"Furious 7" is the seventh entry in Universal Studios' enduring "The Fast & The Furious" movie franchise. The action film stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and the late Paul Walker in what is his final on-screen performance. This latest and possibly final sequel in the series finds the Diesel-led team of drag-racing avengers facing off against two terrorists in a contest of firepower and horsepower.
The globe-trotting adventure introduces Jason Statham as the film's primary antagonist, Deckard Shaw. Shaw, an ex-military assassin, vows revenge against Diesel's Dominic Toretto for putting Shaw's brother Owen in traction by the end of "Fast Six". (Or rather, at the beginning of this film; it was assumed Owen was vaporized by the end of the last movie. Luke Evans plays a near-corpse quite well, it must be said.) To telegraph Shaw's tough-guy bona fides to the audience, his introductory scene leaves the entire wing of a hospital in shambles. After the brutal sidelining of federal cop Hobbs (Johnson), Shaw's got his cross-hairs aimed at Toretto and his team, including Brian O'Connor (Walker), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges) and amnesiac Letti (Michelle Rodriguez), all gathered by mysterious CIA rep Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, seemingly in a nod to his own history as an action icon). Mr. Nobody wants Toretto's team to rescue a pretty computer hacker (Game of Thrones' Nathalie Emmanuel) from the clutches of yet another terrorist, Mose Jakande (played by Djimon Honsou); in exchange, a special computer-satellite chip she has access to will allow them to track down Shaw for a final showdown.
The particular MacGuffin of this film is somewhat of a moot point; Shaw manages to somehow abruptly show up like Jaws the shark at inopportune times to assert his revenge as the heroes are trying to rescue someone or steal something. Director James Wan-- heretofore known for lensing horror films like Insidious and Saw-- is a newcomer to the franchise and capably abets the over-the-top sensibilities of the film series. In comparison to the first film's Southern California setting, the latest entry casually adds Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi to its list of exotic locales visited. Before the credits roll, viewers will be also exposed to not one but two games of chicken, a fleet of cars parachuting to a mountain road, a marauding helicopter, a remote-controlled drone, and a sports car soaring between three skyscrapers. Subtlety isn't a virtue in the "Furious" universe.
The acting performances are all on-point for the characters featured. Diesel's Toretto is all stoicism and bottled fury, punctuated by the occasional smart-aleck quip; Statham's Shaw is a cocky bastard who isn't above bringing an automatic rifle to a street fight; Johnson's Hobbs is a macho cowboy prone to spout testosterone-laced punchlines that would only be credible coming from The Rock. Sadly, he isn't in the film as much as he could be. Most of the film's comic relief comes from Gibson's motormouth Roman with Bridges' Tej as his tech-savvy foil. Rodriguez arguably has the most demanding character arc with her lingering amnesia, but its resolution is rather abrupt. Lastly, Walker's Brian is the level-headed heart of the team, but torn in adjusting to being a new dad and husband to Toretto's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster).
Walker and a friend were tragically killed in a car accident before the film's primary photography was completed. Subsequently, his remaining segments were filmed using body doubles and computer-driven special effects. To the extent that the film series has already made heavy usage of stunt doubles and CGI enhancement, this is both par for the course and a curious commentary on the potential for posthumous acting performances in cinema. None but the most wizened (or cynical) of filmgoers can likely tell where the real Walker begins and ends. Still, occasional in-story comments about characters being "tired of funerals" and Brian's lingering angst about being retired from the craziness of dodging bullets and leaping from moving vehicles casts a bittersweet pall over the proceedings. Screenwriter Chris Morgan's script regularly brings up family ties as the film and franchise's prominent theme. It works, albeit nominally, though these films are more about muscle cars (and musclemen) than philosophy. Bring popcorn, fasten your seat belts and enjoy this (alleged) last joyride from Diesel and company.