********* 8 out of 10 *********
Director: James Wan
Actors: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham
How far the Fast & Furious franchise has come! In 2001, this rather unknown set of actors had lit up the big screens with some great car racing stunts, and by 2015, this famous group is doing crazier and bigger things that blows your mind away. A racing gang stealing expensive electronic equipment has grown into a worldwide famous crew which now helps the US Government to nab criminals across the globe, in a James Bond-esque manner. If you have been with them in this journey, been with them in each car chase, each seemingly impossible stunt, been with the highs & lows that this group has faced, then by now you would be so proud of them; you would be beaming like a parent who sees his child walk up to the pedestal to pick his trophy. Furious 7 is a culmination of all the strong suits played out in this franchise over the past decade-and-a-half, that is the high intensity, high speed action, bundled together with the softer aspects of love, friendship and family. It is another adventure worth taking!
Furious 7 begins with an introduction of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who vows to his younger brother who is on a hospital bed – put there by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew in the previous movie – that he will finish off this fight. The big bad brother is on the prowl, and Toretto has to do whatever it takes to protect his loved ones. He finds support from the leader of a covert ops team, Frank Petty (Kurt Russell), but in order to get Shaw he has to strike a bargain with Petty which will take him and his crew in foreign territories on a dangerous mission. Toretto, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), and the rest of the crew are back in their cars for one more ride — and this time the stakes are higher, for this time it is personal!
With each of the previous three movies in this franchise, the scale had gotten bigger and bigger. Now with Furious 7, it reaches a whole new level. While the story had been moving in a particular direction, turning a group of felons into a crew assisting the Government, this time it includes a touch not seen in the series so far, that of a personal attack. Things get all the more sinister when it is you and your family being targeted, and so that personal element raises the stakes in this movie and differentiates it from the predecessors. Chris Morgan has again put together a nifty script (he has been writing them since the third film) which combines a personal duel as well as a more elaborate Government mission, so as to give enough room for crazy stunts and action.
The directing duties may have moved from Justin Lin to James Wan but the essence of the franchise stays alive in Furious 7. The high intensity of this movie will leave you gasping for breath, the pace at which it moves will make you forget to blink, the drama that unfolds will keep you rooted in your seat. If anything, James Wan has taken the terms ‘fast’ and ‘furious’ a notch above, and widened its scope by exploring newer geographies before coming back home for the finale. The stunts in this movie defy physics once again (Newton would have to rework his theories on gravity!), as we have started getting used to by now. And we really don’t mind, do we? The “air drop” scene, shown in the promos as well, headed by stuntman Spiro Razatos, is probably the moment where you stop breathing. Or is it when Brian O’Conner is running atop a bus which is falling down the cliff? Or when Toretto jumps across buildings in a Lykan HyperSport car? James Wan and his crew have unabashedly explored some extremely crazy and imaginative stuff one can do with a car, and then just went ahead and did it. If someone complains that these acts are not possible in the real world, then you have come to the wrong cinema hall. Movies such as those in the Fast & Furious series are about thrill and excitement which go beyond the kind of reality we construct for ourselves, which challenge existing notions to deliver something which would be talked for ages. Furious 7 does that, and it does it fantastically well. Even the hand-to-hand combat scenes are exquisitely choreographed and each of these three is a duel worth watching again – Jason Statham v/s Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez v/s Ronda Rousey, and Jason Statham v/s Vin Diesel.
The movie doesn’t work because of great actors, but because of great personalities. Vin Diesel once again shines as the leader of the crew, head of the family, or as one character puts it, “the alpha”. He is big, he is strong, he is driven, and he is not someone to mess with. This whole franchise is as important to Vin Diesel as Vin Diesel is to the franchise. And the magic once again works in Furious 7. His partner in crime, his dearest friend, and the other cornerstone of this franchise is Paul Walker. It is difficult to see only Brian O’Conner in this movie and not Paul Walker, it is difficult to not feel that extra elation when he takes out a bad guy or delivers an excellent stunt scene. It is difficult. But even keeping those thoughts aside, Paul Walker takes the story of Brian O’Conner superbly forward, now a family man who misses the old days and who gets another bite at the action. Walker is committed in his performance, always a joy to watch, and he is once again fantastic in his action sequences. Along with these two, we have come to love the old crew so much, that we understand when Toretto says that they are ‘family’. Michelle Rodriguez is once more the feisty old gal who can pack a punch, though this time she is struggling with her amnesia as well; Ludacris is smart and well-behaved and quick-witted; Tyrese Gibson provides the humour and a bit of swag to proceedings; Jordana Brewster however looks like a shadow of her old self as she is missing from all the action in the film. The camaraderie in the team is so obvious, that it is quite likely it extends beyond the movies too. And believe me, it is this small aspect that makes the Fast & Furious series more than just about racing cars.
Jason Statham is the big bad wolf of the movie, and they could not have cast anyone better. Statham is terrific in this avatar, bad-ass as always but going after the good guys now. He has an intense look, that of a man determined to attain his goals at any cost, and when that matches with the persona of Vin Diesel, it feels like the screen is about to burst into flames. Kurt Russell is another new introduction to the series, and a welcome one, as he brings in some style, class, and a different temperament just when things look a little too serious. Director James Wan and writer Chris Morgan have put in effort to make this as much a movie for fans as anyone else, and so the plot finds room for everyone associated with the series. Dwayne Johnson has a truncated role as compared to the previous films, but it is still awesome to watch, and he has some of the best lines. Elsa Pataky also finds a few minutes of screentime, but the most wonderful cameo would be of Lucas Black who played the lead character in The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift. The shot to Tokyo in fact plays the music of that film in the background; the fans of the series would love their memories being refreshed in such fashion! Nathalie Emmanue, a newcomer to the series, has quite a lot of screentime but seems out of depth. The big disappointment though would be the performance of Djimon Hounsou who could have done a lot better in the role of the terrorist Jakande, but remained too single-dimensional.
One of the most beautiful things about Furious 7 is the manner in which it honors the late Paul Walker. James Wan has not truncated Walker’s role and contribution to the movie, and carried him as an important character through the use of body doubles and CGI. The movie gives Walker his due. And it ends with a teary farewell, a heart-touching moment, as a montage of Walker in the Fast & Furious series flashes in front of our eyes. Paul Walker’s unfortunate demise is a tragedy we live with, but Furious 7 chooses to honour his work and contribution as an actor. Where this franchise moves to next is a question mark for now, but for those like me, who have seen it evolve into a massive cinematic experience over the last 15 years, a part of it ends with Furious 7. The movie had a final homage to pay which read “For Paul”. That is how I would like to end my article too. Remembering him one more time for being part of one of the most exciting movie franchises of our time. For Paul.