April 5, 2015

Movie Review: Furious Seven

Fourteen years later, it is the franchise that just keeps on giving. I can honestly say that when The Fast and The Furious arrived way back in 2001, I never thought anyone would still be talking about it in 2015 (not that I was thinking that far ahead), much less be anticipating a sixth sequel! At the same time, it is hard to fathom that the series has gotten better as it has aged, stepping up its game beginning with the fourth and never looking back. It has long since outgrown its street racing roots and has become a sort of gear head James Bond series filled with big stunts and international intrigue.

This seventh, and possibly (but unlikely) final, outing sees the franchise taking a page out of the Die Hard playbook by having the main villain (Jason Statham) the brother of a previously defeated foe (Luke Evans), just like Jeremy Irons played the brother of original Die Hard villain Alan Rickman. Beyond that, it looks to up the ante of the prior films, pretty much becoming a live action cartoon (although never getting to the Loony Toon level of Shoot'em Up).

Furious Seven can easily be accused of being just another big, dumb, summer action film that doesn't offer anything new to the table. I would be hard pressed to argue with that. So, what is it that makes this series so enduring? I am not sure if there is any one answer, but what I can say is that the movie is fun, generally executed well, and can always be counted on for swagger from its cast. These elements combine in such a way that is hard to ignore. I am not saying you have to like them, I am not the biggest fan of the series, but I still know fun when I see it.

The story here picks up, it seems, a few years after Fast and Furious 6. The team has disbanded, returned to their somewhat normal lives, typified by Brian (Paul Walker) driving his son to daycare in a mini van. However, civilian bliss is short lived as Deckard Shaw (Statham) shows up in Tokyo, killing Han (Sung Kang), as seen at the end of the last film (and previously way back in part 3, Tokyo Drift). This puts the team on notice as he begins to hunt them down. Toretto (Diesel) and the rest of the team band together with a little help from Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to hunt down Shaw.

Of course, the movie needs a little padding to complicate things and add a few more action sequences, so we get a beer loving government spook (Kurt Russell) to offer aid in exchange for the extraction of a key hacker/tech developer who is in the hands of some very bad folks led by a guy named Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). These bits and baddies all provide the clothesline on which to hang the stunt work.

To be fair, the plot takes a little while to even out. The plot progression moves along in fits and spurts, skipping around here and there before finally getting all of its momentum going in the same direction. Once this happens, we get a fun ride with some impressive stunt work and set pieces. Yes, there is a good deal of CG involved, but there is also some fancy driving and physical stunts. You cannot deny the adrenaline rush.

It is not my favorite of the series, and I think that has a lot to do with the untimely death of Paul Walker. That tragic situation threw the whole production into turmoil, not only was a star lost, but a father, and friend, someone who had grown very close to his costars. The rewrite led to a lot of the sentimental moments, I suspect. Sadly, while I understand the reasons, I feel a lot of the sentimental “family” talk really ate into the movie's momentum. It had to have been hard and they did they best they could while honoring their friend. I am trying to be detached from that and look at it just as a movie. Frankly, it is hard to separate the two completely.

Back to happy thoughts....

The movie brings a new director into the fold, and one who does not seem like an immediate fit. James Wan started in torture porn with Saw (as well as other horror titles like Dead Silence, Insidious, and The Conjuring) and has now delivered some car porn. This is his first big budget studio picture and I suspect there were strings attached when working on a big franchise picture like this. Despite the strings, you can still see Wan's style come through and it is interesting to see him working on this scale. While it may not look like a logical fit, it worked and I look forward to where Wan's career goes from here.

No, Furious Seven is not a great movie, it is just a lot of uneven fun. We got some good fights, Rock gets to whip out the ole Rock Bottom, Kurt Russell shares his love of Belgian Ale, we get hails of bullets, a car/helicopter chase, parachuting cars, and other wild and crazy stuff. I liked it. I still find it crazy that a series seven movies deep finds its stride and gives us its best outings in the later films.


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