Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Furious 7" Review: Needlessly Bloated To The Point Of Excess But Still Carries Significant Emotional Weight

At this point we know what to expect from a new Fast and Furious movie. Lots of implausible stunts, cars, hot chicks in bikinis, a copious number of gratuitous female ass shots in said bikinis, Vin Diesel forcing this idea about family down our throats and above all else Tyrese Gibson throwing out cheap jokes like they are going out of style. But the one thing no one could have expected was how far and out of the way both Universal and the filmmakers would go out of their way to pay tribute to a fallen comrade which almost redeems this extremely bloated and directionless seventh entry into the massively popular franchise. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: Digital 2D             
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 2 hr 20 min
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: April 3, 2015

Loves: How this has become one of the biggest franchises of all time
Likes: That this entire franchise is based off the idea of street racers becoming covert ops
Neutral:  Breaking the 4th wall to pay respects to a friend
Hates: That the franchise has seemingly hit its creative peak
Will there be more Furious movies? You betcha, with 8, 9 and 10 already in the works.

In the past I had remarked that to fully enjoy a Fast and Furious film you needed to check your brain at the door. With this latest installment that is no longer a suggestion, it is an outright necessity as this time around our tight-nit group of car thieves go so far out of their way to not only defy, but absolutely obliterate the laws of physics and any semblance of reality that was left over from their previous outing that you just might start to questioning your own sanity when it comes to simple questions such as what happens when a car parachutes from a jumbo jet or plays hopscotch across skyscrapers? If you think things got crazy last time, you better prepare yourself because they go to a whole new level of stupid for this seventh endeavor.

Things start out humble enough (as much as they can with these films) before delving headfirst into absurdity. Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew are taking it easy after earning their freedom by taking down the notorious criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) are trying to be a regular family, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are trying to rekindle their relationship which is proving more difficult that expected due to Letty's amnesia which has basically erased all her memories prior to Fast & Furious 6. Little do any of them know that their dealings with Shaw are far from over or more specifically with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), Owen's ex-cia/blacktops/marine/navy seal/certified untouchable bad ass brother who has set his sights on all of them for putting his little brother in the hospital.

After the last film ended we got to see a rather unexpected clip that finally bridged the gap between the third film in the series (Tokyo Drift) and the current one. While many Fast and Furious fans knew that Han (Sung Kang) would eventually be killed off, nobody expected them to tie it into the future films quite like this. These films have undergone a transformation after nearly each and every installment and those changes have been for the better for the most part with it dipping its toes into the heist and action/adventure genres respectively. The franchise has gone from a car enthusiasts wet dream to something more akin to a Dirty (half)Dozen of sorts.

For this seventh film the transformation has occurred again and landed it smack dab into the revenge genre as things become more personal than they ever had before. After Deckard clearly draws the line in the sand and announces his arrival to Dom with a literal bang (and the murder of Han), the film sets this tone for a mano a mano throwdown of the century that will leave only one the victor and the other likely dead. With that set up and the acquisition of Statham as the main baddie (plus an initial smackdown between Statham and Dwayne Johnson that will send fanboys into orbit) it was all but a sure thing that this Fast and Furious was going to be something a lot different that what had come to expect from it, as this time Dom and the gang were being targeted for death by an unstoppable mad man.

Sadly though, for all the potential and momentum this seventh sequel had going in, it just wasn't meant to be as for some reason or another instead of getting the film we were promised, we got this hybrid of the last two films. If Fast Five was the Ocean's Eleven of the franchise and Fast 6 was its Dirty Dozen/Wild Bunch, then Furious 7 is without a doubt its Mission: Impossible which incorporates aspects of all those other films into one. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that idea (aside from reminding yourself that these films used to be about low level street racing punks and now has them working covert operations for the United States Government), it completely undermines this notion of revenge and family that the film and filmmakers seem to be jamming down our throats in all the marketing.

This flip flop really comes out of nowhere too and is kind of jarring as the narrative is clearly heading in one direction and then hits the emergency brake for this "new" development. This story arc (that has been built up over the course of two films now) gets shoved off to the side in favor of having our motley crew of car thieves thrown into a plot that isn't only completely asinine, but is simply a piss poor excuse to introduce a number of action sequences that while expertly executed and appropriately unbelievable, start to make the entire film feel bloated and self serving/ Worst of all is that it all feels vaguely familiar as most of the stunts (as crazy as they are) can't help but feel more forced this time around.

Say what you will about the last film, for all its ridiculous stunts and outrageous plot contrivances, it all at the very least followed its own rules and took audiences on a wild ride that eventually led to something relevant to our characters and their destinies. It had a story, stuck with it and all the action felt like a natural evolution of that story. Furious 7 feels like two different films at times, with the revenge story sort of bookending it and this out of place black-ops plotline placed smack in the middle which try as they might, they just never meld the way that it was clearly intended to and as a result the entire film suffers from this sort of identity crisis.

The real problem here isn't that first time Fast and Furious director James Wan (Saw/Insidious/The Conjuring) bit off more than he could chew, because he handles the immense amount of bloat here with a panache not seen by even the industry's top line action directors (although that third act reeks of Michael Bay influences). No, the true bad guy of the film is how nothing makes a lick of sense. You can complain about how cars can't fly and somehow Vin Diesel has become a superhero as he now has the power to lifts car off the ground and can tear down an entire parking garage simply by stomping his foot while only having a gently placed drizzle of blood running down his cheek to show for it, that stuff is expected.

What is also expected is that at the very least, this barely stitched together story they have managed to keep together for six films now makes some semblance of sense. Take for instance the introduction of this device called the Gods Eye, which supposedly can map the planet using all our technology to find anyone anywhere within a matter of minutes (imagine if we had this tech for hunting Bin Laden muses a very cocky Kurt Russel hamming it up as a Government spook). Now, the whole reason Dom is talked into tracking this thing down and stealing it for the Government (forget why the Government wants a band of street racers to do covert ops, it will just make your brain hurt), is so that he can find Deckard before he finds them.

Also forget that Deckard has not only already found them (and killed one of them), but is still hunting them as they look for the God's Eye meaning he will show up again, which he does fairly they try to steal the Gods Eye...which they need to find the man who keeps showing up to kill them. Yes, you read that right, Dom and the crew must steal something to help them find someone who keeps showing up as they try to steal said something. If that isn't bad enough, try to remain calm once Dom and the gang get the device and after immediately attempting to use it instantly fails to be of any use and relegates everything they did to acquire it pointless.

Not only that, but the bad guy gets it and uses it against them at which point they must try to get it back again so they can't use it against them. Confused yet? Don't worry though, there are plenty of big explosions and improbable situations that increasingly become more laughably impossible than the last that will keep your mind off all that nonsense, which is what this film and this franchise have excelled at for years now. All this stuff about stealing technology, who wants to kill who, how Tyrese actually contributes to the group in any meaningful way or counting down the clock until Letty magically regains all her memories is just fluff as the real reason to see these films are the stunts, cars and action.

But it is still a shame that this franchise, which has been given a second life due to some clever behind the scenes reworking, is now settling for offering more of the same instead of pushing the envelope. While there are still a number of exciting and even thrilling moments to be had with Furious 7, one can't help but feel like there was a missing opportunity here. A film with our bunch of streetwise thugs turned secret agents versus a single man out to kill them all remains an intriguing twist for a franchise that has relied so heavily on big spectacle and loud explosions. But what we got is still a good slice of fun and entertaining (if a bit underwhelming) popcorn cinema.

Now, let's discuss the elephant in the room for a second. As a film, Furious 7 is passable popcorn entertainment. Out of the recent films in the franchise it falls third behind both the fifth and sixth films, but it also had to pull double duty this time around as it had to contend with the loss of Paul Walker and the stigma his death left behind for this particular film. Some may say it is a miracle that they were able to pull the film off at all considering the monumental task laid before them. But to their credit, both Universal and the cast and crew, nobody could have expected the final product to be what it ultimately is, which is both a farewell send off for Walker and the possibility that the franchise will live on.

What James Wan and the magicians at WETA Digital pulled off here is nothing short of awe inspiring, but also a double edged sword. For the vast majority of the film, Walker's presence went mostly unnoticed in the sense that he was a part of the film much like everyone else and it appears as though he completed a lot more of the film than we were led to believe. But while Walker is just part of the large ensemble cast from start to finish, the last five to ten minutes of the film is basically a memorial to actor and done it a way where that fourth wall is systematically torn down.

As part of the film and the franchise it works and pays respects to Walker and his legacy, but you do get pulled out of the moment when you are forced to realize that much of what you are/were watching is simply patch work (albeit expertly done patchwork. Whether that impacts your reaction to the film is something that everyone on an individual basis must address, but for this reviewer it hit the right emotional chords and ended the film on a bitter sweet note that felt sincere and heartfelt, which is something fans and family of Paul Walker are sure to appreciate for all the hard work and effort that went into making this film happen..

But I can't argue with the effect it had on me. Even with the final shot of Dom and Brian parting ways down the open road being a bit on the nose, there is no denying that this is the send off Walker deserved and everyone involved in this picture are to be commended for the work they did in keeping his final performance intact as much as possible. Even if you aren't too thrilled with the final product of the actual film, there is no doubt that fans of Walker and the Fast and Furious franchise will get a bit choked up during his final moments on screen.


Furious 7 will always carry the stigma of Paul Walker's death and remembrance, which puts it in a self contained world outside the rest of the Furious franchise. But even though Universal would have us believe this was "one last ride", an ominous ending and a legion of fans are sure to herald in another sequel sooner rather than later. Furious 7 isn't as good as the last two that preceded it, but it certainly isn't a bad film either. Whether you are going to see it because you are a fan or are curious how it treats Paul Walker's final performance, chances are you will get some cheap thrills and a whole lot of heart.

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