Continuing the global exploits in the unstoppable franchise built on speed, Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson lead the returning cast of Furious 7. James Wan directs this chapter of the hugely successful series that also welcomes back favorites Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky and Lucas Black. They are joined by international action stars new to the franchise including Jason Statham, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey and Kurt Russell.
After the events of 'Fast & Furious 6', the Toretto Family (or Crew) is back home in Los Angeles, finally on the right side of the law, but trying to find their footing in a less familiar world. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Dom (Vin Diesel) have been reunited, but their relationship is in jeopardy thanks to Letty's lingering amnesia. Meanwhile, Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordan Brewster) are adjusting to lives as parents. Brian clearly loves being a father, but does he miss the action of his FBI agent and outlaw days? Finally, DSS Agents Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Neves (Pataky) are back in the LA office, with Hobbs recommending Neves for a big promotion.
But dark times are a comin'...
Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) has risen from an assassin underworld to avenge his brother, Owen (the baddie from number six), never stopping until he takes apart Dominic Toretto's family piece by piece.
Enter Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, because this movie wasn't already awesome enough), a covert blackops agent who loves Belgian Alle, with the deal for Toretto and Crew: rescue a kidnapped hacker named Ramsey and retrieve the "God's Eye", the ultimate tracking device, and Mr. Nobody will let Toretto use the God's Eye to find Shaw before Shaw finds Toretto.
Never mind that Shaw shows up a dozen or so times in the middle of this mission... There's some automotive espionage that needs doing!
'The Fast and the Furious' franchise shouldn't exist. The first film is a modest 'Point Break' remake with car culture. The second entry drops Vin Diesel. And the third sails for Tokyo without any of the original characters. But then something incredible happens. Brian and Dom return for episode four and the results are pretty good. Then pretty much every character who has ever been in the franchise (even the dead one) arrives for 'Fast Five' while the series trades cops-undercover for spies-and-heists. The genre flip and character re-introductions is smart, producing the series' best entry, and now we find ourselves fourteen years into an improbable seven film franchise.
I'm a car guy. I grew up watching 'Knight Rider' and 'Dukes of Hazzard', and then fell in love with classic car movies like 'Vanishing Point', 'Bullit' and 'Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry'. This furiously fast franchise was made for guys like me, yet I've largely felt disconnected with these movies, catching them in cinemas, but never fully investing.
After Paul Walker's tragic death November 2013 and reading about how the filmmakers pushed forward to complete this seventh film in his honor, I decide to revisit them all in one go as opening weekend approached. I started watching in chronological order on Friday evening, and completed my weekend with 'Furious 7' on the largest screen in Los Angeles -- the newly revamped TCL Chinese IMAX... Located about a hundred yards from the now-closed venue where I had seen 'The Fast and the Furious' all those years ago.
Maybe it's nostalgia -- this is the first, long-running franchise I've experienced totally while living in Los Angeles -- but engrossing oneself in the 'Fast' universe has been, above all else, a lot of fun. I was able to break down each movie's strengths and weakness, but instead of living and dying on their own, they morphed in chapters of a much larger story. Through this I see how the filmmakers created a genuine epic saga of muscle car mayhem and bro'tacular action.
And, while I'll concede the last two entries have been overly convoluted, run long, and feature a little too much cartoon action, this franchise lives and dies on its family-first values. These are earnest films. Sincere, even in sillier moments.
I personally find this lack of cynicism refreshing and endearing.
Thanks to multiple entries, the characters too have grown. Given room to breathe, we watch them evolve from archetypes to something a little deeper, kinda like the kids from 'Harry Potter'. We care about them. We hope they will succeed even though we're pretty sure they will anyway.
How does 'Furious 7' line up?
For me, the fifth and first entries are the strongest, offering clean stories and interesting takes on their respective genres. I would probably lump 'Furious 7' together 'Fast & Furious' (#4 released, #3 in story order) and 'Tokyo Drift (#3 released, #6 in story order) as second tier entires -- 'Tokyo' is, oddly enough, the only one that's singularly about car racing. '2 Fast, 2 Furious' and 'Fast and Furious 6' are the weakest,in my humble opinion, but still fun when viewed as part of a larger picture.
'Furious 7' is an interesting entry, as it mixes together nostalgia for earlier chapters, some nice-albiet-melodramatic character arcs, the real-world death of one of its stars, and insane action -- all good things -- with unnecessary convolution that creeped up in 'FF6'.
James Wan steps into the director's chair for this entry with positive results. Together with producer/writer Chris Morgan, they focus on character emotions, the set-pieces are exciting and generally clear from a geographical sense (yet nowhere near the level of 'Mad Max Fury Road'). However, I would argue the film's biggest stumble is less about the plot convolution or implausible physics (though I understand why that irks some), but rather diluting Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw.
Shaw is established as a terrifying baddie in a clever opening title sequence, and quickly brings the crew to their collective knees, but then disappears and reappears almost at random. His frequent arrivals, from a scene perspective, add a nice complication to the moment, but undercut his villainy -- with each failure to kill Toretto and Crew, he is less clever and less dangerous. Further, Deckard's appearances undercut the whole reason Toretto and Crew go on this adventure in the first place (to find him).
So, yeah, 'Furious 7' evolves the franchise in the way you'd expect. If you prefer the more grounded earlier entries, this one errs on the side of bigger spectacle and plotier story. But, if you're invested in any sense, there's a lot of great character interplay -- the sense of family is strong with this onefamily we know well. And the action, as impossible as it gets, is pretty spectacular at times (let's just say The Rock's third act return is the best homage to '80s/'90s Schwarzenegger-style ridiculousness ever... and that's before Dom destroys his 9,000th '68 Charger).
'Furious 7' is nutballz and wild, and I'm not ashamed to admit that, particularly as a piece of a whole saga, I loved every minute of it despite its flaws.
One last thing... [MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW] I've never followed Paul Walker's career, but he was apparently one of the nicest working actors in Hollywood. A true gem. Which makes his loss ever-present while watching this production. The filmmakers had to find a way to say goodbye, and what they've done is emotional and respectful. In my April IMAX screening, the whole cinema went silent at the end, the soundtrack only slightly louder than the group sniffling, and then about fifty dudes exited a still-dark theatre with their sunglasses already on. Maybe it's this real-world loss that gives the film any grounding at all, I can't tell anymore, but my tip of the hat to the filmmakers for finding an honest and touching way to send Paul Walker and Brian O'Conner into the setting sun...
Curse you, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, you won't get me again!
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
'Furious 7' blasts onto Blu-ray as part of a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack. The Blu-ray contains both the Extended Cut as well as the Theatrical Cut of the films. The Digital HD redemption code will work with UltraViolet and/or iTunes.
'Furious 7' fishtails onto Blu-ray with an almost perfect AVC MPEG-4 encode framed in the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
'Furious 7' is interesting to judge from an HD video standpoint. It lusciously photographs stars and cars, whirling with a combination of practical and computer-enhanced glee. Resolution is, at times, endless. But, despite saturation and a colorful pallet, it's also a wee bit washed out and flat, particularly day time exteriors. Black levels also crush ever so slightly. Keep in mind though, these are minor-minor nitpicks and this Blu-ray recreates the theatrical prevention even if that means slightly-less-than HD perfection; if I could, I would rate this video at 4.8 stars.
NOTE: for this review, Klipsch kindly provided a set of Reference Premiere Dolby Atmos speakers, while Yamaha generously lent an AVENTAGE RX-A1050 7-channel AV Receiver. Look for full reviews of each sometime next month. The Klipsch configuration is a replica of the first-look demo at Dolby's Burbank One lab -- 7.2.4, link above -- but the A1050 is unable to process 11 channels. As such, I watched this entire film in its native 7.1 (no processing), while togging into 5.1.2 for a few sequences.
'Furious 7' roars onto Blu-ray with a technically proficient English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track as well as options for Espanol & Français 5.1 DTS, and 2.0 English DVS.
'Furious 7' offers everything audio geeks love about Blu-ray. It's loud, guttural, aggressive, and brimming with dynamic range. Voices are wonderful clear, even in the most bombastic sequences. Surround panning is all over the place. Burbling engines, pinging bullets, pulsing explosions, and hip hop soundtrack envelop this listener in surprising ways. LFE is demo worth (well, pretty much everything is with two 15" Klipsch subs). None of this is surprising, of course, but listeners should also keep an open ear for the film's quieter moments. Little transitions, sometimes IN action sequences, where the track drops to whisper quiet and fills out the world with ambience. This is a 7.1 track that impresses at each end of the spectrum.
My two quibbles: I wish there had been a little more 360 pans in some of the action sequences. And, in the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X era, it's a bit of a bummer to only get a 7.1 audio track option. Not the end of the world, but even doing quick tests with the Dolby Surround up-mixer -- 5.1.2 with the surrounds angled behind you is more effective than I assumed -- there's a lot of moments that are enhanced by height elements. I could only imagine how much better it could have been if it was a native mix rather than post-processing.
The 'Furious 7' Blu-ray offers over 100 minutes of bonus materials, the majority of these materials coming in the form of HD Exclusives (see below). The overall package is nice, and while it's never incredibly in-deapth, the featureless are quite informative. Fans should enjoy.
Back to the Starting Line (HD, 12:11). A short EPK interlacing film clips, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage. Here cast and crew discuss coming back to a franchise, making it bigger and bigger, yet remembering the humble beginnings.
Snatch and Grab (HD, 7:31). A look at the practical stunts performed at Pike's Peak as the Furious team tries to hijack an armored bus.
Race Wars (HD, 6:34). The seventh film returns to one of the key locations from the first.
Making of 'Fast & Furious' Supercharged Ride (HD, 8:15). A sneak peak of the new F&F interactive rollercoaster at Universal Studios Hollywood.
After years of dismissing this franchise, I took the plunge and watched the entire series in chronological order over the course of one weekend. Despite a growing sense of convolution and less-grounded action, this fourteen-year-old franchise is an absolute blast. We love the characters. We love the action. We love the cars. 'Furious 7' doesn't quite live up to 'Fast Five', but given the loss of actor Paul Walker during production, it remains an extremely emotional entry. Either way, I can't wait to see where this saga goes next, but if you don't, that's okay too.
As a Blu-ray, 'Furious 7' offers up excellent video, reference quality 7.1 audio (sorry, no Atmos or DTS:X), and over a 100 minutes of bonus materials. If you're already a franchise fan, or just want to own a fun action movie Blu-ray demo, 'Furious 7' is Highly Recommended. For everyone else, you'll probably want to rent it first. Average that out: Recommended.