[This is a re-post of my review from the 2015 SXSW Film Festival; Furious 7 opens tomorrow.]
The plan was to wrap the day with yet another outrageous, bloody SXSW Midnighter, but it turns out, the surprise world premiere of Furious 7 sparked a louder, wilder and far more enthusiastic reaction than any late-night screening I’ve attended yet.
The latest installment kicks off with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw, Owen Shaw’s (Luke Evans) brother. He isn’t happy about what Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and the rest of the gang did to his baby bro in Fast & Furious 6, so Deckard sets out to settle the score by killing them all off. He’s an ex-Special Forces assassin who’s essentially a ghost, so the only way Dom, Brian, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez),Tej (Ludcaris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) can stay a step ahead of him is by striking a deal with the government. If they manage to secure a stolen technology with the ability to tap into security cameras, phones and more, they’ll be granted authorization to use it in order to track Shaw.
This whole mission to stop Shaw by securing “God’s Eye” is extremely flimsy and really only winds up functioning as a reason for the characters to jet set to exotic locations, but it doesn’t really matter. The Fast and Furious films are about two things, family and getting to watch a slew of explosive car stunts, and in that respect, Furious 7 delivers big, and perhaps even bigger than ever.
If you’re concerned about director James Wan making the move from horror to his first big budget action-driven studio film, rest assured, he makes the transition exceptionally well. He manages to strike the perfect balance between making Furious 7 feel like another Fast and Furious film while also giving it some personal flair. There are loads of picturesque hero shots and tons more with some very familiar camera moves, but Wan also tosses in a number of striking techniques we’ve never seen before in these films. There are countless visual achievements well worth discussing, but as someone who’s a big fan of this one shot in The Conjuring when the camera essentially flips over a bannister and back again, it’s exciting to see Wan use similar rotating shots in this movie.
Wan also does an outstanding job ensuring that there’s adequate coverage of the car chase sequences and the hand-to-hand combat. As one might expect, these moments certainly require some suspension of disbelief, but Wan helps make the action more grounded than most Fast and Furious films (or as grounded as it can be) by always keeping the viewer orientated through a very natural shot selection and progression.
Another element of Furious 7 that’s especially grounded (and has been from the start of the franchise) is the relationship between the characters. At this point, it doesn’t matter what Dom, Brian and co. are up to. If you’ve been following along throughout the years, the moment they appear on screen it immediately rekindles the connection to the characters and from there, the film continues to make that connection even stronger.
Minus the aforementioned story flaw, Furious 7 is everything you’d want in a new Fast and Furious film. The car chases are absolutely insane and take the action in the franchise to a new level. There’s endless sass, humor and unforgettable absurd one-liners like when a very angry Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) vows to “put a hurt on [Shaw] so bad he’s gonna wish his momma kept her legs closed.” But most important of all, the film actually means something.
Furious 7 is certainly a popcorn movie geared towards delivering big thrills, but it’s also oozing with heart and passion. The characters in the movie care deeply for one another and that devotion is infectious. However, there is one noticeable deficiency when it comes to the main players and it’s that the team mentality isn’t as strong as it was in Fast & Furious 6. What the group has here works, but having grown to love characters like Han (Sung Kan) and Gisele (Gal Gadot), you can’t help but to feel their absence in this film. But, then again, perhaps that’s more of a testament to the franchise’s powerful build over the years.
The lucky few who got to see the Furious 7 world premiere at SXSW weren’t just random festival attendees eager to be the first to see the film. The Paramount Theatre was packed with moviegoers who are true, diehard fans of the series that were absolutely overjoyed to see favorite characters back on the big screen. The energy in the room and the deep, heartfelt reaction to the movie’s subtle yet very moving way of honoring Walker was truly electrifying.