Perfectly Good Cars Get Thrown Out Of A Plane In Furious 7
According to the dictionary, one of the definitions of the word “superfluous” is, “unnecessary or needless.” I mention that just to give you guys a heads up. This entire review is superfluous. I will put irresponsible amounts of money down betting that you’ve already made up your mind if you’re going to see Furious 7. Odds are nothing I write will sway you one way or the other. Is it causing me to undergo an existential crisis? Yes. But I knew the risks when I took the job, dammit.
But wait! Before you think I’m going to start mercilessly ragging on Furious 7, which I’m not, let’s remember that summer movies are specifically designed and marketed to engage the lizard brain. Big, loud and thrilling is the name of the game. When you see a preview where Chris Pratt leads a squad of velociraptors, or The Hulk and Iron Man lay waste to a city, you make a snap decision. Within a few seconds, you decide if you’ll buy in or not. The tragedy is that, sometimes, if you don’t give a movie a fair chance, you’ll miss out on something good. I almost made that mistake.
Way back in 2001, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker starred in The Fast And The Furious, a semi-charming Point Break knock-off. I saw it on video and didn’t think much of it, because I don’t care about cars. As Hollywood so often does, sequels began to appear. I arrogantly ignored them. My bad, especially because in 2011, Fast Five was released. A game changer, this altered the entire nature of the franchise. Where there were initially lots of street racing and macho posturing, Fast Five proudly raised a middle finger towards physics and reality. Like an Americanized version of the Bond franchise, action sequences and stunts were constantly pushed to be crazier. Not only that, but plot threads and characters from previous films were intertwined, creating a vast mythology. It’s like the Marvel movies, only nobody is overtly a superhero. It’s become a multiracial, globetrotting franchise that constantly goes bigger.
Which brings us to Furious 7. The plot is incidental, but let’s get it out of the way. The film opens with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), visiting his hospitalized brother (who was the bad guy in Fast And Furious 6). His brother is in a coma. Shaw is extremely angry and wants revenge on the people that left his sibling in such lousy shape. We know that Shaw is formidable, not because the script tells us, but because we see the aftermath of Shaw beating the hell out of an entire hospital and getting away unseen. To all you writers out there, that’s how you introduce a threat.
Seriously, the plot is that simple. Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and the rest of the gang are being hunted by Shaw. Screenwriter Chris Morgan throws in a bunch of nonsensical plot mechanics, such as the team being tasked to steal a high-tech surveillance program by shadowy operative Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). Wisely, the story keeps the revenge plot in mind and never strays from it for too long. But when it does stray, it usually pays dividends.
Arguably, the best action sequence in the film is fairly early on. The team must skydive in their cars, land on a treacherous mountain road and rescue a beautiful kidnapped hacker*. It’s an extended sequence that’s shot clearly, precisely, and with a strong sense of geography. You always know where everybody is in relation to everybody else. When the action escalates, it does so in a way that feels natural. It reminds me a little of the truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Director James Wan has come a long way from directing Saw in 2004. Every scene has a feeling of momentum and urgency, and the finale has a good (if slightly cheesy) sense of closure.
Series co-star Paul Walker died in a car wreck in 2013. Walker was roughly halfway finished shooting his scenes at the time of his death. This necessitated script rewrites and the use of body doubles and CGI in some scenes. It mostly feels natural, and Walker’s sendoff at the end is legitimately touching. While these films are basically dumb as hell, there’s a real sincerity to how the characters and cast interact with each other. Walker’s loss feels real to everyone attached.
Having said all that, it’s not a perfect film. Statham’s villain just shows up whenever the plot needs him to attack the heroes. Plus, there’s an early, and awesome fight between Statham and charisma magnet Dwayne Johnson. Afterwards, Johnson essentially vanishes for most of the film, reducing his role to an extended cameo. Plus, remember how I mentioned the plot is dumb? If you’re someone who nitpicks or demands intelligence from your films, this movie will make you beg for death. There were a few plot points that would have made sense had I seen the last few installments. But, really, it ain’t that complicated.
But it doesn’t matter. Furious 7 starts the summer movie season off with a bang. In terms of pure, meat-headed fun, it’s a success. I walked out wearing a big, stupid grin. Sometimes, that’s enough.
*Seriously, everybody is beautiful in these movies. I’m sure janitors and telemarketers in Fast and Furious world are gorgeous.