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Furious7onelastpostersmallThere won’t be a faster, more furious movie this year. The Fast and the Furious movies have turned their moniker into a guarantee of awesome. What makes them so special is that they embrace the escalating need to top not only themselves but the very genre they inhabit. They celebrate the bravado that entails and that spirit empowers a sincere message about family, If it happens to be a family of badass superhero drivers, they’re going to keep being awesome.

We’ve seen a lot of the big set pieces thanks to the trailers, and we’re complicit. I know whenever there’s a new Fast and the Furious trailer I need to see what they’ve pulled off. They kept a lot of details in the set pieces hidden so they wouldn’t be spoiled. The set pieces are so elaborate there is plenty of awesome we haven’t seen yet.

Another advantage of seeing those trailers is we know there’s more coming. We may have already seen what most movies would consider a whole film’s worth of awesome, but we haven’t seen the car driving through the building yet, and when we see that we’re still waiting to see The Rock flex out of his cast and drag that huge gattling gun down the street. So the trailers help us. They tell us, “Don’t be sad, the awesome isn’t over yet.” 

I was excited to see James Wan do this movie, not only because I am a fan of his work in general, but specifically to get to see him do another Death Sentence. Few saw his one previous action movie. He doesn’t violate the Fast and the Furious aesthetic but you can tell someone new is there. Wan’s camera is acrobatic, twisting the hero shots at well timed moments of impact. Transitions between exotic locations flow a little more smoothly. They’re not smash cuts. There is a certain Fast and the Furious color palette, but Wan finds some shots to light like a film noir in shadows. Yet the camera is still allowed to ogle women’s butts lovingly. The final confrontation between Dom (Vin Diesel) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is scored to operatic music like a samurai confrontation, which essentially it is. That’s still Brian Tyler on the score, but someone had a new idea and someone went with it, doesn’t matter which was which.

Fast and Furious 7The tough talk is at an all time high and it comes from Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Dom, Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris). It must be hard for Chris Morgan to keep writing new ways to say “I’m so tough you can’t beat me” and “here’s how badly I’m going to hurt you.” He should win the Pulitzer prize for badass banter. Yet he can also tug at your heartstrings, and not just where you think. The Letty story peaks in a touching confession, but the final tribute to Paul Walker is emotional.

There is an elephant in the room and Furious 7 doesn’t try to deny it. We all know Walker did not complete shooting when he tragically died. They have technology to keep his presence in the movie for scenes Walker didn’t shoot, and they gracefully don’t overdo it. They’re not adding a lot of extra screen time for CGI Paul Walker. The idea is to use that as little as necessary, but it is necessary. When Mia says, “You should see Brian” it’s because we can’t actually see Brian because Walker didn’t shoot that. His absence is palpable, but it is palpable in his costars too. They’re all coping. Acknowledging that made a classier tribute than if they’d just tried to hide it. Here’s how great Walker was. He fights Tony Jaa and we totally believe he can hold his own, or possibly win. I believe in Brian O’Conner.

Furious 7 already started out working around one actor. The Rock wasn’t going to be in the whole movie like the previous two, so they make the most out of sending Hobbs to the hospital (see aforementioned cast break). It’s an opportunity to create new characters like Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), who fits right in with a hypercool man of mystery vibe. And the new hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) is destined to become a regular part of the crew. Excuse me, family.

Obviously, Walker’s death is not a creative opportunity. It was a tragedy that made special techniques necessary to even finish the film. There are glimpses of the movie Furious 7 was going to beand in many ways it still is that. Now there’s a collective mourning happening with the cast, crew and the audience so Furious 7 incorporated that for all of us. It was either going to be a tribute or a downer, so I’m glad they went with tribute.

Rating: Matinee