MOVIE REVIEW: Furious 7
"FURIOUS 7"-- 4 STARS
Four years ago when I wrote my review of "Fast Five," I knew afterwards that I watched the best pure action movie of that year. With a little dose of Dwayne "Franchise Viagra" Johnson, I was also witnessing the peak resurgence of a series that looked marked for death in 2006 with the weak "Tokyo Drift" entry before being saved by the returning original cast members in 2009's "Fast and Furious." Then, the bigger picture hit me two years later in 2013 with "Fast and Furious 6." As mindlessly entertaining and over-the-top as this historic and lucrative run has been, these films engaged an audience that presented and united an ethnic diversity better than anything else Hollywood has ever attempted.
I gave it that high praise then and I echo it again now. I'm going go out on a limb right now and make a bold statement after watching the amazing "Furious 7" that I didn't think I could or would say about this series a decade ago. Outside of maybe, and I mean maybe, the "Harry Potter" film series, I don't think any singular film franchise or series in cinematic history has gotten better with age more than "The Fast and the Furious." Yeah, I said it and I dare you to name something better that has spanned five-plus entries.
You're going to try and say James Bond, but until Daniel Craig arrived and the writers decided to build a common thread to connect one movie to the next, the franchise was composed of one-off novelty chapters and a changing cast. Harry Potter had the defined path of the books it was based on and didn't dive into original content like "The Fast and the Furious." That's where this franchise separates itself. More often than not, after three movies franchises fizzle out and their popularity fades with changing tastes and an aging audience. The writers run out of ideas. This series is on its seventh film and hits a crescendo here worthy of its predecessors.
As you saw in the post-credits scene of "Fast and Furious 6," the defeat of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) has returned the long-thought-dead Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) back to the team. However, Owen has a mad, angry, and even more dangerous big brother named Deckard Shaw seeking plain old brutal revenge against Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team for his brother's death. Deckard is a former British assassin with a penchant for grenades and scowling. He's played by the one-and-repetitive Jason Statham, who is finally getting the chance to play a proper villain and not same antihero as 99% of his usual films. Deckard's first step was smashing into and killing Han (Sung Kang) on the streets of Tokyo. His second was neutralizing DSS Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and putting him in the hospital. For Shaw, that's two down and more to go as he targets the entire team that took down his brother in London.
The eye-for-an-eye clash between Toretto and company towards Deckard Shaw gains the attention of the resident government spooks, led by Kurt Russell's Mr. Nobody. They team up in their common interest of Shaw. The pawn and MacGuffin in play between Shaw and Mr. Nobody is the mysterious hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel of "Game of Thrones") and her digital hunting program called "God's Eye" that can access the world's cameras and databases simultaneously and fit it your pocket on a flash drive. Naturally, the vehicular action and chase takes it from there.
Ironic to the often-used label of "brainless summer entertainment" that hovers over this series, clarity of thinking is one ingredient that has aided this franchise's continuing success that gets better with age. Even with James Wan of the "Insidious" and "The Conjuring" series stepping in as director in place of Justin Lin (who stewarded the resurgence in the third through sixth films and is moving on to HBO's "True Detective" and the third "Star Trek" film), the franchise has retained Chris Morgan as the same screenwriter for five films now and stakes go up every time.
I don't know how they do it, but they keep finding ways to top what is already over-the-top in the stunt department. As always, the driving work and the assists of digital effects are off the charts and wildly daring. The trailers showing cars parachuting in the mountains and crashing through desert skyscrapers are just a taste of the globe-trotting destruction of "Furious 7." Those multiple sequences and others will earn your price of admission on their own. Yes, when you get this kind of mind-numbing thrill ride, the acting isn't going to keep up. No one is going to be winning any Oscars for acting here. We came for tough talk and one-liners, not soliloquies and sonnets. Between Diesel, Statham, Johnson, Russell, the returning Michelle Rodriguez, and new guest villains UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, Asian superstar Tony Jaa, and professional movie villain Djimon Hounsou, you're getting just about your egg carton's worth of scowlers and growlers. That's all you need.
All of that roaring and clawing is cool and all, but the surprisingly engaging melodrama that this series has been able to sustain is what staves off the boredom and mindlessness between chases and crashes. Morgan and the cast continue to build the central honorable "family" theme that ties these characters from all backgrounds and walks of life together. That's where the real strength of this franchise comes from. In this film, that core comes from Paul Walker. His Brian O'Conner is a distant Robin to Vin Diesel's Batman, but his character's development from a punk FBI agent to a stoic father is the heartbeat underneath all of the toughness.
Despite each entry out-grossing the previous one since 2009, put me in the camp of people that wished and hoped that Universal Pictures wasn't going to milk this franchise further after Walker's untimely and tragic death. I know the post-credits scene of "Fast and Furious 6" intentionally set the stage for this promised seventh film, but it didn't seem right after losing Paul. Sure, we wouldn't have gotten Jason Statham and Kurt Russell but "Fast and Furious 6" gave you that parting shot and happy ending of the "family" back in L.A. where it all started eating barbecue and tipping back Coronas in the Toretto backyard. If that ended up being the last we saw of this cast and franchise, that would have been enough and completely understandable.
Delayed a year for rewrites and re-shoots to accommodate the loss of Walker, all involved in "Furious 7" put their best foot forward to turn this film into tribute and not just a spectacle. Extra attention was paid and this film became personal and important. "Furious 7" became more than a job. Just listen and watch Vin Diesel himself address an advance screening last month. It became a labor of love and that effort completely shows on the big screen with an underlying emotional weight that plays as strongly as the compelling action and adventure. The last five minutes of this film might just have the toughest tough talker in the audience reaching for the tissue box. Mayhem gives way to satisfying beauty and the family did right by their fallen brother.
LESSON #1: FOR THE SEVEN-UMPTEENTH TIME, PLEASE REMEMBER THE RULES OF THE ROAD AFTER THE MOVIE-- This is a repeated lesson for the third film in a row and it will always be here right next to the studio disclaimer, especially in the wake of Walker's real-life death from a single-car accident. Rewrites or not, we knew "Furious 7" wasn't going to soften this aspect of their action, but there were are few more seat belts being buckled, which might be progress, but it's still a medical miracle how many people get up with barely a scratch after jumping out of moving cars or rolling them down mountains. From a life lessons standpoint, you will lost track of the number of moving violations faster than counting the "F" words in "The Wolf of Wall Street" (a new record of 506).
LESSON #2: CARS DON'T FLY-- You'll see, but, no, seriously they don't. They come close, but what goes up must come down. That silly Isaac Newton never got to strap himself inside of a sports car pushing 9,000rpm. What a shame. Ride or die!
LESSON #3: REAL STREET FIGHTS DON'T INCLUDE GUNS-- Both our main heroes and our main villains have endless standoffs and opportunities to shoot each other and spare us some monologuing and secondary confrontations in an already two-hour-and-fifteen-minute-plus movie. Do they make it quick? Come on. You've got Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Ronda Rousey, Tony Jaa, and Paul Walker. They all let their fists do the talking. No one is getting shot. Hell no!
LESSON #4: BEFORE YOU KILL A HIGHLY CONNECTED PERSON, MAKE SURE HE OR SHE DOESN'T HAVE ANY EVEN TOUGHER AND MORE POWERFUL SIBLINGS-- Shove that "God's Eye" MacGuffin aside, because this movie is framed around eye-for-an-eye revenge blazing ahead for both Deckard Shaw and Dominic Toretto. Deckard lost his brother and Dominic lost his pseudo-brother Han. Both are pissed and payback goes both ways, but you would think The Rock would have mentioned this in profiling Owen Shaw last movie. Shoddy research, People's Champ.
LESSON #5: RAISING ONE'S FAMILY IS THE REAL THRILL IN LIFE-- Each "Fast and Furious" movie has evolved and grown within the core theme of "family." In "Fast Five," the lesson was about family sticking together. For "Fast and Furious 6," the mantra was not turning your back on family, even if they turn their back to you. This time around, and appropriately so, this life lesson encapsulates Paul Walker's Brian O'Conner. He's a married man and a father now. He's traded his street racer for a minivan and a domestic life. Even if he misses the bullets and the thrills, home with his family is where he is most needed most. That's where the true thrill resides because family is more real, more lasting, and more important than any adventure outside of that.