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Movie Review: Furious Seven

Furious Seven Directed By James Wan In Theatres I wanted to know, can you just jump into a film series with no clue as to what came before and still be entertained? With no information as to even the names of the characters, their relationships to ea

Furious Seven
Directed By James Wan
In Theatres

I wanted to know, can you just jump into a film series with no clue as to what came before and still be entertained? With no information as to even the names of the characters, their relationships to each other, their backstories, anything that was established in the previous movies, can you walk into the theatre cold and still have a good time? Without seeing any of the previous six movies, without knowing the plots or story motivations or continuity between the films, could I take my seat and watch the seventh film in a series and not be lost, confused and bewildered? I've never watched a Fast and Furious film. Not one. I think I turned on The Fast and The Furious once and saw a car hit a train and explode and went on with my life with no other contact with the series. I know lots of fans of the series and, while I respect their opinions, I was never curious enough to check out one of these car race films.

And that idea, that I wasn't curious to check out any of the Fast and Furious movies, a series of films that seemed to revolve completely around car chases, now that I think about it, is honestly and truly weird. I love good car chases. Favourite part of The French Connection? Gene Hackman racing through the streets of New York chasing a train. I grew up on Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Gone In Sixty Seconds. The Bourne films have amazing car chases. My wife hates Ronin, says it's nothing but a two-hour long car chase. And I ask what's wrong with that? To Live And Die In L.A.? One of the great car chases of the 80s. The Mad Max films? Heaven. Especially The Road Warrior. The Blues Brothers? Paradise. The Transporter movies? Love them all. The Matrix sequels are exceptionally disappointing. Except for the highway chase in Reloaded. That was perfection. Death Proof? Ecstasy. So, yeah, it's weird that I wasn't interested enough to check out any of the Fast and Furious movies.

It's not like I didn't like the actors involved, either. I've been a fan of Vin Diesel since Saving Private Ryan and Pitch Black. And I enjoyed Michelle Rodriguez in almost everything I've seen her in. And how can anyone not be a fan of Dwayne Johnson? The man's comedic timing is pure gold. Paul Walker was the enigma, I didn't know him from anything but the trailers for the Fast and Furious movies. But he seemed charismatic. Tyrese Gibson was entertaining in the Transformer movies. And Ludacris is always great. So, once again, I can't explain why I hadn't watched a single Fast and Furious movie.

Leading up to buying my ticket, I made a conscious decision not to dig too deep into the Fast and Furious mythos. There are a couple of 'everything you need to know about the Fast and Furious movies in ten minutes' videos floating around on the internet. I didn't watch them. A friend tried to explain some of what he loves about the movies but I got confused. I avoided any of the synopsis, examinations, summations, rehashes, and inventories of the series that pop-up like weeds whenever one of these films come out. I avoided press and trailers. I've missed Dwayne Johnson on Saturday Night Live and I've missed his lip-synch of Taylor Swift's Shake It Off. I saw headlines stating that Helen Mirren would like to be in the series but didn't give in. I avoided any and all click bait. I wanted to go into this thing as a complete Fast and Furious virgin. That last sentence makes me giggle like a twelve-year-old.

So I bought my ticket, disconnected from the mythos of Dom Toretto and Brian O'Cooner and Letty and Roman and Tej and Hobbs. I just had to look up these names online. To fans of this series I must be like the guy that goes to a Bond film and then asks people around him: "Which one's Bond?"

And two-plus hours later I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was completely overwhelmed, shocked, awestruck. Gobsmaked, if you will. It's been decades since I've seen a Hollywood action film that just threw off all pretensions and just revelled in being what it is. Over the top and ridiculous and loud and dumb and no, physics don't work that way. But who cares when everyone involved wants the audience to just have as much fun as we could possibly have in public without the police being called. And that is what a great action film is - over the top and ridiculous. Furious Seven just accepts what it is and turns everything to eleven. There were moments in the theatre when I realized I had been sitting with a giant grin while cars parachuted from a plane or jumped from one skyscraper to another or Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham beat the crap out of each other. Two great athletes putting the hurt on each other? I was like Oliver Twist, looking up to the screen and saying: "More, please."

I really enjoyed what director James Wan did with Saw and The Conjuring, the creeping dread in both films becomes another character, the viewer feels as claustrophobic as the characters as the tension mounts. What he pulls off in this film is just as amazing, but from an unexpected direction. The camera is so very kinetic during the action scenes, and very still during the quieter moments. He is no Michael Bay, cameras swooping and sweeping non-stop, making an entire two-hour film feel like a trailer. There is something new and unique and fun here. The camera follows characters as they are upended and and thrown and tossed during fight scenes, the frame spinning, doing full revolutions and more. It streaks between and through cars as they race up mountain roads or down the streets of Los Angeles. The use of motion blur during the fight scenes made my jaw drop. These are all just as exciting as the first time I saw John Woo's The Killer or A Better Tomorrow. Chow Yun Fat throwing himself sideways across the floor, toothpick hanging out of his mouth, two pistols blasting away as John Woo's camera spun from him to the bad guys getting mowed down, all one fluid motion with no cut - this will always be what I think of as the John Woo action film standard. James Wan has it in him to join the canon of great action film makers. He could be on his way to creating his own signature action film moment.

The filmmakers have made life very easy for newbies to the series. There is no exposition dump, all the important stuff that happened before is handled with an impressive nod to the new comers while still respecting the fans of the series who don't want to sit through ten or more minutes of "as you know". There is no "previously on" here and it shows a trust in the audience, a respect for the viewer that is increasingly rare in mainstream Hollywood films. I don't know what happened in London, but I know it was bad because there's a guy in a coma and his brother is going on a kill-crazy revenge rampage and is bringing the hurt to our heroes. I don't know the details of what happened to Letty, but I got the idea. I don't know how the gang took down a tank and a plane in the previous films but Roman's claims that he did it alone made me chuckle, I figured out the joke. Yeah, there are jokes and references that only fans of the series are going to get. But that is expected and they weren't a distraction for me. In fact, most of the jokes are handled in a way that a newbie like me could laugh along with the fans. Maybe these moments didn't have the full weight behind them for me, but that isn't the film's fault. It's just the nature of a long running series. Should a Bond film stop to explain why this particular moment is making some in the audience cheer and laugh and clap? Never. And I shouldn't expect a Fast and Furious film to stop to explain, either.

How can you not love a movie that casts Kurt Russell, Snake Plissken and Stuntman Mike himself? It's been a while since I last saw Kurt Russell having this much fun, cracking up at the exploits of our heroes, singing the praises of a good Belgian ale. Or casts Jason Statham as the villain, going completely against type. Really, nearly the entire cast more than earns their pay cheques here. No-one is going to rewrite the rules of method here, but this isn't that kind of film. The only sour spot is the cameo of the Australian pop singer who insists on speaking like she grew up on 8 Mile. Thankfully she's only on screen for about 15 seconds and has only one truly annoying line.

But otherwise Furious Seven is far faster and far furiouser than I expected. For pure entertainment, Furious Seven is a home run, the ball hit clear out of the park and into a neighbouring area code.

It turns out that, for this series at least, you can jump in with no clue as to what came before and still be entertained. With no information as to even the names of the characters, their relationships to each other, their backstories, anything that was established in the previous films, you can walk into the theatre cold and have a great time. I was never lost once, never confused, never bewildered. There were many things I wasn't expecting when I was sitting through the trailers, waiting for the movie to begin. I wasn't expecting to be sitting with a giant grin on my face, I wasn't expecting to laugh out loud, I wasn't expecting to be so completely invested in what happens to our heroes. I wasn't expecting to be so utterly entertained. And I wasn't expecting an action movie to give me a bad case of the feels. I'm not going to give anything away, I'm just going to say it got real dusty in that theatre. Real dusty, indeed.

Furious Seven is worth your time and it's worth your money and I can't recommend it enough. If I had a rating system for this thing, on a scale from 'Zoe Bell hanging onto the hood of a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T' to anything in Cannonball Run 3, I'd give Furious Seven a 'Jason Bourne telling Marie to buckle up'.