Furious 7 begins, as it should, with a street race. Gear heads and tattooed tough guys surround a starting line in the California desert. House music plays. Quick cuts take us to girls in bikinis to dancing girls to close ups of girls' backsides. Oh, cars are there too. Sitting in the theater, with the vague memory of six The Fast and the Furious movies behind me, I smile. Feels like home.
Furious 7 is 137 minutes of pure, unbridled adrenaline, but you already know that. You already know cars parachute from airplanes and travel between high rises. You already know Jason Statham is the villain. You already know the plot is darn near irrelevant. And I know your decision to buy a ticket is probably already made. So what good will this review do you? Plenty, because I also know there's a lot you don't know — and can't wait to find out.
In the end of Fast & Furious 6 (2013), Deckard Shaw (Statham) declares war on Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew. Deckard wants revenge for the crippling of his little brother Owen (Luke Evans). Furious 7 picks up from there, as Deckard breaks into Hobbs' (Dwayne Johnson) office to find info on Dom. Given that Deckard is a former black ops agent who's survived on his own for years, going into an American government facility doesn't make sense. But the scene is essential because it allows Statham and Johnson to fistfight, and it's a good thing too, because by this point it's been three minutes since the last car race and we're getting antsy. What Deckard no doubt saw in Hobbs' records is Dom's "family" living happily. Brian (Paul Walker) and wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) are settling down with their son, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still trying to get her memory back, and Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) are still clowning around. The story would be simple enough if it was just about Deckard tracking them down, but this franchise doesn't do simple.
Kurt Russell plays a covert government operative named Mr. Nobody. He's been tasked with procuring a device that can track anyone anywhere in the world. He asks Dom and his crew to rescue the device's creator, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), from her kidnapper, a terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). Because really, who better to track down a James Bond villain with the safety of the world on the line than a ragtag group of street racers? Of course, the story doesn't matter. It's all a setup for the action, and there are some impressive set pieces here, including the aforementioned airplane and high-rise sequences, and an impressive finale set in Los Angeles.
Do director James Wan (Insidious) and writer Chris Morgan (this is his fifth Fast movie) top what the franchise has done before? In ambition, certainly. In execution, marginally. The fight scenes are strong, the chases are fun, and the stunts are huge, but it's hard to say it's notably more impressive than what we've seen before. This is what we've come to expect. It would be disappointing if they didn't drop cars out of a plane and parachute them down to land on a winding mountain road. When the bar is this high, it's hard to go anywhere but down. The fact that Furious 7 reaches the bar is an accomplishment in itself. Walker finished half his scheduled shooting when he died in November 2013, and you will find no spoilers here regarding how his character is handled. Suffice it to say it's done in a touching way that feels appropriate. Rewrites, body doubles (including Walker's two brothers) and CGI allowed Wan to finish production. If you're curious about when it's Walker and when it's not, odds are anytime you see him from afar or from behind, and/or hear his voice off screen, it's not him. Don't forget digital technology allows his face to be put on anyone's body, so at times it'll be hard to tell the difference. It's best not to worry about it and just enjoy the ride.