1. Furious 7
No film in the series ever has or surely ever will be faced with a challenge as seemingly insurmountable as Furious 7, which had to make narrative and logistical sense of Paul Walker’s sudden mid-production death while still delivering an escapist thrill-ride that didn’t feel entirely like a downcast eulogy.
Add to this the fact that Justin Lin opted not to return for the movie, being replaced with the blockbuster-untested James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring), and it would’ve surprised few fans if this installment was the messiest of the lot.
That the film exists in such a coherent and entertaining form, then, is no minor miracle on the part of Wan and the cast and crew, but the fact that it’s also ultimately the best film in the series is a testament to the clear heart and passion that went into getting it right.
To get the obvious concern out of the way first, Walker’s reintegration into the film is about as seamless as one could realistically ask for. There are obvious tells and slightly plastic-y CGI faces in some scenes, but for the most part the effects work from the wizards at Weta Digital is a phenomenal achievement that should’ve received major awards consideration.
Beyond this, the other major fear of Wan’s involvement was clearly nothing to worry about, with the horror filmmaker rising to the occasion and beyond, his penchant for adventurous, roving camerawork lending the film a slyly unique aesthetic compared to Justin Lin, if perhaps not quite as smoothly controlled.
Furious 7 takes the quasi-superheroism of the previous film and aggressively one-ups it with some of the series’ most creatively ridiculous set-pieces – particularly the parachuting cars and that delirious dive through the Etihad Towers.
The plot is as daft as ever, focused on the whatever God’s Eye trinket, though Morgan’s script, however it was recalibrated following Walker’s death, impressively spins a lot of plates without ever letting the melodrama overcome the action.
Some excellent cast additions don’t hurt; Jason Statham enters the fold in earnest as the series’ best villain Deckard Shaw – who inevitably turns heroic in the next installment – while Kurt Russell is a hoot as the Belgian ale-loving spook Mr. Nobody, Tony Jaa kicks ass in a few inspired battles opposite Paul Walker, and Nathalie Emanuel’s hacker Ramsey adds a welcome distaff presence to the testosterone-engorged roster. Lucas Black’s brief cameo also amuses, albeit largely because he’s clearly in his 30s by this point yet is still playing the teenage Tokyo Drift-era version of Sean.
There are a few undeniable casting disappointments, though; Dwayne Johnson spends the bulk of the movie hospitalised – due to scheduling conflicts with Hercules – and though he’s pure electric every time he is on screen, it’s not nearly enough. Djimon Hounsou is also wasted in the thankless role of secondary villain Mose Jakande, and the less said about Ronda Rousey’s performance as a bodyguard in Abu Dhabi, the better.
Yet more than any other film in the series, it manages to balance familial soap opera – some of the most potent of the series, if unfortunately a by-product of Walker’s passing – with face-melting action sequences and jovial character banter. To date it remains the ultimate Fast and Furious movie, and by way of its tastefully touching final farewell to Walker, may leave even hardy blokes wiping away a tear or two.
The zenith of the series’ inspired ridiculous before it began to start feeling overegged, Furious 7 offers a strong tribute to Paul Walker and would’ve frankly been a mighty ending for the entire enterprise.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
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Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.