Furious 7 (2015) Film Review, a movie directed by James Wan, and starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson, Lucas Black, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Gal Gadot, John Brotherton, Luke Evans, Tony Jaa, Djimonn Hounsou, Noel Gugliemi, Ali Fazal, Sung Kang, Ronda Rousey and Iggy Azalea
At some point in the early nineties, roughly around the release of Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino went from being regarded as a treasured American actor to a guy that sleepwalks through films doing lazy Al Pacino impressions. Somewhere between Fast & Furious and Fast Five, The Fast and the Furious franchise established a winning formula that raised it head and shoulders above the ocean of recycled action movie schlock Hollywood puts out during summer blockbuster season. Cracking the Da Vinci code for summer movie dominance liberated the Furious movies while also leaving them victims of their own success. The series had to make a decision; give the fans more of the same and watch them grow bored or deviate too much and risk driving them away. By differentiating themselves from the generic action movie pack, the series reached a creative point of no return. The franchise had let the genie out of the bottle, squeezed all the toothpaste out of the tube and also endured its very own Al Pacino moment.
Much like dark matter or relativity, the plot of Furious 7 exists as a vague concept in my mind. Far greater intellects than I have explained the existence of all three and I hold them all to be true, though I feel under qualified to explain why. Much like the case with quarks, string theory and entanglement, I feel as though I’m doing Furious 7 a disservice by trying to articulate it through the limited scope of my eloquent mind. Furious 7 DEMANDS that it is experienced by the five senses in order to be understood, as understood as the plot of any of these films can be, so just roll with it. If I had to break down Furious 7...
In Fast & Furious 6 Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and the rest of the team sacrificed everything they had to take down the treacherous former British Special Forces soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and bring former ally (and current amnesiac) Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) back to her family. After accomplishing their mission and settling back into civilian life, Owen’s cantankerous older brother Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) begins hunting down the Furious crew, seeking revenge for the pain that they inflicted on his sibling. Shaw’s ninja level shadow ops training reduces the team to a group of sitting ducks, forcing them to take the offensive if they are to have any hope for survival. With the aid of a covert government operative named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), the team sets out to hunt down a hacker genius (Nathalie Emmanuel) who developed a unique tracking program that is the key to gaining the upper hand on the elusive Deckard Shaw.
Since its 2001 debut, the Fast and the Furious franchise established itself as the rare breed of Hollywood film that not only evolves between movies but also gets better. The franchise really hit its stride with 2011’s Fast Five, a globetrotting caper movie that was broad enough to cater to James Bond fans and grease monkeys alike. 2013’s Fast & Furious 6 was a straight up superhero movie, utilizing action sequences on par with scenes out of The Dark Knight or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. After experiencing Furious 6, slack-jawed audiences poured out of theaters wondering if there was any place left for this series to go. Sadly, there wasn’t.
Furious 7 is not an evolution of the series as much as a lateral step. It’s possible that the death of one of the film’s leads severely handcuffed the film, preventing it from transcending the last one. This entry may feel stagnant due to the series veteran director Justin Lin getting replaced with horror movie director James Wan. The Fast and the furious franchise started off as a glaring Point Break rip off until the Lin helmed films (3, 4, 5, & 6) took the series in its electrifying new direction.
Considering that the franchise is known for the imaginative ways that it keeps on evolving, Furious 7 finally reaching a plateau came as a disappointment. It’s not fair to say that a film this outlandish didn’t take any risks, however, this is the first installment to feel like it was retreading the same ground as previous movies. Where Furious 7 does try to up the ante is through pure adrenal overload. Furious 7’s mandate was obviously to “out furious” itself for the sake of “out furiosing” itself. Furious 7 is a pusher telling the audience that they need to keep taking a bigger hit. I often felt as though I heard the film saying,
You liked the cool chases in part 6? Here are even more cool chases!
You like to see crazy stunts? Here are stunts that are more insane than the last time!!
You like want impossible? Here is the impossible times two!!!
After experiencing the movie, I felt that the screenplay was designed with a mathematical equation dictating how many stunts and explosions had to occur in the film in order to outdo its predecessor. Unfortunately, that equation didn’t factor in the same amount of ingenuity, heart and soul that won me over in previous films.
Judging by the audience’s reaction during the film’s screening, Furious 7 showed signs that the series is beginning to buckle under the weight of its own lofty expectations. Frenetic sequences depicting souped up cars weaving in and out of oncoming traffic with the grace of a pack of gazelles no longer solicited “oohs” and “ahs” from the crowd as much as exclamations of, “are you kidding me?” During the climactic moments in each of the film’s three signature action set pieces, rather than cheering with excitement the crowd exploded into laughter. Fits of laughing during key dramatic moments are a troubling sign for a franchise already cautiously tiptoeing the line between bad-ass action films and self-aware satire. Suspension of disbelief is essential to enjoying the latter Furious films, yet there are moments when Furious 7 feels dangerously close to encroaching upon Sharknado territory.
Although none of the stories in the preceding films were ever very memorable, each film carried a certain amount of narrative weight that was punctuated by some crazy car stunts. Furious 7 is the first time I felt that a Furious film was made up of bunch of grandiose set pieces, each held together by a linguini sized strand of story. Box office devouring franchises like Transformers often utilize this film-making tactic. Writers come up with exciting scenarios to place their heroes in and then work backwards, trying to figure out how to connect the story to the action. So far, the chemistry between the series stars has compensated for all that the films lacked in proficient storytelling.
All nitpicking aside, Furious 7 is still a lot of fun. Things blow up in summer action movies, that’s a given. However, the “Rube Goldbergian” level of sophistication involved in weaving such an intricate tapestry of choreographed mayhem is equal parts savant genius and Heath Ledger Joker type insanity. Furious 7 is a movie where a fleet of tricked out muscle cars parachute out the back of a cargo plane, a rare sports car tears through an extravagant party on the penthouse floor of the world’s tallest skyscraper and a high-tech drone chases the cast through a claustrophobic underpass in downtown Los Angeles. Fortunately, the series is not even close to exhausting itself of all the creative ways of making things go boom.
Furious 7 also stands out for seamlessly integrating such a diverse cast into the film at a time when the media spotlight is illuminating Hollywood’s aversion to casting people of color. Despite Furious 7’s blatant objectification of the female body, the furious franchise has done a decent job of portraying women as characters that are as strong and competent as any of the guys. The women in these movies are just as likely to come to the rescue of the men as they are to be saved by them. Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty once again goes toe to toe with a female UFC fighter (Ronda Rousey) and the battle is as brutal and intense as any other fight in the film. Despite Jordana Brewster side stepping the main plot in the last two films, Furious 7’s women are integral components of the film in addition to objects to be fawned over by men and damsels in need of rescue.
The Fast and the Furious series has progressively grown faster and more furious on a Redbull fueled trajectory that reached its apex with the last film. Much like Wile E. Coyote defying the laws of gravity by refusing to look down, the Furious franchise is currently aloft in the clouds, only moments away from the laws of nature course correcting its unsustainable arc. We are now at a point where the Furious franchise seems to be stuck in an echo chamber, cranking out slightly weaker iterations of the film that preceded it. After 14-years, I shouldn’t begrudge the series for using the 7th film to give fans more of the same rather than continue advancing the series in creative new ways. There came a point when Elvis stopped making hits, preferring to hole up Vegas, performing his classic songs in front of sold out crowds. Furious 7 is the first quarter mile into the series victory lap.
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