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Following the events of Furious 6, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team Brian (Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) are back home in the United States, their crazy Rio exploits forgiven in exchange for their participation in stopping Owen Shaw and his gang in London. Despite Brian's reservations about settling down, things are peaceful until their Diplomatic Security Service contact Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is hospitalized and their drifting member Han is murdered. The culprit is ex-Special Forces assassin Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), brother to Owen, out for revenge. Dom prepares to defend his family with little but his fists, but instead he gets a surprise assist from Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), a shadowy government agent who offers access to an unprecedented resource in exchange for help retrieving a super-hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) from a deadly terrorist (Djimon Hounsou).
While nobody wants to dampen the mood by discussing the impact Walker's death had on the picture, it's hard to ignore. That's not to say incoming director James Wan and his team (including Diesel, also a producer) haven't put in an impressive effort to ensure the actor's presence is fully felt, just that Walker's contributions to the films were crucial, something that may not have been fully appreciated until now. The bond between Dom and Brian (not to mention Diesel and Walker) is the beating heart of the series, and although every scene they share is a taste of that energy which fans of the series or Walker will treasure, plenty of connective tissue is missing. Digital effects to fill in gaps are generally convincing, but quick cuts, odd angles, and frequent off-screen line delivery betray the illusion to an extent, adding a bittersweet flavor to many moments.
Walker's impact is also felt in scenes his character isn't in, due to the way his passing rerouted the project. I'm as die-hard a Fast fan as you're likely to find, but Furious Seven's desire to play to the fanbase is occasionally an example of "too much of a good thing." Until now, in the hands of writer Chris Morgan, the series has done a great job of connecting dots without winking at the audience, but Seven amps up these nudges as part of the desire to deliver a tribute that rewards the fans for their outpouring of support in the wake of tragedy. The silliness of this chapter also reaches a fever pitch, which is expected for a franchise that keeps upping the ante, but Wan lacks Lin's poker face. Fast Five and Furious 6 were certainly "in on the joke," but the execution of those films' ludicrous stunt sequences had a straight-faced sincerity that made those moments sing. Seven's indulgence and self-awareness temper the fun a little with a need to please.
Wan, a horror veteran and the series' first new director since Tokyo Drift, puts his fingerprint on the film, adding an acrobatic camera and a bolder tone to the action. The raucous finale, a wild, escalating opera of craziness, is impressively orchestrated for a guy working with more than ten times his usual budget. He's also brought in several new cast members, the best of whom is Russell, having a ball hamming it up. Mr. Nobody's last couple scenes are a bit awkward (likely among those that were rewritten), but hopefully Diesel makes good on his comments that Russell will be back in a potential Fast 8. On the other hand, Wan's love for high frame-rate action that gives movement a choppy look (which reads like quick-cutting and shaky cam) and an excess of "sexy" montages (something the series should be dropping, not increasing) are less pleasing. There's also a disappointing reliance on digital enhancements to scenes featuring real, physical stuntwork (the skydiving stunt from all the trailers is real cars falling from an actual plane, but the insert shots, replacement backgrounds, and CG clouds mean you'll hardly be able to tell), not to mention straight-up CG action.
Still, it's hard to begrudge a film that is so dedicated to delivering 200% of everything as a tribute to Walker. Of all the scenes created after his passing, the closing moments are the most effective, creating a heartfelt farewell that embraces the fourth wall. It's clear that the movie was a labor of love for the cast and crew at the most painful moment, and the film's patchwork quality is more a testament to their solidarity than a target for complaint. It's hard not to watch the film and imagine the Furious Seven that could have been, but what exists is commendable in its earnestness, which can't be said for many posthumous productions. The closing narration, delivered by Diesel, lays the sentiment on a bit thick, but that's kind of what's moving about it: the engines are big, but the love is bigger.
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