Arriving in cinemas like a soothing balm for those still nursing their sense of loss over the “Top Gear” fracas, “Fast and Furious 7” offers salvation through madcap motoring stunts using extraordinary supercars in exotic locations. But the “Fast & Furious” franchise is nursing its own sense of loss and it infuses itself throughout the entire film.
Picking up the story where “Fast and Furious 6” (and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”) left off, this instalment sees the gang’s hard-won peace shattered when Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) comes looking for revenge for the events of London and Spain. When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is hospitalized, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is offered a deal from shadowy Government agent ‘Mr Nobody’ (Kurt Russell). In exchange for the gang’s help in recovering some stolen technology, he will help hunt down and eliminate Shaw.
The start is, admittedly, a little disjointed as the film takes the time to remind us of the end of not one, but two previous instalments leading to the unintentional amusement of Lucas Black’s character visibly ageing by ten years during a scene transition but once the narrative returns to the present, it steps on the gas and rarely lets up. The action continues to be cutting edge in both its creativity and sheer crazy inventiveness, like the fevered dream of a “Top Gear” producer after a month long steroid and energy drink binge. The narrative links that hold the motoring set pieces and revenge plot together are a little more tenuous and contrived than in previous instalments but, surprisingly, it’s in the tone and themes that the film finds its greatest strengths.
The sudden death of star Paul Walker during production has left an indelible mark on this production but its testament to the writing and production that the completion of the film in his absence is almost seamless. Whatever the original plan, it’s reworked into an ongoing theme of Walker’s Brian O’Connor facing a crossroads; a choice between a family life and the excitement of his former life. With some judicious editing, body doubles and a dash of CGI, the character never feels awkwardly absent from the movie or underserved by the script (although there is a cast member who does). There’s a real sense of love and respect in the elegant send-off given to both the character and the actor at the very end of the film, with one shot in particular packing an unexpectedly powerful poignancy.
Not content with delivering one of this year’s best action movies and providing a fitting memorial for a beloved cast member, as the film brings down the metaphorical curtain on an era, it confidently sows the seeds for a new set of adventures, yet another reinvention for a franchise which has reinvented itself so often it might as well be Gallifreyan. Director James Wan may be a little too fond of the combo of pulsing dance music and lasciviously lingering shots of the sleek curves of supercars and bikini clad supermodels but he never forgets to pack in the all the equal opportunity rock ‘em sock ‘em action he can, a throw-down between Michelle Rodriguez and Ronda Rousey (Rousey’s fighting’s good, acting not so much) and the final reckoning between Statham and Diesel being particular highlights. It may not be high art, but it’s state of the art in terms of muscular, action-orientated entertainment. The insane levels of testosterone-driven machismo are always balanced with a knowing twinkle in the eye, especially from Diesel and Johnson, and the skill, sensitivity and dignity with which it honours Paul Walker’s memory instead of exploiting it is one of the highlights of a great movie.
I ended up seeing this at a midnight screening after a full day of work and two hours of running around with the kids at a soft play party and I didn’t even come close to nodding off once during the movie. Surely there’s no higher praise than that?