Tag Archives: James Wan

Saw (2004) Review

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Saw

Time: 102 minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Sadistic violence
Cast:
Leigh Whannell as Adam Stanheight
Cary Elwes as Lawrence Gordon
Danny Glover as David Tapp
Ken Leung as Detective Steven Sing
Monica Potter as Alison Gordon
Tobin Bell as John Kramer
Director: James Wan

Photographer Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) and oncologist Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) regain consciousness while chained to pipes at either end of a filthy bathroom. As the two men realize they’ve been trapped by a sadistic serial killer nicknamed “Jigsaw” and must complete his perverse puzzle to live, flashbacks relate the fates of his previous victims. Meanwhile, Dr. Gordon’s wife (Monica Potter) and young daughter (Makenzie Vega) are forced to watch his torture via closed-circuit video.

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Saw was where horror director James Wan started as a filmmaker. The film was a surprise hit back in 2004, with it gaining back over 86 times its own budget, and went on to create a long running series that were huge hits at the box office. I wanted to watch all the Saw movies before the latest film, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, comes out. The first movie isn’t great by any means and has its very visible flaws, however it is still quite good.

Saw (2004)
Directed by James Wan
Shown: Cary Elwes (as Dr. Lawrence Gordon)

The movie is just over 100 minutes long, and it keeps you pretty invested from beginning to end. It’s very different from what you’d expect from a Saw movie based off its reputation, especially from the sequels. The movie doesn’t open with one of the infamous and grotesque Saw traps, instead the first 15 minutes was of the two main characters stuck in a bathroom not sure what’s happening. Indeed that’s the location where most of the movie took place, along with a lot of flashbacks. There’s not really any torture scenes in this movie, Saw is a psychological thriller, focused on mystery and tension and doesn’t focus on jump scares. Despite some of the traps that are in this movie, they are definitely more believable than what’s in the sequels. There are some traps that are pretty gruesome, but most of those moments are shown relatively briefly. The pacing of the movie and the use of the plotlines are actually well planned out, in terms of plotting it succeeds very well. It is a fairly contained movie too, with its fair share of twists and turns including the ending, which is one of the most famous horror movie endings. Having only seen a couple of the Saw sequels, it’s interesting to see how Jigsaw had been changed as a killer. While the character is definitely crazy to set up all these traps and all that, the sequels made it so that he was some kind of vigilante going after mostly bad people. However, Jigsaw’s victims in this movie don’t quite fit that same criteria. Now there are clearly some issues with the movie. There are some moments that are slightly implausible and far-fetched for sure, though I think that’s the case for each of the movies in the series. Saw also very much aims to be Se7en-esque, with the gruesome crime scenes, the serial killer, the detectives in the flashbacks, and occasionally the colour palette. It is pretty far from reaching the level of that movie but does enough to make itself its own thing.

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Some of the acting was generally decent but nothing special really. Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell do well in the lead roles, and other actors like Danny Glover, Ken Leung and Michael Emerson provide good support work.

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Saw is James Wan’s first film, and this was a really solid debut for him, even if it’s pretty clear that he’s made better movies since then. The movie had pretty low budget at $1.2 million, and considering all the issues and rushes that Wan and Whannell went through making the movie, it’s impressive that the end product was as good as it turned out. It is very rough around the edges because of the lack of time and money that they had for the movie, that ended up enhancing the movie. Again, Saw does borrow a little too much from Se7en’s aesthetics, but it still establishes its own distinct style and feel that is iconic to the series. It’s great on a visual level, really gritty and sickly looking, which fits the tone of the film perfectly. Saw is known as one of the movies known for popularising the torture porn genre but the first movie in the series certainly doesn’t fit into that genre. Yes, it is violent, bloody and gruesome sometime, however it actually used those moments effectively, and don’t feel gratuitous. Even some of the most gruesome traps in this movie was shown relatively quickly. The room that the main characters are stuck in (which was also the only set in the film that had to be built) was simple but ery gritty and effective as it was. The score from Charlie Clouser fits the Saw movies really well and are excellent, from the eerie vibes throughout, to the more intense moments. With that said you do notice some issues, if not on a budget level then a directing level. Some of the frantic editing is pretty familiar and even iconic for the series but it can be very over the top and goofy most of time, especially in the instances when it spins around the room. In fact, some of the editing feels like it is from a music video. There are some moments that do feel a bit amateurish especially with regard to the camerawork, again though that’s to be expected considering the tight schedule Wan and writer Leigh Whannell were under (there were times where Wan wasn’t even able to film the shots that he wanted).

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If you like horror movies, definitely check the first Saw movie out. I would never call it one of the best horror movies ever, even from the 2000s, but it is undeniably iconic and influential. Even if you’re worried about it being ‘torture porn’, don’t let that stop you, because it’s definitely not that kind of movie. It does have some problems, again the budgetary issues, some of the amateurish filmmaking and some parts of the writing. Overall though, it’s an effective and well made horror thriller that deserves to be judged on its own merits rather than be lumped in with what at least most of the sequels are.

The Conjuring (2013) Review

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The Conjuring

Time: 102 minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Horror & content that may disturb
Cast:
Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren
Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren
Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron
Ron Livingston as Roger Perron
Director: James Wan

The Perron family moves into a farmhouse where they experience paranormal phenomena. They consult demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), to help them get rid of the evil entity haunting them.

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The creation of The Conjuring universe was unexpected, with three movies from the main Conjuring series, and three spin offs and one of those spinoffs (Annabelle) getting a prequel and sequel of its own. Looking back on the first movie released in 2013 however, it is still a really good horror movie that works really well. It doesn’t revolutionise the genre or anything, but it succeeds effectively at what it seeks out to do.

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The Conjuring is a traditional haunted house horror movie, and a well-crafted one at that. One of the reasons it works so well is that it invests quite a lot of time into the characters, both the main family and the Warrens. It does take the story and characters seriously and doesn’t treat them as throwaway typical horror movie characters. I will say I wasn’t as invested in the actual story as much I would’ve liked to have been and the movie isn’t exactly unpredictable, but I was still interested to see how it would play out. Additionally, the story has a tense buildup, and its pacing is measured and deliberate, instead of just rushing into the horror and the scares. This helps to build a strong atmosphere, which is at its peak in the final act. The film being set in the 70s gives it sort of a unique feeling that would’ve been missing had it just been set in modern day. There’s also the aspect that this movie is supposedly based on true events, whether or not you believe it to be true it does give it a unique feel to the story.

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The acting is all great from everyone. The leads are Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens and they do very well on their parts. They were very believable and sold their performances. The family at the centre of it all played their parts too, especially the mother played by Lily Taylor. Even the child actors do very well as their respective characters.

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James Wan has already established himself as a great director of horror, with Saw and the first two Insidious movies, and The Conjuring and its sequel are no exception. The camerawork is greatly carried out and played a key role in creating the haunted and unsettling feeling throughout the movie. As previously mentioned, the movie also benefited quite a lot from being set in the 70s, the production design really does well at portraying this time period, especially in this particular haunted house. While there are some jumpscares (as to be expected from this movie), it’s not the main source of scares in the movie. Also whenever the jumpscares do happen, they actually feel earned and not cheap, and it helps that the movie had been building up a lot of tension beforehand. Additionally, the movie actually lacks any gore or digital effects, which was refreshing to see from a horror movie, its just all scares. The use of sound also played a part in the scares working as well as they did, and the score from Joseph Bishara also worked to its favour.

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The Conjuring is a well made horror movie that works on pretty much all fronts. The characters are well written and portrayed by the actors greatly, the story is genuinely suspenseful, and James Wan directs it very well. If you like horror and you haven’t watched it yet, it’s definitely a movie to check out.

Aquaman (2018) Review

Time: 143 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Fantasy violence
Cast:
Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman
Amber Heard as Mera
Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko
Patrick Wilson as Orm Marius/Ocean Master
Dolph Lundgren as Nereus
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as David Kane/Black Manta
Nicole Kidman as Atlanna
Temuera Morrison as Thomas Curry
Director: James Wan

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.

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Aquaman was one of my most anticipated movies of 2018. I’m a fan of most of the DCEU and despite my thoughts on Justice League, Jason Momoa as Aquaman showed himself to be pretty good in it and I wanted to see him in his solo movie. Additionally, there were some talented people involved including director James Wan and a cast that included Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson and Nicole Kidman. Everything about the movie looked great as well from the trailers, on such a large scale and looking like no other comic book movie that has come beforehand. The only real caution I had was that the previous DCEU movie, Justice League, was disappointing and I was fearing the possibilities of studio interference affecting a DCEU movie once again. Outside of that, I was really looking forward to Aquaman. Aquaman is a really distinct comic book movie, that’s visually stunning, features some good performances and is just one big epic ride from start to finish. It’s got some faults for sure but they don’t take away too much from the overall experience.

The story isn’t necessarily anything we haven’t seen before, but it’s the way that it’s done that makes Aquaman stand out. While the DCEU has generally embraced it’s comic bookiness, Aquaman is the most comic book like out of all of it (mostly due to how far the characters and world is from any other comic book movie). Despite this, it doesn’t feel like a comic book movie, it feels so far removed from any other superhero movie we’ve seen before. If you edited out the credits that mention this as a DC movie, you could totally pass this off as an action adventure fantasy, mostly because that’s what this movie is. Aside from a reference to the main villain of Justice League, it doesn’t makes any clear references to the other movies that would leave people unfamiliar with the cinematic universe confused. Justice League featured a scene between Arthur and Mera but honestly, after watching Aquaman I can say that you don’t even need to have watched any of the prior DCEU films to hop right in.

This movie has a good mix of dark and light that works well for the movie. There’s a lot of debate about the tone about the DCEU as a whole, but I feel like while all of them (aside from Justice League) has reasonably strong bit of darkness to it, the tones with each film is different, and I like that. While the MCU has a consistent tone that makes every movie feel like it’s in the same universe, the DCEU can have a wide range of different tones. Yes, Aquaman (the movie) can be pretty cheesy at points but I’m pretty sure that James Wan and co. knew that so instead of being ashamed of it and trying to tone it down, they went full force with it, and so making it work on a weird level. When the film at one point features an octopus playing the drums, you know that they had to be self aware about the whole thing. Now there is quite a bit of comedy in this movie and most of it works but every so often there’s a joke that doesn’t quite work. I think something that most people will feel is that there’s so much going on. There is so much packed into this movie, James Wan basically combined 3 comic book story arcs into one large story, leaving Aquaman to be like 2 hours and 20 minutes long. I don’t think that the movie is overly long (after Justice League, I think every DCEU film should be at least 2 hours and 20 minutes long), nor do I think the pacing needed to necessarily be faster, it’s just a lot of things happen in this one movie. Despite this, it’s easy to follow and not overly complicated, if anything the more complicated bits are the exposition from Mera about Atlantis in some scenes, and even then it won’t matter if you don’t pick up all of it. Also it’s worth noting that there’s a mid credits scene which sets up the sequel (which it will definitely get). I could sort of figure out what it would be about but it’s worth sitting through 2 minutes of credits for it.

Jason Momoa reprises his role as Arthur Curry/Aquaman and once again he was great, getting a lot more to work with this time round. While Justice League introduced him to the big screen (excluding his cameo in Batman v Superman), what we were left with didn’t exactly go into much depth with him. Here it’s established he doesn’t fit in the human world or with the Atlanteans and the whole movie is him accepting his role as King of Atlantis. Momoa’s charisma and performance is perfect for the character and you can really root for him. I’ll just say that if you aren’t a fan of Aquaman as a character or can’t take him seriously, you will after this movie. Amber Heard plays Mera and she’s really good as well, they really showed off Mera as being a very powerful character and she gets some great moments. Momoa and Heard have great chemistry and play off each other really well. I think when it comes to the writing, some of the romance elements you don’t really buy too much, with regard to how their relationship changes over time. Its not that believable but the two leads make it work fine enough. Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lungren are also good in supporting roles, with Dafoe playing Vulko, who’s an advisor of Atlantis and Arthur’s mentor, and Lundgren playing Nereus, Mera’s father and a king of an Atlantean tribe who allies with Orm. Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison play Aquaman’s parents, and while their roles are small, they do add quite a bit to the movie. It seems like parents are a big thing for all of the DCEU lead heroes and Aquaman suitably is no exception, with them having their important parts in the story.

The villains were also great. Patrick Wilson plays Orm, Arthur’s half brother, and is one of the stand out live action film villains from DC thus far. Orm has an understandable reason for wanting to declare war against the surface world, with all the damage that humanity has caused Atlantis. Orm isn’t just evil for the sake of being evil. When the movie cuts back to him from Arthur, you aren’t pulled out of it and you are also interested in what’s going on with him. Patrick Wilson’s performance is somehow both larger than life and yet subtle and riveting, really making his villain even more convincing and overall better. As much of a dangerous antagonist that this movie has shown him to be, you get the feeling that they hadn’t gone all out with him yet because it would probably be something so large scale that the Justice League would have to come in. Still, with what he did here he made for a great villain. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays one of Aquaman’s most iconic adversaries, Black Manta, who in this movie is a bit of a supporting antagonist. Manta here is really setup for future movies, so if you love the character from the comics, don’t go in expecting a lot of him because you don’t really get that. With that said, they do use this movie as a bit of an origin story for him and a way of establishing him as a character. It might’ve made the story feel less packed by removing him and saving him for a sequel but I still liked that we got him here (it also means that in the sequel we won’t need to spend so much time introducing him). He’s also great and makes himself to be quite a threat when he’s on screen and they do make him a stand out in the movie, even if we don’t get a ton of screen time with him. I can’t wait to see more of them in future movies.

Director James Wan made the 7th Fast and Furious movie back in 2015 but otherwise he’s primarily known for his horror movies like Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious. Here he takes on a comic book movie and he did fantastic work with it. This is an absolutely stunning looking movie and a feast for the eyes. There is a lot of visual effects and CGI used to portray a lot of what’s going on and most of it is at such a high level of quality. There is the occasional fake looking effect but considering how they managed to make almost all of it look great, it’s not a big issue. It is a very CGI heavy movie but really it couldn’t be achieved any other way, you couldn’t just use practical effects for the entire movie, especially when it comes to the water sequences. They did the best they could with the effects, and most of it looks great. The action scenes are great, both the scenes that take place on the land and in the sea are great. However the scenes that take place in the sea are the highlights. The fight scenes are so unique to anything we’ve seen before, particularly between Arthur and Orm, the last fight was especially great. So much care and attention detail was put into making it all work. You can probably tell that when the characters are under water that the actors weren’t actually filming under water but they do such a good job making it look like it was. Everything also feels on such a large scale, this movie really is an epic. There are even some sequences that I’m not even sure how they managed to film, with them quite often featuring long takes. An example of this is featured in the Comic Con trailer which shows a scene in Italy with Arthur and Mera being chased by Black Manta and others and it’s one shot that zooms in and out of locations following them and you can clearly see that it’s the actual actors there. I’m not necessarily sure how you’ll feel about the overall movie but all the visuals make it worth seeing on the big screen alone. There’s even a sequence towards the latter portion of the movie which was horror esque, which was nice to see considering James Wan’s horror roots. As previously mentioned, Aquaman completely went all in on the fantasy elements and this is the case with the designs of everything, the stand outs being the design of Atlantis and really everything underwater. Not all of the film takes place near the ocean, but the sequences that don’t at least have them go from different location to different location, so there’s a variety of types of locations. The costumes are also fantastically made. Some of the costumes are straight out of the comic book, and while it’s not necessary for character designs to be ripped directly from the comics, really extra credit should be given to those who make it work, especially if it’s for something outlandish like Aquaman. Costumes particularly for Mera, Orm and Black Manta are fantastic and work on screen very well, special credit however is for making the classic Aquaman costume work on Jason Momoa, and not making it feel goofy at all. The score by Rupert Gregson-Williams was really good, very large scale and epic, just like the rest of the movie. He also composed the score for Wonder Woman and he does well at making both scores feel completely separate from each other. The other music choices were a mixed bag and were more often than not rather silly, and I don’t mean in the good goofy way, I’m meaning like it feels out of place and didn’t fit in at all with the rest of the movie. I’m not exactly sure who’s idea it was to have Pitbull to do a song but it was likely a studio mandated decision and it wasn’t a very good decision. Not a movie breaking issue but just rather distracting.

Aquaman is a visually stunning movie that embraces its comic book source material and was just an incredible experience. It’s got some messy aspects for sure but it really is worth seeing on the big screen for it all. Now it is worth noting that my opinion on Aquaman could change over time. When I first watched Wonder Woman I declared it one of the best comic book movies ever made, and then rewatching it a couple times, it didn’t hold up as well even though it’s still a solid movie. As of right now, I really loved watching Aquaman, and if we are going to continue getting these types of director driven movies that separate itself from all the other comic book movies (alongside mainly Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman), I think the DCEU is going to continue to have a unique appeal and an audience (an audience that includes me).

The Conjuring 2 (2016) Review

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The Conjuring 2

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Violence and Horror Scenes
Cast:
Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren
Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren
Frances O’Connor as Peggy Hodgson
Madison Wolfe as Janet Hodgson
Simon McBurney as Maurice Grosse
Franka Potente as Anita Gregory
Director: James Wan

HolIn 1977, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) come out of a self-imposed sabbatical to travel to Enfield, a borough in north London. There, they meet Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor), an overwhelmed single mother of four who tells the couple that something evil is in her home. Ed and Lorraine believe her story when the youngest daughter (Madison Wolfe) starts to show signs of demonic possession. As the Warrens try to help the besieged girl, they become the next target of the malicious spirits.

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Horror sequels are most of the time failures, which was why I initially wasn’t pleased when I heard that they announced a sequel to The Conjuring, one of the best horror films in recent memory. The only reason that I gave this film a chance to begin with is the fact that James Wan was returning. After seeing this movie however, I can say that this movie is fantastic. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the original but I do think that this sequel is superior. Wan’s direction, as well as all the other elements really does come together to make it one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a while.

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What separates this movie from many other horror movies is that it doesn’t just feel like just another horror movie. This film is long for a horror movie, about 2 hours and 15 minutes and gives enough time for characters to be developed, and builds up the suspense. This film also feels a lot more grounded, the characters feel like real people, the way that they interact with one another feels genuine, it doesn’t 100% focus on only delivering scares, characters are established and developed very well. It’s worth noting that unlike a lot of horror movie characters, we actually care about them here. Even though many of the things that happen in the movie has happened many times in other horror films, it’s the executions of them that makes this movie so great.

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The performances are excellent from everyone, all of them played their roles spectacularly. One thing that surprised me was the amount of focus on the family, the actors who play them are great, even the child actors are absolutely fantastic and work very well. One of the standouts was Madison Wolfe, who had a lot to handle as she plays a girl who is in more direct contact with this evil spirit, if she failed in her role, this movie would probably fail but she was excellent. Once again, these characters aren’t just generic movie characters, they actually felt real, so these actors had a huge advantage because of that.

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James Wan directed horror movies fantastically and he does the same with Conjuring 2. The cinematography was breathtaking (especially when long takes were used) and the sound design was so effective. The lighting was also absolutely on point. All of these elements helped the scenes feel more immersive, especially during the suspense scenes. And yes, there are jumpscares but they are done correctly, you do see what the characters see and it is real when the scare actually happens, it’s not fake or just a loud noise to give a cheap scare.

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The Conjuring 2 is one of the best horror movies in recent years. Everything from the acting from its talented cast as well as its well written story is done greatly but James Wan’s direction absolutely deserves a lot of credit, this movie proves that he’s one of the best horror directors out of there. I’m actually on board on a Conjuring 3 happening, just as long as Wan is returning. If we get more horror movies like this, I think we’ll see a resurgence in horror. One can only dream though.

Furious 7 (2015) Review

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Furious 7

Time: 137 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto
Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner
Dwayne Johnson as Luke Hobbs
Michelle Rodriguez as Leticia “Letty” Ortiz-Toretto
Jordana Brewster as Mia Toretto-O’Conner
Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as Tej Parker
Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody
Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw
Director: James Wan

The sins of the past seem to be catch up with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and his crew, when Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) shows up to seek revenge for the travails of his younger brother. When a young unknown hacker who claims to have developed ‘God’s Eye’ is also thrown into the mix, things go haywire and Toretto & his crew need to save the hacker and also settle their scores with Shaw.

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The Fast and Furious is a long running action franchise, starting 14 years ago with The Fast and Furious. Today it is one of the best action franchises today due to its change from street racing to heists in Fast Five. Its latest sequel had the misfortune of Paul Walker’s unfortunate death during production. Despite this, Furious 7 ends up being one of the best movies in the franchise and I have a good feeling that many more films that will follow will be great as the ones before it.

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Horror director James Wan takes over from Justin Lin and I thought he did a pretty good job, surprising seeing as this is an action movie. The plot is simple enough and it isn’t made more convoluted than it needs to be, no one is really going into the Fast and Furious movies for the plot. One thing that each of these movies must do is to up the ante of what how big the action scenes can be over the previous movies. That definitely happens and the scenes without action are done quite well and don’t feel unnecessary or long. One thing I will say is that they could’ve used Jason Statham a little more. He was great in the movie but a lot of the time he just pops up every so often during whatever they are doing. However the biggest thing that most people will want to know is how Paul Walker’s last appearance would be handled. Without spoiling anything I will say that he is sent off well and led to the best possible ending that this movie could’ve had.

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All the surviving cast from the previous movie returns and they do quite well in their roles. They aren’t Oscar worthy performances but they aren’t supposed to be. Dwayne Johnson is as usual great in this movie, however he’s not in it as much as the previous movies. I would’ve liked to have seen more of him in this movie but he’s awesome in the scenes he’s in. Jason Statham was really good as the villain and I’d even go so far as to say that he’s the best villain in the franchise. Also a mention should definitely go to Kurt Russell as a government agent, this is his best role in years and hopefully he’ll appear in future Fast and Furious movies.

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Despite James Wan mostly being a director of horror movies he’s managed to direct action very well. The action scenes are done excellently and as I said before, they even go more over the top than the scenes in the previous movies. Whether it be cars parachuting from a plane or cars driving around in skyscrapers, everything is filmed really well. The fight scenes are also well choreographed and filmed as much as possible. Due to Paul Walker’s death, the film had stunt doubles and CGI to replace him in the scenes he hadn’t filmed, some people saw it but I personally didn’t notice it.

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Furious 7 is one of the best movies in the Fast and Furious franchise. If you didn’t like the direction these recent movies have gone in, or if you’ve never liked any of these movies than this film won’t change your mind. I’m open to the idea of more Fast and Furious movies (it’s been recently announced that there will be an 8th film) but if this series ended with this film, it would’ve been a suitable movie to end on.