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Film Review: Furious 7 (2015)

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SYNOPSIS:
Dominic Toretto, Brian O’Conner and family face down Deckard Shaw, the older, meaner brother of Owen Shaw, who is intent on destroying their lives one by one. With Agent Hobbs and “Mr Nobody” at their side, Dom and Brian must rescue government hacker Ramsey and take down a Somalian terrorist named Jakarde before they can survive Shaw.

REVIEW:
Furious 7 is all spectacle, superheroes in muscle cars and pure popcorn cinema delight. With the seventh film in The Fast and the Furious franchise, James Wan takes over the director’s reins as Toretto and O’Conner become the hunted. Known for his horror films such as Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring, Wan tackles the action, spectacle and stunts with confidence and style, seamlessly and effortlessly continuing the pizzazz and presence established by director Justin Lin who has guided the series since The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). The main cast returns to reprise their family of roles: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges with Dwayne The Rock Johnson returning as Agent Hobbs. Jason Statham steps into the main bad role as Deckard Shaw, the bigger, badder brother of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) defeated in Fast 6 (2014). The guest list continues with Kurt Russel, Ronda Rousey, Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou. The stunts are amazing, as over-the-top as can be imagined and entertaining throughout. At its core, Furious 7 continues the “family” motif established in the past few films wearing its meaning closer to heart with this installment due to the untimely passing of star Paul Walker. The film makers go out of their way to balance the action and sentiment with great success ending the film on a powerful emotional beat. Furious 7 is winner.

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As the crew from Fast 6 begin to settle back into their lives, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) begins to plot his revenge for the capture and near-death of his brother Owen. He targets Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) first, placing him in the hospital and stealing all the Intel on Dominic Torretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and family. Han is his first victim in Tokyo and Dom is nearly taken out when a bomb lands on his doorstep. Backed into a corner, Dom and Brian, along with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Parker (Chris Bridges), race to battle their hunter face-to-face. Instead, they are sucked into a world of spies and “ghosts” as the mysterious “Mr. Nobody” (Kurt Russell) enlists the crew to recover a kidnapped hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanual) and her software called God’s Eye. Before Dom and Brian can get to Deckard Shaw, they must go through Kiet (Tony Jaa), Kara (Ronda Rousey) and Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). After an adventure around the world, they return to L.A. to face down Deckard Shaw.

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Furious 7 continues to turn Dom and Brian into superheroes behind the wheel. Instead of colorful costumes, they don muscle cars and heavy artillery. They even face down a team of super villains in Deckard Shaw, Jakande and Kiet. The film is a live action cartoon and it is brilliant realized as such. The stunts are so outrageous, they become less about how realistic they may be and more about how unbelievable they become. Cars dive out of plans, jump from building to building and out run heat seeking missiles. They even drive straight down the face of a cliff. The shots are incredible, exhilarating and immensely fun. With a cast made up of hard-hitting action stars (Statham, Jaa and Rousey), the film also spends an ample amount of time in beautifully choreographed hand to hand combat influenced heavily from recent Asian films such as The Raid films. The film is all about impact as cars smash head-on and the heroes give and take more punches than Dwayne Johnson ever took in the ring. Furious 7 is fueled on adrenaline.

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While the franchise still stands behind Vin Diesel as its headlining star, the film makers continue to embrace the family themes at the core of the chaos allowing the ensemble cast spotlight whenever possible. Each character gets their moment to shine in a fluid momentum that is a huge credit to screenwriter Chris Morgan for balancing an impressive list of personalities. Morgan plays to each character’s strengths, occasionally exploiting their weaknesses and always pushing them to their limits. Odds are that Tony Jaa would take out Paul Walker in a hot second, but Brian O’Conner is able to hold off Jaa’s Kiet with mad skills and a bit of luck. Same goes for Michelle Rodriguez pitted against Ronda Rousey and Vin Diesel facing off Jason Statham. Morgan’s script stacks up these epic battles like a rousing round at Saturday night fights or a WWE battle in the ring. Even when the dialog is at is corniest – and make no mistake, it is corny – the cast handles it with passion and respect lessening any possible cringe-worthy moments. The cast is fantastic, each and every one. This popcorn is perfectly popped.

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Taking over the franchise from Justin Lin is as daunting a task as could be imagined. Lin is known for taking a luke-warm series of films building it into a cash making machine establishing a familiar bond between its core characters and ramping up the action beyond street racing while never losing sight of its origins. Horror fan favorite, James Wan steps behind the wheel for Furious 7 with impressive results and a flair for the frenetic. Wan follows Lin’s lead with the tone and pacing while mixing in some kick ass camera work most likely influenced by The Raid films. The screen spins as Hobbs tosses Shaw over his shoulder or Rousey tumbles with Rodriguez. He also handles the smaller character moments with equal attention and detail. Furious 7 is definitely unlike most films Wan has directed prior allowing him to stretch beyond the horror films that have established his career. This is Wan’s superhero film, his Bond film, his Hollywood hit.

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Furious 7 arrives at the theaters with a shadow hanging over its head. Midway through filming, the series lost one of its stars when Paul Walker died in an Valencia, California car crash. To complete the film, Walker’s brothers, Caleb and Cody, are on board to complete his scenes. It’s a tragic and delicate situation. As the actors in the franchise have become more of a family off screen than they are portrayed on screen, the impact resonates throughout the film emotionally hitting home as the film concludes. His passing is handled with the utmost respect and love, a powerful tribute to Paul Walker and his cinematic family and friends. It is a sentimental send off packed with emotion that mixes in both the characters in the film and the actors that worked with him and loved him. And for the fans as well. Prepare for tears.

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A whole lot of super-heroics, a healthy pinch of Bond espionage, an impressive series of unbelievable stunts and a cast of extraordinary characters make Furious 7 an absolute must-see blast in the theaters. While the film is over the top, outrageous and bombastic, Furious 7 finds time to remind us that it’s all about family. Corny as that may seem, it works providing the film with a heart that bonds all the sensation and exploitation together into a well-crafted success. The film makers also know that the film is popcorn, entertainment for entertainment’s sake, and drive that ride for all it is worth. Furious 7 is a great way to speed off for the Summer of 2015, wind in the hair, sun in the face and hands firmly gripping the wheel.

4.5 out of 5

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