Blockbuster sequel burns rubber on Blu-ray and takes action junkies to seventh heaven
Universal Studios doesn't have a superhero franchise to rival Marvel's Avengers, Warner's Batman or Fox's X-Men. But it doesn't need one, does it? The characters in the long-running Fast & Furious series are now so superheroic they will soon need to start donning capes.
In this seventh episode, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and the rest of the petrolhead crew hit the road once again, ostensibly so they can hunt down a stolen computer programme that will enable them to locate baddie Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham, following his cameo in the last movie). This is pure MacGuffin territory, but it enables a globe-trotting script (Azerbaijan, Abu Dhabi, L.A) packed full of car stunts, fist fights and outrageous set-pieces.
Fears that director James Wan would struggle to fill the boots of the departed Justin Lin are largely unfounded. Wan proves able to make the shift from jump scares (The Conjuring) to jumping cars, handling the high-octane lunacy well. Sure, there are a few CG sequences that stand out, but when you have a scene where a Lykan HyperSport is driven through the Etihad Towers, in-camera effects are never going to cut it. Statham, meanwhile, is a superb addition, all menacing stubble and gruff threats, while the introduction of Kurt Russell as an ice-cool secret agent and Nathalie Emmanuel as a computer hacker bode well for the inevitable next instalment.
Hanging over the entire movie is the knowledge that Walker was killed in an unrelated car crash midway through production, causing a year delay, script rewrites and the use of both CGI and his brothers as body doubles to finish the picture. While at times this is obvious, it doesn't hamper the movie's verve or narrative, and the way Fast & Furious 7 finds reason to close proceedings with a montage of Walker throughout the franchise is both clever and poignant. It might make even the most hard-boiled AV-holic shed a tear...
Picture: F&F 7 looks race-worthy on Blu-ray, with Universal's 1080p encode of the 2.40:1 cinematography appearing clean, colourful and stacked with detail. This image picks out textures and finery everywhere – Vin Diesel's face appears rugged enough to remove wallpaper; lumps of gravel spit up from the road surface.
It's only during some of the dimly-lit sequences that picture clarity takes a hit. Contrast levels are high, but not uncomfortably so, and rich colour saturation highlights the lurid paintwork of some of the exotic cars. A close look reveals no obvious signs of digital smoothing or sharpening.
Picture rating: 4.5/5
Audio: This DTS-HD 7.1 audio mix is mostly about as subtle as a double-decker bus. It hits hard and loud, often drowning out the score with snarling engines and weapons fire. Bass is a constant menace, adding slam to everything from Dwayne Johnson's fists to crashing ambulances, and sonic steering is quick and effective – the sound engineers work hard to put you in the midst of the showstopping set-pieces. However, it does know when to rein itself in – the Etihad Towers jump strips the soundmix down to just the whistling wind...
Audio rating: 4.5/5
Extras: There's quite a decent selection here that fans will like to dip into. Heading up the list are four deleted scenes – these serve to fill in some character backstory hanging over from the previous movie, and it's easy to see why they were cut for a tighter edit. Speaking of edits – this release includes both theatrical and extended editions. Don't expect Peter Jackson-style shenanigans, though, as the latter runs only about two minutes longer.
The rest of the extras (barring a music video) focus on the film's production. The pick of these is Talking Fast, a 30-minute interactive feature hosted by James Wan. Wan is great value – enthusiastic and informative, and this serves as a good alternative to a director's commentary. Other, shorter, featurettes look at key action scenes (the mountain top chase, the HyperSport jump, four fight sequences), the cars, the Race Wars location, the new Universal theme park ride and how the film was developed following the runaway success of F&F 6.
Extras rating: 3.5/5
We say: Another hit for the Fast & Furious team on a Blu-ray disc that delivers on all counts
Fast & Furious 7: Extended Edition, Universal Pictures, All-region BD, £25 approx
HCC VERDICT: 4.5/5
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