The filmmakers of "Furious 7" had their work cut out for them in two major ways: On the one hand, incoming director James Wan, veteran producer Neal Moritz and their collaborators were looking to outdo the increasingly out-there stunts of the previous films. On the other, they had to figure out a tasteful way to complete the movie after the 2013 death of star Paul Walker midway through production.
According to the majority of reviews, the filmmakers succeeded on both counts, delivering eye-popping (if occasionally mind-numbing) action and a poignant screen farewell to Walker.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey wrote that "'Furious 7' is the fuel-injected fusion of all that is and ever has been good in 'The Fast and the Furious' saga. … The always-fabulous autos spend much of the time airborne in stunning, heart-dropping effects. But it is in the handling of heartfelt sentiment that 'Furious' truly soars, as the on-screen and off-screen family gives one of their own … a near-perfect final ride."
Sharkey added that Wan and his team have handled Walker's exit "creatively and deftly, steering clear of letting things turn maudlin or exploitive, keeping the overall tone in sync with the past while shaping the franchise for the future."
Referring to "Furious 7" star Vin Diesel's recent remark that the film will (or at least should) win the Oscar for best picture, the New York Times' A.O. Scott wrote, "If Mr. Diesel's prophecy doesn't come true, it won't necessarily be a matter of merit. Movies much worse than this lucky-number episode of an overachieving franchise — movies far less sure of their intentions, sincere in their themes or kind to their audiences — have snapped up statuettes. There will no doubt be better movies released in 2015, but 'Furious 7' is an early favorite to win the prize for most picture."
Although there's "too much plot" and "a little too much heavy weaponry for my taste," Scott added, "I must admit that some of the digital stunts hit the sweet spot of wacky, oh-no-they-didn't sublimity."
Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty gave the film a B grade and said it's "both awesome and ridiculous. The acting is mostly lame, the dialogue is entirely laughable, and the story makes absolutely no sense. … And yet none of that matters. No one forks over 10 bucks to see one of these flicks for its logic. We go for the bananas demolition-derby mayhem. 'Furious 7' delivers that with the direct visceral rush of an EpiPen."
Nashawaty also said, "The biggest surprise in the movie is how poignantly and tastefully it pays tribute to [Walker], who, by all accounts, was as devoted a family man off screen as he was on it." His final scene offers "a rare moment of subtlety in a franchise that otherwise has no use for it."
The Washington Post's Jen Chaney similarly said, "'Furious 7' plays to the saga's over-the-top action strengths, perpetually ratcheting things up a few notches even when it seems like all notch possibilities have been exhausted."
Yes, Chaney conceded, "the whole movie feels overstuffed and overlong, and the non-action scenes are often dragged down by stilted dialogue. But 'Furious 7' buzzes with a frenetic energy so contagious, there's no sense in resisting it. Like its predecessors, this film has no shame about being its high-octane, gloriously ridiculous self. It's also not afraid to sentimentally and respectfully honor Walker."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips wrote that "even with its dull stretches and hacky, maniacal editing rhythms, 'Furious 7' does the trick. It's roughly as realistic as Georges Melies' 'A Trip to the Moon,' of course. But revisiting our old pals (one of whom is played by an actor who is no longer with us) and watching them survive one unsurvivable collision or plunge after another, continues against the odds to have a walloping charm all its own."
Critics haven't been unanimous on "Furious 7," however. Among the minority who found the film lacking is the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, who said, "The action comes so fast and furious in 'Furious 7' that, for all the explosions and overturned cars and missiles fired on downtown Los Angeles, it becomes a dull muddle. Here and there, we get the imaginative and outrageous stunts this series is famous for, but mostly the movie plods along, muscling through without much life or spirit."
Follow @ogettell for movie news