It’s why Furious 7 temporarily returns to the drag-race wars of the first movie. Throughout the series, we see a reluctance, almost a fear, of leaving the middle-class world by the crew (who, it should be noted, are such a diverse group that it’s white surfer bro Paul Walker who seems like the token addition). This remains true even now that they are rich enough to buy private islands if they so desire. Their attachments to their old lives are strong — so strong that the destruction of Dom’s old home is devastating to watch — whether it’s their loyalty to the family they made on the streets or just a loyalty to a cheap, shitty beer like Corona. Despite macho posturing and literal flexing, they are still uncomfortable in this rich, tech-heavy, FBI-centric world: Roman (Tyrese) stutters out plans while pretending to be a leader; Tej’s (Ludacris) clever ideas come from the phone video game he can’t takes his eyes off; Brian never buys into the leather jackets and boots but instead spends most of the film in skater sneakers and a blue hoodie, looking more like an improv-comedy kid than anything else.
In Furious 7, which is actually set after the third installment, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the crew isn’t racing to hijack cars or plan heists (though, sure, there’s a hacker plot). Instead, the film is built around revenge and familial loyalty. Deckard Shaw (an effortlessly cool Jason Statham; the cold open surrounding him is both funny and chilling), seeking revenge for his brother Owen’s death, kills Han, leading Dom and his crew to seek revenge against Shaw. But the film isn’t all action. There’s a subplot about Brian’s new roles as husband and father, where his driving skills are now used to drop off his son at school in a minivan. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) hasn’t gotten her memory back and is struggling with existing in a world, and a relationship, where everyone knows about her but she knows nothing about them.
Then, of course, there is the big question surrounding the film: How will Furious 7 handle Paul Walker’s unfortunate death, and how will it write Brian out of the films? I can confidently say that it’s dealt with gracefully and is a fitting goodbye to Walker. (The film even provides a touching tribute of sorts; yes, I sobbed through the credits.) If this turns out to be the end of the Fast and the Furious franchise (it definitely isn’t and I can’t wait to see them race through New York City), it even works as a perfect and satisfying conclusion.
That all said: There is still plenty of shine in Furious 7. There are exotic locales, fancy cars that the crew drives in a cute little formation, distracting women, and evil villains (Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou) who don’t get much backstory but nonetheless delight with fury and fight scenes. An elite party is derailed by Letty and Kara (MMA fighter Ronda Rousey) brutally fist-fighting in expensive, fancy evening gowns. Hobbs (Johnson) growls out too-clever one-liners that wouldn’t work anywhere else. (Tyrese and Ludacris’ humorous exchanges are even better; I have never wanted two film characters to spin off into a sitcom so badly.) At one point, The Rock even performs his WWE finisher — the Rock Bottom — on Jason Statham, in one of the greatest and most ridiculous moments I’ve witnessed on screen. Dom eschews guns because his body — along with the streets — is a much more effective weapon than a bullet could ever be.
Furious 7 will not, as Vin Diesel believes, win Best Picture at the Oscars (though I would certainly vote for it if I could), and James Wan’s dizzying directing, full of 360 shots, grows a little grating. It may not be the smartest film out there (“This time it ain’t just about being fast,” Dom says at one point — and the only restraint the film shows in over two hours is not completing the phrase with the obvious) or the most important, but that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t worth praise and consideration. It’s a bonafide blockbuster, and you’d have to try very hard to find a moviegoing experience that is as fun as this one.