After taking down debonair criminal mastermind, Owen Shaw, all thoughts of a life of peace and domesticity for Toretto, O'Conner and co. are put on the back burner when Shaw's older Black Ops sibling comes out of the shadows with vengeance his primary assignment.
Picking up from where the last movie left off - the events of Tokyo Drift taking place in between part six and seven - the seventh instalment of the Fast & the Furious juggernaut sets the tone of the film's priorities from the very first scene: gloriously, unashamedly OTT action firmly in the driving seat with story and plausibility distinctly riding shotgun. It shouldn't (and in most cases wouldn't normally) work, but we are now so invested in this series and it's characters that it just about gets away with it - much like the film's set pieces, plot credibility is always teetering on the periphery, but given benefit of the doubt.
Right from the off, we are introduced to Jason Statham's (super) villain, Deckerd Shaw, brother of the big bad from F&F 6. It's inspired casting - a cross between an evil Jason Bourne and The Anti-Transporter, and the turbo charged boost required for a franchise that's entered into it's seventh lap. Finding his fallen brother(in-arms) in a supposedly highly secured hospital, the aftermath of the visit leaving absolutely no doubt the threat posed by Shaw - something also emphasised in a series of initial encounters between the latter and our protagonists.
From there, another shadowy government agent (Kurt Russell) - who is so secretive that he doesn't even use an alias! "I'm nobody...just a guy," he says, upon being quizzed by Toretto of his identity - enters the fray and initiates the subplot involving the quasi MacGuffin of The God's Eye. It's a hi-tech tracking device so powerful that Bin Laden could have been located in hours rather than ten years! Supposedly, our gang needs to locate and secure the God's Eye in order to find Shaw, although that's largely redundant as Shaw practically spends all his time hunting the team! Really, it's just an excuse to embark on a globe trotting adventure that's more akin to the Mission Impossible movies, tangle with rent-a-baddie Djimon Hounsou and to add another member to the crew - this time in the shape of, possibly, the sexiest computer hacker in movie history (Nathalie Emmanuel of Game of Thrones). A point which is far from lost on Tyrese Gibson's motormouth Roman Pearce.
So it's established that plot takes a back seat so the film-makers can adhere to the tried and tested formula of the previous entry consisting of fast cars, hot chicks, blistering action and crazy stunts, and in this respect, Fast 7 certainly delivers and then some. Especially in the first two acts. It might be too late by now, but if anyone hasn't seen them yet, please avoid the main trailers as it shows in full near enough all the major set pieces! Horror director James Wan slips into Justin Lin's director's chair seamlessly with the movie featuring plenty of nifty camerawork and well choreographed action - don't forget that Wan directed the effective Kevin Bacon action thriller Death Sentence. It also obviously helps that the cast consists of, in addition to Statham, martial arts performers such as Tony Jaa and Rhonda Rousey, who surely must have had a big input in the choreography of the fight scenes.
The film's pacing is almost perfect and speeds through its two hour plus running time like an injection of NOS gas, not slowing enough to allow the viewer to question and dissect the (flimsier than a Fiat bodywork's) plot. Whenever it threatens to get too ridiculous, there is always welcome comic relief from Tyrese Gibson to remind us not to take any of it too seriously. The final third is slightly anti-climactical after the superbly crafted set pieces that precede it, but picks up notably when The Rock gets in on the act, "old painless" in tow - replete with crowd pleasing, Arnie-esque one liner - and the inevitable Diesel vs Statham face-off. Also watch out for a nice little classic John Woo homage during the finale when Paul Walker takes on Tony Jaa.
The heartfelt tribute to Paul Walker at the close of the film is handled brilliantly, and a very poignant send-off for a key character - ending on a melancholic but uplifting note. In an ideal world, this would be the last Furious movie, but judging by the figures to date, that probably won't be the case. It will be interesting to see who could come in to replace him (Lucas Black?). On a side note, sitting in the cinema watching Furious 7, I realised this was the first time i had seen a movie from this series on the big screen since I watched the original almost fifteen years ago! It hadn't actually occurred to me and it's come full circle with the untimely death of Walker and TFATF being the film that jump started his career. I came out of the cinema after the first one with a grin on my face, having felt like I'd been on a wild ride, and being impressed with the incredible bass. Fast 7 pretty much had the same effect except on a much grander scale.
Finally, it's ironic considering the star and director of The Fast And The Furious (Diesel and Rob Cohen respectively) left to do xXx, with Xander Cage's extreme thrill seeker deployed by the government as an alternative to the traditional 007/CIA archetype. It was supposed to be the beginning of a new franchise but the FATF movies have become exactly what I am sure was intended for a xXx series, as they feature what is essentially an "alternative" special ops team going on mad missions consisting of ridiculously OTT stunts and grandiose action sequences.
I watched Fast & Furious 7 in Liverpool One's Odeon IMAX (Liemax, I think) screen and it was amazing. Brilliant picture, earth shattering sound, well worth the premium price for a film like this. Might do the D-Box if I get the chance.