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Targeted by a cold-blooded black-ops assassin with a score to settle (Jason Statham), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), and their entire crew are forced to get behind the wheel again and secure an ingenious prototype tracking device. Facing their greatest threat yet in places as far away as Abu Dhabi and as familiar as the Los Angeles streets they call home, the crew must come together once again as a team, and as a family, to protect their own. (From Universal’s official synopsis)

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I may have underestimated the fortitude of the people behind the Fast & Furious franchise. Despite the first film being far from a break-out hit (or any good), they were determined to create name recognition. They tried hiring the youngest Academy Award-nominated director in history (John Singleton) to bring an ‘urban edge’ to the concept. They tried removing all stars from the equation and taking an anthology approach by setting the third entry in Japan. Then, they tried reinstating continuity and bringing back as many actors as possible for the fourth and undeniably worst entry. Yet, that version made the most money and it proved that there was still life in this series. The formula of reinstating continuity became the defining element of a secondary trilogy. Director Justin Lin, who had floundered throughout parts 3 and 4 with shaky cameras and weightless digital effects, found his footing with the fourth sequel, Fast Five and the previously underwhelming Walker and Diesel (both performers that were capable of acting beyond the confines of thinly drawn action heroes) flourished in an ensemble environment – and Fast & Furious 6 was even better.

The momentum was threatened when Lin decided to leave the series (who can blame him?) and Australian director James Wan was brought on to replace him. Wan seemed like a far-out choice, given his reputation as the co-creator (with Leigh Whannel) of the Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010) franchises, but he had also directed the semi-official sequel to Death Wish, Death Sentence (2007), which included some incredibly raw and well-executed medium-budget action scenes. I had hoped he would bring some of that rough action to the franchise, as well as a bit of the Mario Bava/Roger Corman-inspired colour schemes he used for Dead Silence (2007) and the first Insidious. For better or worse, Wan mostly sticks to Lin well-established house style while utilizing more anchored camera work and showing off a solid control of geography. He isn’t necessarily doing a better job than Lin did on the previous two films – the car action has twinges of CG weightlessness/disorientating green screen and some of the fist fights are over-shaken/cut – but he’s certainly matching the previous director’s effort and doing it without wasting two more movies to get a handle on the whole ‘ridiculous vehicular mayhem’ thing.

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Wan’s successful integration into the franchise was a minor issue compared to the sudden and shocking death of co-star Paul Walker during the original production in 2013. The release date was wisely moved up a year, so that the filmmakers could restructure the script and devise a sensitive way to keep Walker in the film. Pushing pause also allowed the tragic narrative to die down, ensuring that Furious 7 wouldn’t be a freak show. Instead, there is a tear-jerking respectability to the tribute to Walker and I honestly doubt morbid audience fueled the movie’s record-breaking box office haul. The movie obviously suffers from his sudden departure, though not necessarily because his character needed to be front and center – on the contrary, Brian O’Connor’s part in the series has slowly diminished over the last two movies (he spends most of Fast & Furious 6 laughing at the antics of the other characters) – but because there are obvious holes in the story, as well as a patchwork structure to some sequences.

Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who has been writing these movies since Lin joined the series, continues his admirable habit of trying to inject a relatively unique narrative into an action and character-heavy franchise. The story is complicated beyond the other films, due both to Walker’s death and the incorporation of elements from Tokyo Drift. On top of this, Morgan piles a small army of new cast members that spread the plot beyond the simplicity of revenge (it’s like there’s a whole different mini-movie stuck in the middle). The newbies are fronted by a scene-stealing Kurt Russell, who sort of stands in for an underutilized Dwayne Johnson, and a cadre of secondary villains/henchmen – Djimon Hounsou (the poor guy never gets to play the hero anymore) and real-life martial arts experts Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa. Jason Statham’s casting as the main antagonist may be a stunt, given his time as the title character in the first three Transporter movies, and he’s certainly playing a meaner version of the same guy he plays in just about every movie he has been in since his mainstream break, but he’s also the first Fast & Furious villain to instill a sense of real danger. I really enjoyed the way he keeps showing up to ruin the day, like a Terminator with a British accent – clearly a cheap ploy to keep him in the film during the second act, but a fun one.

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Once again, the limits of a feature runtime leave some of the characters on the sidelines. This time, would-be female leads Jordana Brewster and Ali Fazal’s roles are little more than elongated cameos. Michelle Rodriguez gets quite a bit of screen-time without making much of an impact, because she still has the amnesia she incurred in the last movie and her most dramatic scenes (which also include a cameo from Gal Gadot) were deleted for time. Wan adds insult to injury when he drops the ball on her fistfight with Rousey, which really should’ve been the coolest moment in the movie (it looks like it was shot by an entirely different crew). New heroine, Nathalie Emmanuel, is little more than a charming plot-device (as Letty had beenin Fast & Furious 6) that walks in ‘bikini slow-mo’ (copyright Terence Young, 1962), so that Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris can call dibs on her. I hate to harp on this point, though, Fast 7 might be the most culturally and sexually diverse major blockbuster ever made, but even in a world of thonged butt shots (drinking game: take a hit every time you see a scantly-clad lady butt parading through the center of the shot), this scene seems tone-deaf.

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Furious 7 was shot using a mix of digital HD and 35mm cameras and is presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p video. Due to the degree of grading and computer-generated colour timing, you’d be pretty hard-pressed to point to any obviously 35mm shots, but Wan and cinematographers Stephen F. Windon & Marc Spicer do embrace a slightly more analogue look via the use of relatively old-fashioned lenses. This gives the generally hyper-clean and often grainless image the ‘authenticity’ of chromatic aberration and other minor distortions. The otherwise sharp (but not over-sharpened) details and tight element separation is occasionally fuzzied up by lens effects and shallow focus. The digital grading makes for a very limited palette of glowing yellows (daylight), sterile aqua blue hues (most interiors), and orange (warm elements in darker scenes). There are highlight colours that pop out here and there (lavenders and reds), but these are the exception. On top of this, contrast levels are punched-up to make super-saturated black shadows and whites appear cranked and diffused in a way that causes purposeful blooming. The heavy crush (which I assume is part of the visual design of the film) causes some low level noise, blocking, and banding during the darkest shots.

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Furious 7 is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound. Given the franchise’s penchant for outrageous action, it should come as no surprise that this is a very aggressive mix – at times room-shakingly so. Every little thing, from exploding packages to breaking glass and even the sound of a fist flying through the air, sounds like the end of the world is tearing through the speakers. The driving sequences are naturally the loudest moments, but the sound designers do wonderful things with silence as well. This creates a beautifully dynamic environment that takes cues from classic car chase features, like Bullitt and The French Connection. There are a couple of random moments where I noticed dialogue (specifically Jason Statham and Vin Diesel’s words) wandering into the stereo speakers, but directional movement is otherwise perfectly pitched. Composing machine Brian Tyler returns to the series for a fifth time (he had scored every one of Justin Lin’s entries and has been passed off to Wan, it seems) and produces another adequate, but not particularly memorable musical soundtrack. The music, both score and pop music are nicely integrated into the rear and stereo channels.

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  • Talking Fast (31:50, HD) – This appears to have been planned as a picture-in-picture or at least an in-film option. Wan and cast members (Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, and Tyrese Gibson) breakdown certain scenes with behind-the-scenes footage and narration.
  • Back to the Starting Line (12:10, HD) – A fluffy look at the difficulty of expanding the franchise and a basic rundown of the plot of the seventh film.
  • Flying Cars (5:40, HD) – Discussion and set footage concerning the outrageous car parachuting sequence.
  • Snatch and Grab (7:30, HD) – A continuation of the previous featurette that follows the production of the post-parachute cliffside chase.
  • Tower Jumps (6:50, HD) – Behind the scenes of the delightfully silly stunt sequence where a sports car flies between three Abu Dhabi towers. It’s interesting to note that Wan was not around for the filming of most of these scenes.
  • Inside the Fight: A look at four of the film’s big fist fights:
    • Hobbs vs. Shaw (3:20, HD)
    • Girl Fight (3:20, HD)
    • Dom vs. Shaw (2:50, HD)
    • Tej Takes Action (1:40, HD)
  • The Cars of Furious (10:40, HD) – The car coordination team and the cast discuss Furious 7’s new custom-build cars.
  • Race Wars (6:30, HD) – Behind-the-scenes of the bikini-heavy ‘Race Wars’ scene that opens the film.
  • Making of Fast & Furious Supercharged Ride (8:20, HD) – An extended ad for the Universal Studios ride.
  • Four deleted scenes (6:00, HD)
  • ’See You Again’ music video by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth (4:10, HD)

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In parts, Furious 7 may be my favourite Fast & Furious movie – I love the utterly impossible stunts and think Jason Statham makes for a pretty good villain. But its sloppy, sometimes annoying dips in quality make it too inconsistent to top the last two entries. I also find these movies sort of fatiguing, but that’s really my problem (note that I watched the extended version). Universal’s Blu-ray Combo Pack release looks great, outside of some purposeful imperfections, sounds outstanding, and features a decent collection of extras, though there’s less meaty content than the long list of features would lead you to believe.

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* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.