Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker), the heroes of Furious 7, gaze upon an exotic, expensive demon of a car whose owner has stashed it in a Abu Dhabi skyscraper. Dom's eyes glimmer with sadness.
"There's nothing sadder than locking a beast in a cage," he says.
It's one of just a few quiet scenes in the film. (It's almost immediately followed by explosions and the car flying from skyscraper to skyscraper.) But it's an important one, because it crystallizes the Fast & Furious franchise's credo: these movies don't believe in cages of modesty. They're beasts, every second filled with kinetic, hulking action. Furious 7 is the ultimate realization of this.
Set in the aftermath of 2013's Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7 introduces Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the franchise's most lethal villain yet. The meaner older sibling of the sixth installment's villain, Deckard has his sights set on the people responsible for putting his baby brother in the hospital. Dom and his friends have to find him to save their own lives.
Furious 7 is all flash, a mindless exercise in grandeur and spectacle. The writing is flabby and disposable in parts. Many scenes consist of quick cuts between tense facial expressions, pedals being stomped, and levers being flicked. And the acting is silly at several points.
But it's perhaps the most fun I've had, and possibly will have, at the movies in 2015.
Furious 7 is in on its own joke
The film's greatest achievement is recognizing the cultural niche the franchise has created for itself — a sweet spot that exists between camp and destruction porn. Director James Wan and his cast know that people don't come to Fast & Furious movies for nuance. Audiences want to be bludgeoned with action sequences, silly lines, and strangely stereotypical but highly stylized representations of other countries.
Furious 7 delivers.
Start with the film's globetrotting ways. The Middle East features camels and women strutting around to bumping, vaguely Arabic trap music. Tokyo is all neon glow and women strutting around to bumping, vaguely Asian trap music. There's not much the world can agree on in Furious 7, except for trap music.
Every line is crafted as a nod to the ridiculousness of the franchise. In an early scene, Dom explains how he grew a racing festival from scratch. Naturally, the racing event is called "Race Wars" and features a cameo from rapper Iggy Azalea. Race wars, Iggy Azalea, and Vin Diesel — this is all in the film's first 20 minutes.
Every actor's personality is hyper-amplified. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is 500 pounds of muscle in a 200-pound body, constantly flexing. Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is always emotionally torn, her face permanently sharpened into a pensive pout. Deckard is an unstoppable, stoic villain whose punches break bones. Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) are only around to make jokes.
Each actor knows his or her role, and executes it clinically. And the chemistry the cast members have suggests they really enjoy one another's company. It genuinely seems like everyone is having fun hanging out — something you don't often see in other movies.
The chase scenes are sublime
By this point, every Fast & Furious movie can execute a chase scene with clockwork precision.
Each film opens with an over-the-top, ridiculous action sequence, hell-bent on topping the previous installment's big opener. (Furious 7's features cars being dropped by parachute onto a mountain, then gliding onto the road.) Then each film transitions to a balletic series of car formations, complete with precise weaving. And then there's the finale — a mind-blowing, last-minute save that — even though you see it coming a mile away — still makes you want to howl at the moon.
Sound is so important to these scenes. From the growling rev of an engine to the crunch of rubber on rock, lots of attention is paid to what is being pumped into the audience's ears. And when the film's sound drops out, it can lead to moments of perfect humor, silliness even. When that caged beast of a car that so saddened Dom floats gracefully between two towering skyscrapers, you're left staring at something so completely ridiculous in a complete vacuum of sound. All you can do is chortle at the spectacle.
Wan, perhaps best known for horror films like Insidious and The Conjuring, is on his game in Furious, choreographing slick, seat-thumping sequences pressed up against picturesque settings. He has a steady, power-packed style. He smashes us into the driver's seat, drawing the action in closer and closer, tight enough to see the tiniest of ticks on the speedometer, before he slowly unwinds, nudging us to soak in the sheer magnitude of what's happening.
Furious 7 might just make you cry
The strangest thing about Furious 7 is how the movie deals with Paul Walker's real-life, tragic death. It's difficult to go into the movie and not think about where the franchise will go without one of its beloved stars.
Seeing Walker play Brian, the role that made him famous, one last time is jarring on its own. But it also seems as if the film's actors, screenwriter (Chris Morgan), and director crafted this film specifically as a goodbye to their friend.
After Walker's death, it was reported that the script underwent massive rewrites. It's unclear how much of the story was changed. That said, every scene, every bit of dialogue, every exchange underlines one theme: this movie is about the importance of family.
Shaw kills for his brother. Dom would do the same. Brian is starting his own family and has to choose between being a father and risking his life. And the core group has to figure out whom to trust and whom to let into its inner circle.
I found myself lingering on the small glances Walker and Diesel share, or the way Ludacris, Gibson, and Walker laugh together. There's real beauty there — something that can't be faked.
It all makes you wonder how the franchise will continue without the actor. No formal announcement of a Fast & Furious 8 movie has been made, though Diesel recently hinted there might be another film coming. That would make sense — this is one of the most successful franchises in history, and Furious 7 looks like it'll be another huge hit.
But without Walker, the next film would be missing a big chunk of its soul.
The chemistry between Walker and his costars, his friends, gives this muscled sledgehammer of a film some surprisingly gentle moments that you'll think about hours later. And there's a strange sorrow that unfolds while you're watching, knowing this was the last time these friends were all together. By the end, you're hoping for just a few more minutes with this family, even if they aren't zipping around, being dropped from planes, or driving cars from skyscraper to skyscraper.
WATCH: 'Waiting 9 hours to see Furious 7 at SXSW'