Monday, April 6, 2015

Furious 7

I’m a huge fan of the Fast and Furious franchise which I think I mentioned in my review of Fast & Furious 6. Some are better than others, but the last two films have been fantastically ludicrous action flicks that are as much about fun as they are the tight knit family both on screen and off.

After the tragic death of Paul Walker I was wondering what would become of Furious 7. He died midway through production and I feared it would be cancelled completely. The writers, producers and studio eventually figured out a way to re-work the screenplay and a few months later filming was back underway with Walker’s two brothers, Caleb and Cody, acting as stand-ins for their late sibling. How did this new film hold up as an action film as well as being a send off for Paul Walker?
The psychopathic brother of Owen Shaw, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), vows to avenge his family name upon those who put his kin in a coma. He sets his sights on taking out Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and the rest of their non-traditional family unit. Lots and lots and lots of property damage ensues.

I felt that Fast & Furious 6 was very ridiculous, even for a dumb early summer popcorn action flick. But since each film seems to escalate in craziness I was able to let (most of) it slide and go with the flow of explosions and nutty car shenanigans. Believe me when I say that Furious 7 not only ups the ante when it comes to batshit crazy action, it goes so far overboard that its going to be years before any film comes even remotely close to surpassing it. And I loved every single adrenaline soaked minute of it. Well, maybe not every single minute.
First, I would like to congratulate director James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2) from successfully transitioning from a low budget horror/thriller filmmaker to a full on helmer of summer blockbusters. He not only brings his signature visual panache to the party, but he also wrings some great performances (for a movie of this type) out of his massive cast. Every frame is filled with style and he really shows how far he’s come as a filmmaker since the original Saw. The real test came when Walker passed. Thankfully he kept the ship afloat and on course while managing to not only make a fun popcorn flick in light of the tragedy, but also a touching sendoff to honor his fallen cast member. Kudos to you dude. I look forward to what you choose to do next, be it Fast & Furious 8, The Conjuring 2 or something else entirely. I will be there with cash in hand, sir.

The cast is still in top form. One of the reasons I love these films as much as I do is the family angle and the fact that these actors were so close behind the camera really shows in their performances. It added a much needed emotional layer that the sometimes ham fisted scripts couldn’t provide. Diesel is the muscle and heart of the film with Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges filling in all the gaps. You can tell how well these people get along just by how they riff on and poke fun at one another in many of the (what I hope were) adlibbed moments of levity (“Can I check my email?”). If it wasn’t for this aspect I don’t think these films would work as well as they do. It was also welcome to see Tokyo Drift’s Lucas Black return in a cameo to fully tie together the time-hopping storylines. I hope the makers of these films bring him back as a permanent cast member in the next film to fill the space left by Walker.
What really wowed me was Jason Statham as the villain, Deckard Shaw. The usual bad guy in these movies is surrounded by a crew of henchmen, is never fully developed or isn't really all that threatening to be honest. I can’t fault the actors playing these parts as the screenplay dictates how much screen time they are given to make their characters more than one-dimensional. But in the case of Deckard we have a villain who not only is a serious threat, but is scary to boot. He is also made out to be extremely intelligent and is always hot on the tails of the heroes. Every time they think they’ve got a leg up on the man hunting them he shows up armed to the teeth and ready to whoop some ass. His parallel story thread about taking care of his family was a nice contrast to the main one. For once this film has a memorable antagonist that is just as awesome as the main characters.

New cast member Nathalie Emmanuel isn’t in a whole lot of the film since her character of Ramsey doesn’t show up until well past the halfway point, but it feels like she might be a nice addition to the group dynamic if she continues on with the series. A serious WTF goes out to whoever decided to cast Kurt fucking Russell as the goofily named Mr. Nobody. I’m not knocking him. Far from it. Russell is awesome, especially when he put on his magic sunglasses and turns into Robocop for a few fleeting moments. He’s just not someone I would normally associate with these types of high octane (pun intended) action films anymore. If indeed he was cast to be a part of the films to follow… I’m totally on board. Snake Plissken conquers all he surveys. Ronda Rousey is just fucking sexy as hell. Seeing her in a fight scene with Michelle Rodriguez is one of the hottest things I’ve ever seen bar none.

And Tony Jaa!!! So. Fucking. Rad.
The action… Where to begin? I won’t ruin all of the surprises, but holy hell does this flick go above and beyond to destroy what you know (or think you know) about the laws of physics, human endurance or restricted airspace.  You want to see skydiving cars? Check. You want to see a dude run across a bus as it topples over a cliff and catch the bumper of a passing car before tumbling over the side? Check. You want to see someone get passed between two cars as they drift parallel to one another? Check. You want to see a car jump between not two, but three buildings in a row? Check. It’s mindboggling to think that someone actually came up with this kind of craziness and even moreso that it actually works and is a blast to watch go down. It’s all in the name of fun and the last 30 minutes is a non-stop series of insanity with cars of all makes and models tripping the light fantastic all across L.A. The fist fight scenes are also brutal and super awesome.

I wasn’t a fan of the film’s runtime which clocks in at around two and a half hours. There was a lot of filler that could have been excised with little to no impact on the story. The first 40 minutes is an overlong exposition/recap that fans of the series will find pretty boring and pointless. Some of these scenes are probably due to the re-working of the story to make sense of the new elements. Whatever the case may be, they weren’t needed. I also still despise the overly soap opera-ish amnesia plot device used to work Michelle Rodriguez back into the franchise which started in Fast & Furious 6. There’s a massive revelation in regard to this cliché B.S. that made me roll my eyes when it was revealed. I will also admit that even though I am an action junkie the finale got a little tiresome, especially all the drone stuff. I’m also getting sick of the current trend in action/superhero movies where entire cities are nearly leveled in their finales. All the Transformers flicks, The Avengers, Man of Steel… stop it. Please. Deserts need some Hollywood lovin’ too. And all the faux philosophical automobile crossover dialogue still sucks.
But how did the filmmakers ultimately deal with Paul Walker’s death? I’m pleased to say it was handled gracefully… and with some awkward CGI. It’s plainly obvious whenever one of his many body doubles are in play since Brian is covered in shadows, shown from behind or rapidly cut away from in major scenes. But whenever it was absolutely necessary to show his face you can tell that it’s a CGI map of Paul’s placed over someone else's mug. Sometimes it works (the scene where Dom’s house explodes) and other times it doesn’t (the final scenes). The longer the camera lingers the worse the effect begins to look. Fortunately it’s not nearly as fake looking as the Jeff Bridges de-aging in TRON: Legacy, but it still looks “off”. I give them props for trying since they didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Before the end credits roll we are treated to a nice montage of scenes from the previous films featuring Paul Walker set to a decent and somewhat bittersweet ballad, followed by the customary “For Paul”. This is the end of an era, and hopefully the beginning of a new one in the following films. If this is the last film the series I would be totally okay with it ending here since it does have a certain finality to it, but a couple of threads are left dangling and it has definitely whet my appetite for where the stories could go in the future. After seeing the opening weekend grosses I think its safe to assume that we’ll see Fast & Furious 8 in the summer of 2017. Bring it.
Furious 7 is just plain old dumb fun. No more, no less. For the seventh film in a series its better than it has any right to be, and that’s really saying something. Regardless if you’re a fan of the series of not you could do worse than to check out this rad as hell yarn of epicness at your local cineplex. As far as I'm concerned this is the best in the series to date.

4.5 out of 5

#Furious7 #FastAndFurious #RIPPaulWalker

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