I know that I am ridiculously hard to please, which is why I had avoided every single Fast and the Furious film after the first one came out in 2001.
The first film was like a compilation episode of an incredibly bad soap opera on MTV. It was poorly written, had bad characters, bad dialogue, and absolutely no originality. (It was pretty much an unauthorized remake of Point Break.) The one thing that did work were the race scenes that were featured so prominently in the trailer.
So, somewhere along the line, the producers said to themselves, “Screw it. You people want cars and action scenes? We’ll give you the most ridiculous ones we can think of.”
And, judging by Furious 7, this is entirely the correct approach. Furious 7 is what The Expendables was meant to be – an action film so over the top it almost becomes a Zucker/Abrams/Zucker deconstruction of the genre. Furious 7 uses every single action film clichè you can think of, and then adds in a few more for good measure.
It stumbles out of the gate. After a fantastic credit sequence that sees Jason Statham (his character has a name, but who cares what anyone’s names are in this movie?) walking through a destroyed hospital and vowing revenge for his brother, we get Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez driving to a drag race that has Diesel trying to help Rodriguez get through her amnesia. It’s the sort of dumb soap opera scene that killed the original film. To its credit, Furious 7 still stands up on its own even if you haven’t seen the previous entries, so there isn’t a lot of focus on this plot point. But these scenes at the beginning are mostly pointless. After that opening, it was pretty obvious that Furious 7 was never going to be a character drama, so why bother talking about how Walker’s character is not enjoying family life as much as he should be? The drag race scene also displays every problem I had with the first film, with it’s objectifying of women, it’s sickening rapid pace editing, and the complete lack of tension.
Iggy Azaela even shows up to congratulate Rodriguez, which nearly gave me a brain hemorrhage.
Luckily, Furious 7 abandons this format very quickly. The film is two hours, but the second and third acts just fly by after Diesel and crew are hired by a government agent (Kurt Russell in an inspired role) to track down a surveillance system called “God’s Eye” that will allow them to find Statham before he finds and kills them. Flimsy? You bet, but that doesn’t matter at all.
I know that Fury Road isn’t going to be released until next month, but it has a lot to live up to after Furious 7. The chase scene in the second act, which sees the gang rescuing a hacker that has access to God’s Eye, is incredible. It’s long, but then the end chase of The Road Warrior went on for almost 20 minutes and the climatic chase of Stagecoach lasted 15 minutes. What works is whether or not we respond to those chases. And Everything about that scene in Furious 7 is engaging. The stunts (including the one where Paul Walker has to run along side a bus falling off a cliff) are incredible, and there is actual tension in them about whether or not they’ll succeed. Action directors – you want a template for how to create pacing and spectacle? Furious 7 provides it for you.
The film also does something I had thought no mainstream film would do – show us something new. There’s a scene in the second act where the crew has to steal a car (and the surveillance device) from the top floor of the famed Etihad Towers in Abu Dubai. It’s a spectacle that would make James Bond proud – Diesel and Walker drive the car through three buildings, causing havoc. It’s a scene that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – why does a billionaire keep a car that’s locked in a vault stocked with a full tank of gas? Who cares? It’s another opportunity for the film to do something unique and cool when there was absolutely no expectation that it would.
Furious 7 goes completely for broke and lets nothing hold back its desire to create an amazing spectacle. On that level, it’s impossible not to like. I know many who will complain about the numerous plot holes, the choppy editing, and the nonsensical characters. They’ll be right. But I still want to have fun something and unlike similar blockbuster films, I found myself not caring about Furious 7’s flaws. It’s an easy film to get lost in once you realize what Furious 7 is trying to accomplish. On that level, I wanted to highly recommend everyone see it at least once.
And then….the film had the postscript that nearly destroyed it all.
Many of you probably know that Paul Walker died in a car crash before this film was released. I expected the filmmakers to pay some sort of tribute to him. But the way they do it is the tackiest way possible, considering what we’ve just seen.
The scene is Diesel doing a monologue while a bad rap song (surprisingly not Puff Daddy’s “Missing You”) and clips from the previous films are played. It ends with Walker and Diesel driving their separate ways, which could work if that was meant to an important plot point. But, the plot has already been resolved.
There is no emotion in this scene at all and no reason for it to be included.
Second, and this is most important: it’s a reminder of the real life and the consequences that Furious 7 had spent two hours ignoring. Again, Paul Walker was killed in a car crash. Over the course of Furious 7, I watched hundreds of car crashes and spectacular stunt driving that the characters walked away from with barely a scratch.
It was a reminder of how those scenes would play out in real life. If people didn’t die, they would be crippled and forced to undergo years of therapy. We see numerous cars exploding – some with people clearly in them, including a police officer trying to pull over the crew- and no acknowledgement is made of the carnage. That’s standard action fare and Furious 7 is far from the only film to ever treat wanton destruction so callously. Yet to remind me of a very real person who was killed in something that Furious 7 lovingly showed made me think of the moral failings these characters must have in order to walk away from everything they did.
In order for Furious 7 to work, there needs to be a level of fantasy in the proceedings. It’s that way for all films. But Furious 7 destroys what it had built up for a tacky tribute that does nothing to honor Walker or the way he died.
It’s an epilogue, so I don’t want to say it completely destroys the film. Walk out after the jail scene and you’ll have witnessed a film I recommend. Stay for the epilogue and you’ll end up with a bad taste in your mouth. This is probably a case where that “For Paul” interstitial was enough.