There is a lot that could have gone wrong with Furious 7. Few franchises have ever been able to recover from a lead actor's death, and most film series either try to brush it off or simply ignore it. Fast & Furious, however, decided to turn its latest movie into something of a tribute for the late Paul Walker - it's still a ridiculously over-the-top action flick with little regard for physics, but the filmmakers made it clear that this was supposed to be something that honored its former star.
While it's clear that the crew's intentions are noble, a tribute is something that goes one of two ways: it's great, or it's painful to watch. Trying to make something sincere and respectful is a fantastic gesture, but pulling it off is something else entirely. So - was the studio successful in making both a tribute to Paul Walker and an entertaining film?
According to early reviews out of SXSW, the answer is yes.
Thanks to a surprise premiere during the film festival, a number of reviews for Furious 7 have begun to appear online. For the most part, it seems like Furious 7 keeps the series' tradition of absolutely ridiculous stunts and flimsy plots intact. ScreenCrush's Matt Singer said:
"In the wake of Walker's death, the creators of Furious 7 could have chosen to rein in some of the outrageous car chases and crashes. Instead, they went in the opposite direction; this Fast & Furious seems to contain a record number of brutal collisions that characters walk away from like they're invincible. It's a choice that could have backfired, but it feels right, and it makes Furious 7, which is already a fitting and moving send-off for Walker, even more poignant, because the characters in the film can do what people in the real world cannot: Defy death."
While it's great to see that the studio has handled Walker's death with the respect that it deserves, the film isn't without its problems. The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore wasn't exactly forgiving of the film's weak plot:
"We needn't say much about the plot, either. Bare bones: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), brother of the crew's defeated enemy Owen Shaw, has vowed to kill them all in revenge; an all-seeing surveillance program called God's Eye has been stolen by terrorists; the creator of said program (Nathalie Emmanuel's Ramsey) needs to be rescued; and a mysterious lawman with his own private army (Kurt Russell, who any oddsmaker would say is bound to be hiding something) promises to help Vin Diesel's Dom get Deckard if Dom's folks will get Ramsey and the God's Eye. Tired yet? You will be after two hours of F7..."
However, at the end of the day, it seems like those who were in attendance at the secret SXSW agreed: Furious 7 is a well-made tribute to Walker and a shining example of the excess and ridiculousness of the franchise. Collider's Perri Nemiroff put it nicely:
"...Furious 7 is everything you'd want in a new Fast and Furious film. The car chases are absolutely insane and take the action in the franchise to a new level. There's endless sass, humor and unforgettable absurd one-liners like when a very angry Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) vows to 'put a hurt on [Shaw] so bad he's gonna wish his momma kept her legs closed.'
But most important of all, the film actually means something."
Of course it does: how could anything with Dwayne Johnson wielding a mini-gun be anything less than Oscar-worthy?
Furious 7 hits theaters on April 3.