Eve), and current law enforcement officer Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, Hercules). A fresh escapade demands their participation, this time sparked by the revenge-fuelled antics of a new foe (Jason Statham, The Expendables 3).
The quick-paced story doesn't end there, nor does the impressive and extensive cast, spanning jaunts across several continents and quests to stop technology falling into the wrong hands, as well as straight-talking military types (Kurt Russell, The Art of the Steal) and ruthless villains (Djimon Hounsou, Seventh Son). Plot points fly by, new characters come and go, and figures from the past pop up here and there; however at its core, Fast & Furious 7 builds upon everything the series has offered up to this point in taking a path paved by spectacle to tell a tale about loyalty. The visual onslaught is relentless, filling swiftly edited, often swooping and spiralling frames with rampant destruction at ridiculously glee-filled levels. The emotional toll is just as heavy, including the central dynamic of brotherhood above all else that was made all the more complicated by an off-screen development: the untimely death of Walker during filming.
With a sense of loss casting a shadow over the feature, Fast & Furious 7 is a romp of a love letter to both the series as well as to its fallen star. Returning writer Chris Morgan, a veteran of the past five entries in the saga, teams with franchise newcomer James Wan (The Conjuring) to craft what may be the savviest instalment yet given its embrace of everything fans know and adore. With the filmmaker showing the same flair for action as he did for horror, much of the feature's bulk lives up to its title, whether careening cars between skyscrapers, brawling on the streets, sliding through scantily clad forms at races, or taking vehicles skydiving in the most liberal tip of the hat to Point Break to date. And yet, amidst the balletic displays of brute strength and acutely choreographed crashes of metal, affection and humour remain, as a does a big heart.
Indeed, Fast & Furious 7 is a film unafraid to combine its seemingly opposing components of force and feeling to whatever scenario prolongs the saga. It's a fitting approach for a franchise built on constant odd couple pairings, after all; it's also a survivalist bent that adds to the series' mythology while keeping everything rolling forward towards the next continuation. In addition, it adds empathy to an offering big on sentiment and low on subtlety, yet always sincere. Fast & Furious 7 is also a film unafraid to welcome the scene-stealing but sparingly used Johnson to the screen mopping sweat from his brow in a nod to his constantly moist state across three films now, nor to find time for a moving tribute and a montage of memories that feels personal amidst the vehicular carnage, mere moments after a man tries to shoot down a helicopter.
It's that mix that has endeared the best efforts in the now seven-strong collection and does so with this solid, entertaining addition, however silly its stunts may seem, however blunt its dialogue may ring, however amusing the interplay of its three follicle-challenged main men may be, and however one-note its earnest but never complicated performances may prove. It's that mix that shines here, too, with lashings of a mournful tone and an indulgence of nostalgia audiences will easily understand the reasoning behind. At this stage, that engaging combination will all be back again for three more films – and, unlike most long-lasting efforts, each will be welcome.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Fast & Furious 7
Director: James Wan
USA/Japan, 2015, 137 mins
Release date: 2 April
Distributor: Universal Pictures