Furious 7 peaks early when black ops nasty Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) attacks swaggering fed Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), as part of a scheme against the Fast/Furious crew. James Wan shoots the fight in inky blacks and cold blues, circling around the two brawlers. Hobbs uses his mass to soak up Shaw’s attacks before delivering body blows and a Rock Bottom. Shaw compensates with ferocity and trickery, kicking up tables and chairs while aiming for Hobbs’ extremities, attempting to cripple his larger opponent. The fight’s memorable but inconclusive, Shaw escaping while Hobbs is injured saving a colleague. From there, Wan has to escalate, adding in the loose car physics and elaborate, multistage setpieces of Fast 5 and 6 when Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and friends (or family, as the film keeps reminding) globe-hop to get back at Shaw for killing one of their own.
There’s a meaner film teased here, with a couple fights occurring in sickly green/yellow-hued rooms with spinning vent fans in the background, reminiscent of the Saw films Wan launched. Shaw, himself looking to square up with the crew after his villainous brother is crippled in the previous film, opens the Fast films up to darker political themes: the cat-and-mouse game ropes in–through garbled plot nonsense–a network of baddies consisting of a warlord (Djimon Honsou, sadly given little to do but scream at thugs), a henchman with a Muay Thai skillset (Tony Jaa), and a Jordanian prince. Hints of a shadow war pop up, fought by Kurt Russell’s chummy/menacing Nick Fury stand-in Mr. Nobody, the specter of Cold War/War on Terror policies now keeping a firm eye on the multicultural, L.A.-set Rat Pack. Furious 7 pulls back from some of its more unsettling implications, though, happy with spectacle (parachuting cars onto mountains to spring a renditioned hacker) and sentiment (a subplot involving Paul Walker’s character, at least partially rewritten as a slightly-incongruous sendoff following the actor’s death, is given much dramatic weight, as is the rekindling romance between Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and Michelle Rodriguez’s amnesiac Letty). It’s a finely incoherent popcorn prospect, but the frayed edges and dark corners left unexplored remain the most enticing.