Furious Seven (2015)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/27/15
Director: James Wan
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Tony Jaa, Jordana Brewster, Kurt Russell, cameos by Luke Evans, Elsa Pataky, Ronda Rousey, Gal Gadot

Taking place immediately after the events in "Fast & Furious 6" (2013), an extremely deadly ex-MI6 agent named Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) targets Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team to avenge his brother, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Things get complicated when a government agent named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) shows up with an offer to help eliminate Shaw, in exchange for Toretto's assistance in securing a piece of surveillance technology and rescuing a beautiful computer hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) from a group of terrorists. This contrived plot element sets the stage for a series of outlandish car stunts across the globe, and ultimately pits Toretto's team against Shaw and his terrorist buddies in the streets of Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, it's a bit of a disappointment and Justin Lin's steady hand is sorely missed. Director James Wan seems way out of his depth in a production of this size and scope, and while the action choreography is superb, the cinematography and editing are inexcusably bad and reek of B-movie mentality. In fact, the film is assembled so poorly that the raw behind-the-scenes footage actually looks better than the final product, which is really discouraging. You have to work really hard to make Thai fighter Tony Jaa look bad, but this film manages to do just that. Similarly, a hard hitting showdown between Michelle Rodriguez and Ronda Rousey is totally ruined by spastic camera work and choppy editing. The car scenes fare slightly better, but the cuts are still too quick and interspersed with way too many pointless shots of hand and footwork. Another disappointment is that Gal Gadot is prominently listed in the opening credits, sparking speculation that her character may have survived or that we'd get to see a flashback of some kind. Unfortunately, her sole contribution to the film is a photograph found in Han's car. That's it. She got an opening credit for one photograph. What a huge letdown.

While the action scenes are predictably fast and furious, they approach "A-Team" levels of absurdity and poor marksmanship. The amount of physical abuse these people take is unimaginable, and their ability to dodge bullets and defy physics is laughably uncanny. When it comes down to it, it's really a superhero franchise at this point, where everyone drives really cool cars and no one gets seriously hurt (except for an endless stream of hapless henchmen).

Sadly, tragedy struck during the film's production when actor Paul Walker died in an unrelated car accident. This required some revisions to the script and some digital trickery to fill in the gaps. The results are quite convincing, and I only noticed 3-4 scenes that looked slightly off. A forced and awkwardly out of place epilogue recounts Walker's role throughout the series as Toretto says good-bye to his old friend, but I can't fault the filmmakers for wanting to memorialize his contribution to the series. As Universal's highest grossing film to date, you can bet that another sequel is in the works, but it's unclear what direction they can go with the characters and their lore. More than likely they'll pass the baton by trying to hook audiences with a new generation of racers.