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The Guest Fighters

Furious 7 features guest appearances from two fighters: Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa. We know Rousey from her conquests in MMA bouts, and Jaa from Thai action films such as Ong Bak. By this point the general template for a fight sequence in the series is well-established: you’ll see a lot of very shaky camerawork, fast cuts, and CGI stitching between beats.

In other words, if you’re looking for a showdown worthy of the great movie fight scenes, you won’t find it here. Still, it’s fun to see Rousey in her fight scene against [redacted to prevent spoilers, though you can probably guess] while Jaa’s scenes are less satisfying. He’s paired off with an opponent who isn’t his physical equal, though seeing Jaa beat by any Hollywood action star seems like an elbow to the face. Jaa’s last scene does feature some great moves and one bit of choreography that is among the film’s better moments.

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Overdriven Action

As set pieces go, the car drop sequence is tremendously entertaining and unquestionably the film’s high point, which is probably why it has been so thoroughly used in trailers. Director James Wan, new to the series, brings a few of his own tricks to the table in mapping out and shooting action sequences, and Furious 7 has a distinct feel from the last few films. A highway heist also has a handful of excellent concepts, even though that basic structure is starting to feel pretty familiar. In fact, much of the structure of Furious 7 has the worn-down quality of an old tire. Wan and his crew battle that familiarity by throwing more stuff at the screen, and by the halfway point in a 140-minute film, the effect is wearying.

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In Paul Walker’s Memory

Furious 7 exists under the shadow of the death of Paul Walker, who was killed in a car accident prior to the completion of filming. Without Walker on hand to finish the movie, there’s no way to make the film feel “whole.” And so Furious 7 is split between two aims: creating a crowd-pleasing action film, and honoring one of the series’ core actors. In a face-off between those two aims, Walker almost always wins. And that’s really as it should be. This is a series that has expanded into unlikely serial/soap-opera proportions, where the actors can seem all but interchangeable with their characters. Handling Brian O’Conner’s last ride is the most important task the film has, and the filmmakers are up to it.

Walker’s re-introduction here is among the film’s best (and simplest) comedy gags, and sequences often seem to have been reworked to highlight his character Brian wherever possible. It seems like there’s a reference to death or funerals in every third scene featuring Walker, which keeps the mood somber, even if it is an unavoidable aspect of the script that was written prior to his fatal accident. I watched the entire film with bated breath waiting to see how it would handle Walker’s death, and Brian’s presumed exit.

This series goes for a lot of cheap shots, but when it comes to Walker the tone is respectful. His fate, and that of his character, is handled in a way that is sensitive and even moving. Those scenes are the sort of stuff that has made this franchise a powerful force in mainstream film, and while I’m happy to see that Paul Walker’s final onscreen appearance is crafted with some grace, I also wish that touch was more evident throughout the film. Still, the culmination of his story is, given the circumstances, just right, and that conclusion is likely enough to have fans forgiving the film for some of its other shortcomings.

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About the Author

Russ Fischer lives in Los Angeles. For film reviews, the 1-10 scale breakdown goes like this: anything over a 5 is positive. (twitter.com/russfischer) or (russ.slashfilm at gmail.com)