It's 3AM on Monday morning in Austin, Texas and emotions are running high.
Just hours ago, Universal Pictures announced a surprise world premiere screening of "Furious 7," the latest installment in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise ... and the final film starring Paul Walker.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious to see how the filmmakers would work around the late actor's tragic death, which occurred before they were finished with principal photography ... but I also just wanted to see what kind of incredibly ridiculous shenanigans Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his motley crew of dangerous drivers would get into this time around.
I should preface the rest of this review by stating that I LOVE the "Fast & Furious" films. Yes, even "Tokyo Drift." I've seen and own them all, each one besting the last in terms of sheer insanity. Just when you think they can't top a bank literally being dragged through the streets of Rio by a car in "Fast Five," a tank comes along in the next flick that has the characters defying the laws of gravity.
Director James Wan had the daunting task of one-upping those sequences, while also finding a way to finish a film without one of its stars and honoring him at the same time. It was no easy feat, but "Furious 7" delivers on all accounts.
The plot finds the gang under siege from Ian Shaw (Jason Statham), the brother of Luke Evans' villain from the previous film. While evading Shaw's attacks, Dom, Brian and Co. must also rescue a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) for Kurt Russell, go to Abu Dhabi on a side mission and fight off another group of bad guys led by Djimon Hounsou. There are a lot of moving parts, but it's all about the action sequences ... and the audience at SXSW went wild for all of them.
While a lot of the film's best moments are teased in the trailers, seeing them play out in full on the big screen makes them all the more awe-inspiring. Cars drop from planes with parachutes, they're targeted by drones weaving through the streets of Los Angeles and another even flies through not one ... not two ... but three different buildings. None of this could ever happen in real life, but the crowd still erupted with each moment of vehicular mayhem.
Watch some of the plane drop below:
Tyrese, Ludacris, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and The Rock all filled out the ensemble in roles they're all clearly comfortable with by now. This group really is family and it shows -- there's a lot of heart here.
Also keep an eye out for Ronda Rousey, who takes center stage for one of the film's best fight scenes.
Before the movie began, producer Neal Moritz asked the audience not to spoil Brian O'Conner's journey for anyone who hasn't seen the film yet. We don't intend to give away the ending here, just know that scenes between Jordana Brewster and Paul -- as well as Vin and his "brother" -- will leave you in tears. It really feels like everyone involved really did their best to both give Walker a proper sendoff and satisfy fans who have supported the franchise from the beginning.
From a technical standpoint, sure, there are a few moments where you can tell Paul's face was superimposed over someone else's body ... namely his own brothers, Cody and Caleb, who stepped in to help finish the film. But they're few and far between.
Do these fleeting moments take you out of the film at all though? No. If anything, they just show a desire from the cast, the studio and Paul's own family to complete something he was passionate about and loved being a part of while he was still alive.