You may, like me, have seen all of the Fast and Furious movies, and you may, like me, have enjoyed most or many of them. You may also, like me, have a hard time remembering exactly what happened in each film. You needn’t worry. The franchise’s Wikipedia page is filled with barebones yet surprisingly descriptive sentences like these: “Roman manages to anchor his car to the tank, which Brian then pushes over a bridge, flipping the tank.” Ah, yes — the old anchoring the car to the tank and then pushing it over the bridge trick, from 2013’s Fast & Furious 6. How quickly we forget! Could anything in any subsequent Fast and Furious movie — say, Furious 7 — ever top it?
The good news is that Furious 7 offers more — and more, and yet more — of the same. The series prides itself on scaling grander heights of craziness each time, and that’s part of what fans love about it: The 1,001 instances of shock-absorber abuse in Furious 7 include, but are not limited to, pinwheel turns executed inside an Abu Dhabi skyscraper (by a car without brakes, no less) and a rather sweet ode to one of the series’ great grandpappies, The Italian Job, in which a long, squarish buslike vehicle (which is not actually a bus) perches delicately on the brink of oblivion, almost taking with it one of the series’ central characters, the late Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner.
Dizzying stuff happens in Furious 7, and there are probably more instances of airborne cars than in any other single movie in the series. (This is the only modern movie franchise that owes a serious debt to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.) There’s something marvelously freeing about watching objects that were meant to hug the road soar through the heavens. Plus, these brief moments of floating freedom are a respite from the film’s predictably A.D.D.-choppy editing, a hallmark, sadly, of nearly all action movies today.
Yet the pace of Furious 7, even for those who prefer their movies slow and calm, is so aggressively frenetic that it might lull you into a sort of Zen state, as it did me. A picture can move only so fast before it starts to drift backward, and before long, Furious 7’s numerous swervings, crashes, and explosions started to blur into something like a spa bath. Like its forebears, this movie — directed by junior horror kingpin James Wan (The Conjuring), taking the gearshift from Justin Lin (director of movies three to six) — has a characteristically throwaway plot, with a few new faces thrown in. Jason Statham swaggers around as Deckard Shaw, a nasty British special-ops guy out to avenge the death of his brother, vanquished in the last movie. A Fast and Furious picture always needs an extra stone fox or two, and flirty-flinty Nathalie Emmanuel plays one here. (Her character is a hot hacker.) A suave, suit-wearing Kurt Russell pops in from nowhere — his entrance is one of the movie’s grandest, most pleasurable jokes — to reassemble Brian O’Conner’s old gang for, you know, one last job.
But this Furious 7 is more poignant than any other action movie in modern memory, for the simple reason that this really will be Brian’s one last job. Walker was killed in a car crash in November 2013, during a break from filming Furious 7, and his presence in the finished film is palpable, despite the fact that Wan had to use doubles (including Walker’s two younger brothers) to complete the shoot. And no matter how zany and over-the-top the action details get, the series’ core characters — introduced in that first exhilarating surprise hit, The Fast and the Furious, made fourteen years ago — have always been its lifeblood.
Most of those characters — the ones who haven’t been killed off, at least — are here: One of the franchise’s more recent additions, Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Hobbs, has a marvelous moment where he wields a gigantic automatic weapon — with those meaty arms, he handles it as daintily as if it were a leaf blower. Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto is back too, of course: In his trademark white waffle-knit shirt, he looks like a hip Mr. Clean. Michelle Rodriguez’s amnesiac Letty, Ludacris’s brainy-silly Tej, and Tyrese Gibson’s charming grandstander Roman remember things, make wisecracks, and try to run the show, respectively.
For all the full-throttle dazzle of Furious 7, the best scenes are the quietest ones, in which these characters make observations about love, life, and family that would seem overcooked in any other movie. In a tense moment, when Statham’s villainous Shaw tries to foist that old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” bromide on Toretto, the latter responds, with Dieselicious calmness, “I don’t have friends. I have family.” Furious 7 is mostly, as it should be, Diesel’s show. His deep affection for his late co-star — whom he calls, both on- and off-screen, his brother — has always been there in his eyes, and it seems to burn even warmer now.
I confess I’d always thought of Walker as a dull actor, but I see now that he was simply one of those performers whose presence — a handsome blond dependability — changes and enhances the color of the movie around him. That’s no small thing. The ending of Furious 7, one of the most straightforward and yet most touching final shots I’ve seen at the movies in years, is a kind of benediction. “Things are going to be different now,” Toretto say, as Furious 7 coasts to a gentle stop. Because no matter how fast or how slow you drive, the scenery around you is always subject to change.