Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.

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Furious 7 is insanely entertaining, emotionally powerful, and has the intelligence of a domesticated turkey. Yet those traits have become commonplace in a series that is somehow still propelling forward with considerable momentum, particularly in the wake of Paul Walker’s tragic passing. The Fast and Furious franchise has shifted its gears over its seven-film duration, moving everywhere from a car-driven mindset to a heist thriller to a mixture of the two that infuses action-adventure elements. They have grown stronger over the years, with the latest film standing as the franchise’s most fun and contemplative effort yet. It’s also firmly established itself as the most indirect advertisement for Rogaine I’ve ever seen, with more middle-aged bald men than an audition line for Mr. Clean commercials. But all jokes aside, the series has slowly flourished into its own specimen of blockbuster, a film that never takes itself too seriously but deeply cares for its characters. There’s a tenderness to their friendships that makes Paul Walker’s death all the more affecting, and the series a surprisingly strong emotional force.

The film follows the usual peeps picking up after the sixth film, with Dom (Vin Diesel) leading his crew while attempting to rekindle his romantic relationship with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who continues to regain her memory after her horrible accident. Brian (Paul Walker) is living a traditional life with his son and wife, Mia (Jordana Brewster), while Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) works tirelessly at putting away criminals while keeping an eye on potential problems that could emerge from Dom and his group’s explorations. Sure enough, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) wants to avenge his brother and aims to destroy Dom and everyone around him. That includes the horrible death of their friend, Han (Sung Kang), which was shown in the post-credits scene in Fast & Furious 6. This leads to a globe-trotting adventure that also includes Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), a private contractor who wants to work with Dom on rescuing a hacker named Ramsey along with using this mysterious man’s technology to track Shaw down.

If the plot sounds convoluted, that’s because it has to be. The Furious films like to keep the action quick but the narrative even quicker, with scenes blowing by with little time to breathe. The film’s first half hour rightfully introduces much of the inherent drama with these characters, and also reminds everyone that these once-upon-a-time criminals are basically superheroes disguised as car thieves. They are indestructible entities with superhuman capabilities and the series has fully accepted such absurd notions. James Wan takes over as director here, and he instills a ton of energy into every frame; the cinematography is even easy to follow and allows for the action scenes to spring to life. There are overtly misogynistic moments (and Michelle Rodriguez’s latest comments about sexism in Hollywood linger over the film’s depiction of female bodies) that are often countered by powerful females that kick ass, which makes the politics of the film a bit disorienting. Yet the fact remains that the series is thriving in its acceptance of a multi-ethnic cast where every character has their own backstory and opinions; that’s a rarity in Hollywood, even more so for a film on its seventh entry. In that regard, Furious 7 continues an altogether impressive run for the franchise.

Grade: ½ (out of 5)

Written by Eric Forthun