After the events of Fast & Furious 6, the Toretto Family (or Crew) is back home in Los Angeles, finally on the right side of the law, but trying to find their footing in a less familiar world. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Dom (Vin Diesel) have been reunited, but their relationship is in jeopardy thanks to Letty's lingering amnesia. Meanwhile, Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordan Brewster) are adjusting to lives as parents. Brian clearly loves being a father, but does he miss the action of his FBI agent and outlaw days? Finally, DSS Agents Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Neves (Pataky) are back in the LA office, with Hobbs recommending Neves for a big promotion.
But dark times are a comin'...
Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) has risen from the assassin underworld to avenge his brother, Owen (the baddie from number six), never stopping until he takes apart Dominic Toretto's family piece by piece.
Enter Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, because this movie wasn't already awesome enough), a covert black ops agent who loves Belgian Alle, with the deal for Toretto and Crew: rescue a kidnapped hacker named Ramsey and retrieve the "God's Eye", the ultimate tracking device, and Mr. Nobody will let Toretto use the God's Eye to find Shaw before Shaw finds Toretto.
Never mind that Shaw shows up a dozen or so times in the middle of this mission... There's some automotive espionage that needs doing!
The Fast and the Furious franchise shouldn't exist. The first film is a modest Point Break remake with car culture. The second entry drops Vin Diesel. And the third sails for Tokyo without any of the original characters. But then something incredible happens. Brian and Dom return for episode four and the results are pretty good. Then pretty much every character who has ever been in the franchise (even the dead one) arrives for Fast Five while the series trades cops-undercover for spies-and-heists. The genre flip and character re-introductions are smart, producing the series' best entry, and now we find ourselves fourteen years into an improbable seven film franchise.
I'm a car guy. I grew up watching Knight Rider and Dukes of Hazzard, and then fell in love with classic car movies like Vanishing Point, Bullit and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. This furiously fast franchise was made for guys like me, yet I've largely felt disconnected with these movies, catching them in cinemas, but never fully investing.
After Paul Walker's tragic death November 2013 and reading about how the filmmakers pushed forward to complete this seventh film in his honor, I decide to revisit them all in one go as opening weekend approached. I started watching in chronological order on Friday evening, and completed my weekend with Furious 7 on the largest screen in Los Angeles -- the newly revamped TCL Chinese IMAX... Located about a hundred yards from the now-closed venue where I had seen The Fast and the Furious all those years ago.
Maybe it's nostalgia -- this is the first, long-running franchise I've experienced totally while living in Los Angeles -- but engrossing oneself in the Fast universe has been, above all else, a lot of fun. I was able to break down each movie's strengths and weakness, but instead of living and dying on their own, they morphed in chapters of a much larger story. Through this I see how the filmmakers created a genuine epic saga of muscle car mayhem and bro'tacular action.
And, while I'll concede the last two entries have been overly convoluted, run long, and feature a little too much cartoon action, this franchise lives and dies on its family-first values. These are earnest films. Sincere, even in sillier moments.
I personally find this lack of cynicism refreshing and endearing.
Thanks to multiple entries, the characters too have grown. Given room to breathe, we watch them evolve from archetypes to something a little deeper, kinda like the kids from Harry Potter. We care about them. We hope they will succeed even though we're pretty sure they will anyway.
How does Furious 7 line up?
For me, the fifth and first entries are the strongest, offering clean stories and interesting takes on their respective genres. I would probably lump Furious 7 together with Fast & Furious (#4 released, #3 in story order) and Tokyo Drift (#3 released, #6 in story order) as second-tier entries — Tokyo is, oddly enough, the only one that's singularly about car racing. 2 Fast, 2 Furious and Fast & Furious 6 are the weakest, in my humble opinion, but still fun when viewed as part of a larger picture.
Furious 7 is an interesting entry, as it mixes together nostalgia for earlier chapters, some nice-albeit-melodramatic character arcs, the real-world death of one of its stars, and insane action -- all good things -- with unnecessary convolution that crept up in FF6.
James Wan steps into the director's chair for this entry with positive results. Together with producer/writer Chris Morgan, they focus on character emotions, the set-pieces are exciting and generally clear from a geographical sense (yet nowhere near the level of Mad Max: Fury Road). However, I would argue the film's biggest stumble is less about the plot convolution or implausible physics (though I understand why that irks some), but rather diluting Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw.
Shaw is established as a terrifying baddie in a clever opening title sequence, and quickly brings the crew to their collective knees, but then disappears and reappears almost at random. His frequent arrivals, from a scene perspective, add a nice complication to the moment, but undercut his villainy -- with each failure to kill Toretto and Crew, he is less clever and less dangerous. Further, Deckard's appearances undercut the whole reason Toretto and Crew go on this adventure in the first place (to find him).
So, yeah, Furious 7 evolves the franchise in the way you'd expect. If you prefer the more grounded earlier entries, this one errs on the side of bigger spectacle and plot. But, if you're invested in any sense, there's a lot of great character interplay -- the sense of family is strong with this one family we know well. And the action, as impossible as it gets, is pretty spectacular at times (let's just say The Rock's third act return is the best homage to '80s/'90s Schwarzenegger-style ridiculousness ever... and that's before Dom destroys his 9,000th '68 Charger).
Furious 7 is nutballz and wild, and I'm not ashamed to admit that, particularly as a piece of a whole saga, I loved every minute of it despite its flaws.
One last thing... [MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW] I've never followed Paul Walker's career, but he was apparently one of the nicest working actors in Hollywood. A true gem. Which makes his loss ever-present while watching this production. The filmmakers had to find a way to say goodbye, and what they've done is emotional and respectful. In my April IMAX screening, the whole cinema went silent at the end, the soundtrack only slightly louder than the group sniffling, and then about fifty dudes exited a still-dark theatre with their sunglasses already on. Maybe it's this real-world loss that gives the film any grounding at all, I can't tell anymore, but my tip of the hat to the filmmakers for finding an honest and touching way to send Paul Walker and Brian O'Conner into the setting sun...
Curse you, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth! You won't get me again!
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings Furious 7 to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. At the moment, we are unable to verify if the correct size of the content, but the dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout case with a glossy, embossed slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to an interactive menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The Fast & Furious crew take one last ride on the busy Ultra HD roads in a supped up but less than stellar HEVC H.265 encode, compared to the last installment on UHD. Granted, this new vehicle is a notable step up over its Blu-ray counterpart, but not by a huge margin. In the definition and clarity department, there is an appreciable uptick with slightly sharper detailing the clothing, buildings and various vehicles. The lettering in signs and billboards is more intelligible and better resolved while facial complexions appear more natural and accurate to the diverse cast, revealing minor blemishes, wrinkles and pores.
However, the jump to 4K isn't particularly significant enough to win any races. The movie was shot on a combination of traditional 35mm and various digital cameras with resolutions varying between 3K and 6K, and it definitely shows here. Some scenes are softer than others, and some look like the product of digital photography, looking smoother than other areas while several moments make the film grain appear more pronounced than in other spots. I also noticed the scenes with CG Paul Walker are made a bit more obvious here and standout. The sharpest edges of windows and some of the cars also come with a bit of shimmering which may prove somewhat distracting.
Still, the biggest and most appreciable gain revving the engine of this 4K presentation is the improved high-dynamic range, delivering brighter and more brilliant whites though a few scenes tend to look a tad blown out in the highlights due to the original cinematography. The specular highlights, on the other hand, benefit as the metal chrome of cars shine with a realistic sparkle and headlights glow with intensity without sacrificing the tiny details. Thanks to better-quality brightness levels, the cars and some of the clothing appear noticeably richer and more opulent, and the aerial shots of the city skyline at night are simply gorgeous, giving the 2.40:1 image a nice cinematic quality. On the other hand, the color palette doesn't really look much brighter, which may have much to do with the intentional photography. Nevertheless, primaries remain nicely saturated with accurately-rendered secondary hues and excellent flesh tones in the cast, making for a very good 2160p video.
Like the previous entry, this seventh installment hits the road with an excellent DTS:X soundtrack, but it also feels somewhat underwhelming compared to its DTS-HD 7.1 counterpart. The sides and rears continue to be heavily employed during a variety of sequences. Quieter, more intimate moments come with the subtle atmospherics of the busy city streets or the local wildlife while action scenes thunder with the sounds of cars racing by, drones shooting missiles or bullets whizzing in all directions. Occasionally, those effects travel into the ceiling speakers with convincing effectiveness, nicely widening and enhancing the soundfield, but on the whole, the space above is pretty silent with the best moment to enjoy the object-based format being the city mayhem in the last quarter.
However, the design does benefit the most from the new lossless mix in terms of dynamic range and fidelity. Thanks to the extra breathing room, the mid-range exhibits better separation and clarity between the loudest and quietest scenes, enjoying a great deal of warmth throughout. This provides every explosion, gunshot, and roaring engine with incredibly detailing that remains sharp and distinct as the scene suddenly intensifies. One of the best moments for enjoying this difference is early on when a mysterious package arrives at the Toretto household. That sudden change from pleasantries to chaos is simply terrific, as the discreet sounds of individual pieces of wood fly into the front-heights and the debris lands all around. A hearty and palpable low-end adds some serious weight and oomph to the action and music, though it's not as authoritative and commanding as I would like, which is a small personal quibble. With a precise, well-prioritized vocals in the center, the lossless mix makes for an excellent accompanying piece to the video.
Also, the 4K presentation is CIH (Constant Image Height) friendly, as subtitles appear within the image proper.
Talking Fast (HD, 32 min): Standard EPK-style doc with director James Wan giving viewers a quick rundown of the franchise and showcasing this particular installment's uniqueness place in the series.
Back to the Starting Line (HD, 12 min): Typical piece with cast & crew interviews focused on returning to the franchise mixed with various BTS footage.
The Cars of Furious (HD, 11 min): A nice rundown of the various vehicles seen throughout.
Making of Fast & Furious Supercharged Ride (HD, 8 min): An extended promotional piece on the interactive ride at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Snatch and Grab (HD, 8 min): A closer look at the stunts during a key action sequence.
Race Wars (HD, 7 min): Viewers can revisit the desert race and its importance to the franchise.
Tower Jumps (HD, 7 min): As the title implies, the pieces looks at the movie's craziest stunts, revealing some of the practical effects employed.
Flying Cars (HD, 6 min): One more piece revealing the tricks of the trade in yet another of the production's most absurd stunt sequences.
Inside the Fight (HD): Assortment of four short pieces on the fight choreography.
Hobbs vs. Shaw (3 min)
Girl Fight (3 min)
Dom vs. Shaw (3 min)
Tej Takes Action (2 min)
Music Video (HD): Wiz Khalifa performs "See You Again" ft. Charlie Puth.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 min): Four excised sequences.
Letty at Clinic
Letty Call From Nurse
Furious 7 will sadly be remembered as the Paul Walker's final drive into the sunset, but this installment is also a great, action-packed addition that proves the franchise is still revving its supped V8 engine juiced on the best nitrous oxide available. The Ultra HD Blu-ray rumbles with a good but slightly underwhelming 4K presentation and DTS:X soundtrack. Joined by the same set of supplements as the Blu-ray, the UHD nonetheless offers an appreciable improvement over its predecessor for fans and early adopters.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.