Furious 7(4/5/2015)

4-5-2015Furious7

To think that Fast and Furious movies have suddenly become billion dollar propositions is absolutely mindblowing to anyone who’s been with this series since the beginning.  It’s like going to your high school reunion and learning that the amenable loser you hung out with a few times before he dropped out had somehow turned things around and become wealthier than anyone else in your graduating class.  This was a series that was never meant for greatness and it’s current form is almost unrecognizable when compared to the series modest roots.  I mean that first movie in the series, which was based on a newspaper article of all things, was an instantly dated relic of the early 2000s complete with a Ja Rule cameo.  That movie was sold on a two second shot of a car driving underneath a semi-truck, who would have thought that nearly fifteen years later this series would still be around, be bigger than ever, and involve a scene of a car launching itself between three skyscrapers?  Hell, there’s actually a callback to that semi-truck moneyshot from the first movie in this seventh installment and it barely registers as a blip within the insane action scenes on display.  Why does this series still exist, and more importantly why do I keep enjoying them?

This installment of the series picks up more or less where Fast and Furious 6 left off, with a heretofore unseen villain named Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) being revealed as the man who killed Han (Sung Kang) in the third film (which is chronologically set after the sixth film… long story).  Shortly thereafter a bomb is sent to the doorstep of Brian (Paul Walker) which nearly injures his family and Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is also attacked and left in the hospital.  Realizing that Shaw is going after his crew and Dom comes to realize that staying on the defensive isn’t going to be a workable strategy against Shaw, so instead he makes a deal with a government agent who calls himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to help recover a device called the God’s Eye which can use common devices to surveil anyone.  The deal is that as soon as this device is recovered Dom can use it to find Shaw before Shaw finds him.

Alright, so I it’s not too hard to see that the basic setup there is pretty silly.  Going on a dangerous government mission just to find someone who is just going to find you anyway is kind of a ridiculous plan, especially considering that Deckard Shaw doesn’t seem to be all that much of a threat.  Like the T-1000 he kind of serves the purpose of showing up at random points of the movie, causing chaos without actually killing one of the good guys, then retreating.  So, yeah, clearly this whole plot is just a setup for a handful of the series signature set-pieces.  Make no mistake; this is a very silly movie.  The plot is thin, the plausibility is nil, and the series’ bullshit about “family” is as shallow as ever.  Here’s the thing though: it totally gets away with all of it.  For some reason it’s really easy to laugh off the many flaws that course through this series and it’s very easy to forgive it for things I would never tolerate if they popped up in a Michael Bay movie.

Part of it is that the action scenes here are as effective as ever in their insane over-the-top way.  There are three major set-pieces here.  The first and best of them is a car mission in the Caucasus mountains in which the crew try to rescue a prisoner from a bus convoy.  The series has a long history going back to the first film of on wheels hijack sequences like this and this sequence is probably the best iteration yet of this set-up and it ends on an amazing stunt which feels like an answer to the famous cliffhanger at the end of The Italian Job.  The scene that features most prominently in the film’s advertising of course is a nutty stunt in which a super expensive sports car is jumped out to window of a skyscraper, lands through the window of another skyscraper, only to then be jumped into a third skyscraper… yeah, really.

I’m going to avoid talking about the film’s third set-piece, but I will say that it’s probably the least memorable of the three.  It’s a little too busy for its own good, almost more like a battle scene than an action scene, but let’s go back to that skyscraper jump.  The other audacity of that stunt and the fact that they had the audacity to conceive of such a thing kind of sparked a eureka moment for me which perhaps explains why these movies manage to get away with so much: these are basically the James Bond movies of the 21st century.  I mean, obviously the actual James Bond series is alive and well but it currently exists in a very stripped down way.  You might see the Daniel Craig Bond run on top of a train here or there, but you’re not going to see him jumping a car through skyscrapers.  Rather, this series is carrying on the tradition of the Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan James Bond, the one who was liable to ski-jump off a mountain with a parachute or jump a motorcycle off a cliff in order to board a plane that’s in freefall.

Of course the Mission: Impossible series has also been trying to use insane stunts to fill that James Bond void, but there’s a reason why that series has only had limited success at doing so: no one gives a shit about Ethan Hunt beyond his ability to dangle from high places.  There’s nothing distinctive about that guy beyond his typical Tom Cruise swagger and his crew isn’t very interesting either.  This is not a problem that the Fast and Furious movies share.  Dom, Brian, and co are not deep characters by any stretch of the imagination (neither is James Bond for that matter) but they almost all have personality and within an action movie that goes a long way.  For example, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character could have easily been a strong silent muscle-bound action star in the Schwarzenegger mold, but instead he was made into the cocky swaggering cop who everyone calls out for his silliness even while respecting his abilities.  Vin Diesel’s Dom does come closer to that strong silent prototype, but as corny as the character’s obsession with “family” is, it does elevate the character and give him a code to fight for.

This running theme of family is also where the Fast and Furious series diverges strongly from the James Bond series.  Where Bond was an upper-class sophisticate whose number one priority 90% of the time was queen and country, the F&F crew are a multi-ethnic and working class bunch who are consistently more loyal to their friends and their immediate community than they are to “the man.”  At this point in the series they seem to be on good terms with authority figures and in this movie they do go on a mission for the government, but it isn’t because they have some deep-seeded need to fight crime or protect America, it’s to protect “the family.”  We believe this bullshit because the movie believes it and shows it.  The bromance between Brian and Dom is palpable and it’s been built over the course of seven films and when the movie goes into corny Paul Walker tribute mode at the end it actually feels earned rather than forced.  Speaking of which, the movie has done a shockingly good job of working around Paul Walker’s death mid-shoot.  The character doesn’t seem to really disappear at any point in the movie and they do a good job of building in a sub-plot that explains his departure from the later entries of the series in a natural way.  Were it not for the Wiz Khalifa accompanied goodbye sequence at the end you’d have never known something was amiss.

So, yeah, I definitely enjoyed Furious 7 a lot and I’ve got to say I’m pretty shocked that it turned out as well as it did.  The film has a new director taking over for Justin Lin (who directed the last four movies and is largely responsible for the series return to relevance), had to deal with the death of a major cast member, and had to turn around a slight dip in quality in the last movie.  That it managed to over-come all that and be probably the second best entry of the series just behind the widely loved fifth entry is kind of amazing.  All that said, I don’t want to over-sell this thing.  This is exactly the kind of movie that’s like “for what it is.”  If you haven’t like the last two Fast and Furious movies you probably aren’t going to like this one, but if you’re already a fan, rest assured that this will probably have more of what you’re looking for.  Now we just need to worry about the 8th movie in the series, which will somehow have to top this one.  Sports cars in space perhaps?

*** out of Four

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