FURIOUS 7
Author: J.A. Hyde
April 3, 2015

SYNOPSIS: Continuing the global exploits in the unstoppable franchise built on speed, Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson lead the returning cast of Fast & Furious 7. James Wan directs this chapter of the hugely successful series that also welcomes back favorites Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Elsa Pataky and Lucas Black. They are joined by international action stars new to the franchise including Jason Statham, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey and Kurt Russell.

Furious 7 is the film that almost wasn’t. Unless you’ve been off the grid for the past 2 years, you know that star Paul Walker died tragically in November of 2013, and the studio had to scramble to decide whether to even proceed with the half-completed film. Furious 7 was re-imagined as a tribute to Walker, and his part was completed using body doubles, stunt doubles, and CGI. In fact, his 2 brothers Caleb and Cody, who resemble him physically, stood in as body doubles and did some voice-over work. The question on everybody’s mind is “Can you tell?” The answer is “Sometimes,” but all in all, the film works.

After Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) shows up looking for revenge for his brother’s death, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), reaches out to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team to help defeat Shaw and a team of mercenaries working for African terrorist Jakanda (Djimon Hounsou). With the new villains in place, the former street racers set out to make things right. They’re supported by a mysterious, ultra-covert government operative, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). So Dom sets out with Brian (Paul Walker), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Taj (Ludacris), and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) with their apparently unlimited supply of muscled-up super cars. Jordana Brewster also returns as Brian’s girlfriend Mia.

If you’re a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, you’re not interested in the film for its acting or even its plot. You’re there for the stunts, the crashes, and the breath-taking car chases. You won’t be disappointed. Even with a few interesting twists, you know the team is not going down, and somehow the villains will pay. The only wild card is what happens to Brian, which I won’t reveal, but I think you’ll find it poignant.

Realism has never been a factor in the Fast & Furious franchise, but you don’t really want it to be. Better the fantasy that somewhere there are heroes, a little bit on the edgy side, who can drive anything through anything, fight the most diabolical bad guys, and emerge without a scratch. The amazing stunts are the film’s center, and they are indeed amazing. One particular “chase” scene set in Dubai will leave you open-mouthed. The fight scenes are well-choreographed, and yes, Michelle Rodriguez, Hollywood’s go-to tough gal, gets to do her share.

A welcome addition to the cast is Nathalie Emmanuel playing super-hacker Ramsey. I think she’ll be back. Yes, there will be 1 to 3 sequels. Likewise, Kurt Russell, always a reliable performer and convincing tough guy, should be included in any sequels since his character gives the team a new direction. I’m thinking that Hobbs, Dwayne Johnson’s character, will feature more prominently in future films to allay the absence of Paul Walker. Will a new character be brought in to replace Brian? I guess that remains to be seen.

Furious 7 is long at 2 hours 17 minutes. The writing scramble to compensate for the loss of Paul Walker is probably to blame for that. You may get a little bit antsy, but fans of the series will no doubt be pleased with the resolution. I dare you not to get a little misty-eyed! In the end, it’s a satisfying thrill ride. - JoAnne Hyde

GRADE: B+


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