To begin, I am not Nick Valdez, our resident Fast and Furious reviewer. He is in transit to a new life in the big city and thus cannot, at the moment, partake in the next installment of the series. I hope you will accept me as a humble replacement.
The Fast and Furious series went from a truly middling film about drag racing that took itself far too seriously to a blockbuster action franchise that's know for it's over-the-top action sequences and cramming every bit of one-liner awesomeness into itself. Also, it's about family. Vin Diesel would really like you to know that.
The man who ushered in this transformation from nothing to greatness? Director Justin Lin, probably the most underrated director working, who was at the helm of the series for the past four films. The only thing missing from Furious 7? Director Justin Lin.
Furious 7 Director: James Wan Rated: PG-13 Release Date: April 3, 2015
Furious 7 is everything you expect it to be. An over-the-top car chase film jam packed with fist fights, gun battles, insanely awesome set pieces and lots of dialog about family. It is definitely an absolute blast and a good movie, but it misses Lin's flare. The director had a unique skill for building up action sequence to their most implausible conclusions, and then jumping the shark again so that all you could do was sit in your seat and think, "WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?" While Lin shoots for this on many occasions he hits the target far less meaning Furious 7 is awesome, but it is not as good as its predecessor.
In terms of plot it might be the weakest of the entire series, which is saying something. Dom (Vin Diesel) returns with the majority of the gang: Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). After the last film they all settled down, but now the brother of Fast and Furious 6's villain, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), is out for vengeance. He attacks Hobbs and then goes and kills Han, as we saw at the end of the previous film. This causes Hobbs to call in Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russel) who leads a covert US spy team. Dom and he make a deal that the "family" will rescue a kidnapped hacker in return for using her world monitoring technology to turn the tables on Deckard Shaw and hunt him.
It is a truly weak excuse to go from one action sequence to another in exotic locales, but it works enough. And yet at the same time the plot may be one of the bests thanks to its focus on family, loss and the untimely death of Paul Walker. Walker is digitally edited into some scenes, including an incredibly touching conclusion handled with a surprising amount of subtlety for the series, but even the ones that were filmed before his death seem touchingly appropriate. A conversation he has with Mia before going into the last action sequence is heart breaking and the series' continuing themes of family and friendship work the best they ever have.
You came for the action, though. It is the same ridiculousness you've come to expect from the series, and while it lacks that aforementioned touch that Lin brought to it it is still some of the most mind blowing stuff you'll see on screen this year. That building jumping scene we all saw in the trailer? If you think you saw everything, you are so wrong. Every time you think a scene won't top the last one they pull out some new ridiculous stunt that makes your jaw drop. It's also nice to see that Wan prefers to use actual cars when he can whereas Lin often relied on digital escapades. Wan also prefers showing a lot of gyrating female bodies in bikinis to the point that the actual "porn" overshadowed the car porn.
That obsessions with showing off naked women also goes for burly men (and women). Wan's fist fights might be the best the series has seen, if not the most plentiful. The inclusion of the amazing Tony Jaa and Ronda Rousey helps to no end, and the Statham/Johnson fight is pretty much everything you could have hoped for with a little more thrown in. If Wan lacks the magic to put together action sequences as well as Lin he definitely has it when it comes to fights.
Furious 7 also balances its cheesiness well thanks to the Walker scenes. Previous entries into the franchise often felt heavy handed when Diesel started talking about family or the franchise tried to develop characters, but here it all seems to fit. While you're itching for the next action sequence to start or for Johnson to drop another incredible one-liner (the man flexes out of a cast at one point) at this point we've been with these characters for so long that you actually care. That doesn't mean the camp doesn't reign supreme. Kurt Russels entire point in the film is to say bad lines and put glasses on his face like he's doing his best David Caruso, and once the action does start it's pretty much just one-liners and Tyrese punch lines.
Furious 7 is indeed everything you want and expect from the franchise, and while some of the magic is gone thanks to Lin's departure there's plenty left to keep the franchise awesome. If this entry is any indication, by the time the ninth film roles around we won't have any plot and Diesel will just come on screen after every action sequence and say something about family, but that will be fine with me. What is great about the Fast and Furious series is not that they're a guilty pleasure, but just that they're a pleasure. It's a franchise of ridiculousness that everyone is, for some reason, heavily invested. Keep em' coming and in the case of Furious 7 bring some tissues.