The Fast & Furious franchise plays fast and loose with whole categories of laws that real people live by — those of physics, for one. Those of geopolitical logic, for another. But let it not be said that these increasingly wacked-out action movies don't have laws of their own. For instance:
Anything you can do with a fighter jet or hundreds of ground troops, you can do better with a souped-up car.
Every scene that is not action or a setup for action takes place in a cemetery or hospital, or in front of a baby, or involves amnesia. In other words, this steroidal action franchise is also a soap opera.
If you're good enough behind the wheel, like Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his racing crew, you can drive a car off a cliff, tumble hundreds of feet and emerge without a scratch.
Accordingly, the future of the United States and the world depends on said crew. Why else would action-hero-of-yesteryear Kurt Russell, playing a deep-cover operative, hand them a mission to recover a piece of software that gives the user the ability to find anyone, anywhere?
Thou shalt not think about what the U.S. government itself might do with that software. Thou shalt instead follow the example of comic-relief crewmembers Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), and note repeatedly that the hacker who wrote the software (Nathalie Emmanuel) is a babe.
Every crewmember, male or female, shall get a hand-to-hand combat scene.
Every crowd scene shall feature closeups of the scantily clad female posterior. Every shirt Diesel or Dwayne Johnson (as federal agent Luke Hobbs) wears shall be skintight.
Every explosion and every emotion shall be oversize.
The resulting film will be more fun than it has any right to be.
So much for franchise ground rules. Furious 7 adds a new commandment to the list: Do not piss off Jason Statham, because he will act like the monster in It Follows and tail you to the ends of the Earth to kill you when you're busy trying to do other stuff. Like save the world with cars.
Statham plays the vengeful older brother of the criminal mastermind whom Toretto and the gang neutralized in Fast & Furious 6. We learn in Furious 7 that Statham's character started his killing spree in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which was made in 2006, back when these films were still B-movies and not blockbusters, yet is set after the events of F&F 6. Yes, it's confusing. But all you really need to know is that, as Russell puts it, Statham is a "genuine English badass."
Actually, everyone in these films is a badass, with the possible exception of the baby. And most of these badasses are remarkably personable and good-natured when not playing chicken with cars. More than anything else, it's this lack of cockiness and pomposity that separates the F&F movies from other blockbusters. In another franchise, the extended tribute to late star Paul Walker — who died during shooting, and was replaced in various scenes with stand-ins and CGI — might come off as cynical. Here, it feels earnest enough to wring a few tears from jaded viewers.
Another factor that makes Furious 7 highly watchable is director James Wan's commitment to following the action from several characters' points of view within each set piece, and to making that action legible, if rarely plausible. The camera and editing are hyperactive, yet guided by an almost operatic sense of how parts form a whole.
Make that a purple, soap-operatic whole imbued with the awareness of its own ridiculousness. Fans of the series will embrace this one; haters of preposterous action flicks won't be converted. But if you see one movie this year in which a multiethnic ensemble cast saves the world with cars, Furious 7 should be it.