Total unbridled insanity — ‘Furious 7’
If you thought this franchise pushed the limits of believability before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s hard to remember this close-knit crew of expert drivers got its start by hijacking truckloads of DVD players in 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious.” Led by best buds Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker), now they’re taking down dictators, international criminals, and terrorists.
The “Fast and Furious” franchise is essentially equivalent to Marvel now. Everything the Avengers can do, this crew can do. Fly? Smash buildings apart? Link up to create video game-style combination attacks? Check, check, and check. They just need to be in their cars to do it.
This time, Dom and Brian need to get to Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) before he succeeds in assassinating their entire crew. To get to him, they need to steal a surveillance program for a government spy (Kurt Russell). To get the program, they need to rescue the hacker (Nathalie Kelley). It’s an artificial way of extending a paper-thin plot, but you’ll be having so much fun you won’t care one bit.
Analysts keep wondering why this franchise gains more and more momentum with each new entry. It’s as big a franchise as Marvel now. Marvel’s stories may span galaxies, but “Furious 7” takes place in a world that feels bigger. Here we have the chance to see Latin-American, African-American, Polynesian-American, Asian-American, and Caucasian heroes team up. I love Marvel, I really do, but to-date each film in the Marvel Universe has been built around a white male lead. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but without branching out and being more inclusive, it all starts feeling like it’s happening in a universe the size of a shoe box.
On the other hand, “Furious 7” spans the globe. That hardly matters: the wilds of Azerbaijan and the lush interiors of Abu Dhabi all look suspiciously like California. What matters is this cast is from around the world, and that makes the movie’s world feel awfully big. This is the one franchise with a real budget where 40 percent of the U.S. gets to see heroes with their shade of skin on screen. Don’t underestimate how important that is.
Much of the movie was shot focusing around, instead of on, Paul Walker’s Brian. Walker died midway through production. His two brothers, a few stand-ins, clever editing, and some face-fusing CGI ultimately make it easy to forget that Walker wasn’t there for most of it. Throughout, there’s a struggle in Brian -- he’s addicted to the adrenaline of pulling heists with his crew. He feels trapped in suburban life. At the same time he has responsibilities as a father now. Because Walker himself wasn’t available to record the dialogue, it’s usually Dom and amnesiac girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) who address this.
It starts to make “Furious 7” about something: the choices we make about living up to our responsibilities. It deals right there on the screen with Walker’s loss. This doesn’t transcend the film or change it into anything other than an over-the-top action movie, but there’s no cop-out here. It doesn’t shy away from what happened. In between all the punches and crashes, the film episodically finds ways to reflect on Walker’s loss. This gives “Furious 7” an occasional melancholic and emotional heft the other films have lacked. The most difficult moments are almost entirely handed off to Rodriguez, the best pure actor in the cast.
It helps that Shaw is treated less like a villain and more like a horror monster in a $10,000 suit. He stalks every setpiece, showing up to throw a wrench in the works just when you least expect him. In horror films, this metaphor is often used to symbolize our facing death and in a real way, the movie eventually has to face Walker’s death. Make no mistake -- this is not a scary film. The action and humor is too ridiculous; you’ll be wearing a smile the entire time. Yet treating Statham less like a villain and more like some lurking Grim Reaper lets horror director James Wan infuse the franchise’s weathered formula with his knack for building tension.
Three stars out of four. Everything you’ve hoped for from a “Fast and Furious” movie is on display here. The stunts are only occasionally real -- we’re in comic book territory by now -- but this is a cast and crew at the top of their game. It’s the best action movie that will be out until May. “Furious 7” is rated PG-13 for violence, some very suggestive content, and language.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at email@example.com.
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