Let’s start here: Furious 7 is the latest in a growing list of action movies that I found myself simultaneously awed and troubled by. While I am continuously surprised that a franchise as pleasurable as this one frequently is came from the same film that spawned listless spinoffs like Torque and Biker Boyz, the seventh installment of The Fast and the Furious‘s now thankfully untangled universe spends a not insignificant amount of time arguing that, in the right hands, global surveillance is a good thing. You’ve seen this before—Batman, needing to find the Joker, convinces his tech guy, with little more than a shrug, to let him jack into every phone in Gotham City. Superman flies up, up, and away so that he can listen very carefully for the heartbeat of the one specific person in Metropolis he’s looking for. Professor X builds a machine that can let him listen to the thoughts of hundreds of thousands of human beings at once so he can identify the mutants in the crowd, show up on their doorstep, and give them a hug. The Avengers spent half a movie trying to fix a flying boat that was being used to spy on the world and only got upset about it later. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is a superhero, too, perhaps the 21st century’s first original one, and here, in 2015, when a government agent named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) tells him that there’s a flash drive that’ll let him or whoever has it tap into every Internet-ready device on the planet, he is completely unfazed. Hell, that kind of thing might even be useful.
Furious 7 means nothing by its MacGuffin, of course. Mr. Nobody promises that it can be used to track down Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), a shadow who has been hunting Toretto and his makeshift family for crippling his brother in Fast & Furious 6, but Shaw is never exactly hiding, unless that’s what he’s doing by showing up on a mountain pass with a specially rigged car designed to force Toretto and his crew off the edge of a cliff. Dom’s proposed alternate plan of hanging out and drinking Corona until Shaw found him probably would have worked, truth be told. But as all the fancy computers in the world bleep and bloop until they’re locked on to the face and voice of a computer hacker who is trying to bring this spy system down with a prayer and a digital readout screen, one can’t help but wonder how important these big, dumb, exciting action spectacles will be in normalizing the already near-constant state of surveillance we live under.
Director James Wan, taking over for Justin Lin, is taken by quick-edited establishing shots of Furious 7‘s many foreign cities and rapid-fire montages of female anatomy just, you know, standing around during the series’ now perfunctory drag racing and beachfront sequences, a somewhat goofy throwback to the series as it was before Lin made it a canvas for spectacle. That nostalgia serves both narrative and extra-narrative purposes, though, as the film is at least nominally about the creation and evolution of a makeshift family, and is absolutely about giving deceased star Paul Walker a final bow. As Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) struggles with her memory and her place in the crew, Furious 7 wrings the most tension out of the action sequences revolving around Walker’s Brian O’Conner, a new father who would be struggling with his adjustment to the domestic life if Deckard Shaw’s revenge plot didn’t involve cutting every branch of the Toretto family tree. The Fast and the Furious has struggled in the past to make Walker and Jordana Brewster’s domestic quibbles seem relevant to the business of whipping around exotic cities in cars capable of lightspeed, but if Furious 7 isn’t focused on these characters (and Brewster has been relegated to pregnancy and staying back at the fort for some time now), then it is at least dedicated to giving them a real ending, a thing not often afforded to the main character of a decade-spanning action franchise.
The attention paid to the core characters from The Fast and the Furious means that there is less for the ancillary characters to do, Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) getting their tech guy/comic relief licks in from the fringes of the film so that Kurt Russell can wax sarcastic about the shadowy government organization he works for. Dwayne Johnson, whose character completely changed the scope and tenor of the series, spends most of this installment hospitalized. When he’s in play, though, he’s in play: flexing, waggling his eyebrows, spouting catchphrases—Hobbs is Dwayne Johnson in “The Rock” mode, pure brain candy. With each film he appears in, it’s clear that Johnson is on another level as an action star, bringing together physical presence and charisma in a way that suggests peak Schwarzenegger or Stallone, if either of those men were capable of having fun with themselves as living action figures. He and Diesel are compelling foils to each other and to the Schwarzenegger/Stallone rivalry, Johnson’s best vehicles being those where he is all mega-watt charm and Diesel’s being those where he can brood and menace. Diesel is forever the philosopher-king of the quarter-mile, and it’d be easy for a movie with Furious 7‘s purpose to get lost, gazing into its own navel. If Furious 7 is the last film in the series that suggests a family barbecue and a return to normalcy is ever going to be possible for these characters, Toretto is going to need his buddy Hobbs around to remind him that there’s a whole world out there to simultaneously save and destroy, one car at a time.
Furious 7. With Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Paul Walker (Brian O’Conner), Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Jordana Brewster (Mia), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Taj), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Tony Jaa (Kiet), Djimon Hounsou (Jakande), and Ronda Rousey (Kara). Directed by James Wan, from a screenplay by Chris Morgan.