Furious 7 could be the movie that kicks the 14-year-old Fast and Furious franchise past the $3-billion mark at the international box office. All of the series' distinctive elements are in place. We have the casually multi-racial cast and the usual off-hand jokes (when it becomes necessary to look underneath a car, Vin Diesel just leans down and lifts the front end up into the air). And there's a more-than-usual reverence for family and friendship, much of it stirred by the departure of longtime star Paul Walker, who died in a car crash in 2013, midway through production.
What we have mostly, of course, is state-of-the-art automotive uproar, room-wrecking MMA-style smack-downs, and wildly inventive stunts performed by real live people. When we see a man running desperately up the outside of a bus that's tilting over the edge of a cliff, or a squad of muscle cars roaring out the back of a transport plane into free fall toward the ground far below—well, we know we're in the presence of filmmakers who take this sort of thing seriously. (New director James Wan, best-known for horror hits like Saw and the Insidious films, proves himself a natural action man.) This is the longest movie in the franchise, and toward the end the action overload begins to wear. But the picture never wanders far from its furious imperative, and it's a lot of fun.
It gets down to business right at the beginning, with new villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) visiting his banged-up brother Owen (Luke Evans) in a London hospital. You'll recall that Owen succumbed to rough justice at the end of Fast & Furious 6. Now Deckard, a rogue special-forces assassin, vows reprisal against his brother's assailants—a scary prospect, as we soon see. On the way out of the hospital he hands a cop a live grenade.
The people Deckard begins hunting, naturally, are ex-con street racer Dominic Toretto (Diesel) and his daredevil crew, who were all pardoned for various worldwide infractions at the end of the last movie and are currently trying out the straight life. Dom is peacefully ensconced in his house in L.A. with his buddy Brian (Walker), who's married to Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), with whom he has a cute little kid. Brian isn't adjusting well to tranquility—he misses the action-packed old days. As if in answer to one of his prayers, the house he now calls home suddenly blows up.
Dom reconvenes his crew. Once again we have his still-amnesiac inamorata Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), comic-relief specialists Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris), and long-ago buddy Lucas (Sean Boswell, returning from the third film, Tokyo Drift). Also back is diplomatic-security bruiser Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the crew's onetime antagonist, now a pal. And since a number of characters cashed in their chips in the last movie, some fresh ones have been inserted into the fray. Chief among these is Kurt Russell, playing a shadowy government operative who wants Dom to lay hands on a cool new spy device called "God's Eye," which will "change the face of manhunts forever." This MacGuffin-esque item—which Dom is invited to employ in tracking Deckard—is currently in the possession of a computer hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, of Game of Thrones), and is also being sought by an African terrorist called Jakande (Djimon Hounsou), who wants to use it to conquer the world (or something).
The story ricochets from the Mojave Desert to Tokyo to Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi, and apart from a few sweet romantic interludes with Dom and Letty, the action never lets up. There's a ferocious encounter between Statham and Johnson that reduces a large office to splinters and shards, and a long multi-auto chase up the side of a mountain that's packed with great stunt work. At a penthouse party filled with gold-painted bikini girls, we get a high-heel melee pitting Letty against a contingent of female bodyguards led by steely MMA champ Ronda Rousey. And following that there's a scene involving a $3-million sports car and a trio of skyscrapers that is wonderfully ridiculous—the movie's best gag.
Paul Walker's death shut down the picture's production for a few months while script adjustments were made. His incomplete performance was filled out with old footage from past films and stand-in work by his brothers Caleb and Cody, and the improvisation is fairly seamless. Walker gets a brief tribute sequence at the end of the movie, and it's the best kind of heartfelt farewell. He may not be coming back, but he'd probably be happy to know that the eighth installment of the franchise that made him a star is already in the works.