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FURIOUS 7 (review)

furious_seven_ver2_xlgFURIOUS 7
Written by Chris Morgan / Directed by James Wan / Starring Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson

Brian O’Connor: Cars can’t fly.

Cars most certainly cannot fly, but that doesn’t stop the FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies from making them do just that. It’s hard to believe it’s only been four years since FAST FIVE (and director Justin Lin) reinvented this franchise, turning the vigorously oblivious, melodramatic shlock with a penchant for vehicle-centric mayhem and homoerotic camaraderie, into the weirdly superb action-franchise hybrid we now know it as today. Appropriating the globetrotting pleasures of MISSION IMPOSSBLE, the suave charms of Bond and the buddy-heist fun of OCEAN’S 11, and doubling down on the good-natured earnestness and charisma the franchise has had since day one – the recent instalments of the series have more in common with today’s superhero movies than they do with the DVD stealing street-racers we were first acquainted with in 2001.

It’s the franchise that simply willed its way into audiences hearts by genuinely embracing the silliness and dumbness rooted in its early steps – the one-note characters and stupid plot machinations are just as present as ever – and placing them into gleefully insane, sentimental, buddy-spy movies where things like family, honor and loyalty hold more weight in the world than say the laws of physics. At some point they just stopped caring about being logical and instead started caring about being as big and fun (and sometimes moving) as possible – each entry essentially daring the next one to top it. And now that we’re seven movies in, we’ve truly reached peak stupid, absurd and emotional but, magically, this series is still somehow working.

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Picking up very shortly after the events of FURIOUS 6, FURIOUS 7 opens with Deckard Shaw (newcomer Jason Statham) vowing revenge on Brian (Paul Walker), Dom (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the rest of the gang involved in the downfall of his brother, Owen (Luke Evans). Being hunted, they seek the assistance of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to help them get Deckard in return for capturing a notorious “hacktavist” known as Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel), who just also happens to have the attention of the terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou).

[Deep breath] If that sounds crowded, that’s because it is. In terms of plot design, FURIOUS 7 is definitely the busiest film in the franchise, which leads to a lack of focus but that isn’t really a big deal. These films always find a way to pave out clear objectives, and then weave plots through plots inside of other plots, all basically functioning as an excuse to drive kick-ass cars from one place to another, and FURIOUS 7 is no different.

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What separates FURIOUS 7 from the rest, other than coming the closest to topping FAST FIVE’s bank-vault climax (so close, Wan!), is the way it manages to follow through on all the basic tropes we now expect of these movies and then elaborate in five different directions from there. Whether it be The Rock delivering a silly one-liner or Vin Diesel grumbling something about family, new director James Wan uses every second he has to amplify the moment to the point where it’s almost exhaustingly entertaining. Why stage sequences in two continents when you could do it in three? Why crash through one skyscraper when you could crash through more than one? Every decision this film makes is in the name of hugeness and senselessness, and it’s totally ok with that.

And Wan – who made a name for himself in the horror genre, directing the visually slick INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING – was a perfect choice for the franchise as he has an organic feel for precision and timing. His action, living up to Dom’s motto of living life “a quarter-mile at a time,” is ripe with kineticism and urgency – each set piece acting as its own flowing beast, casually weaving in and out of moments so that we feel like we have just enough fuel to make it to the next one. Wan also loves exploring space through movement, placing/moving his camera in unusual ways and naturally including martial artists like Jason Statham and Tony Jaa to be physical guides, achieving some series high hand-to-hand combat and bringing some great physical performances out of the main cast we don’t always get to see. Despite having no basis in reality, the skydiving cars sequence the film peaks with is brimming with stakes, exhilaration and clarity, showing off Wan’s large and impressive staging/composing. It’s one of the series’ best sequences and likely some of the best action we’ll have in 2015.

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However, these films aren’t just about the action. It’s no coincidence the best film in the franchise was the first to strengthen and clarify the buddy elements, establishing a team-based scenario and carefully juggling the casually racially-diverse cast, having each member breathe life into the film in short doses, bouncing off each other so often we never feel trapped by the one-note simplicity of them. This is where guys like Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel shine (and Kurt Russell, who has an absolute blast in his scenes), bringing a true sense of fun and awareness. The Rock, in particular, who is sadly sidelined for the majority of the film makes up for it by being the best damn thing about a scene every single time he’s in it. Considering all the history, place-setting, and character-swapping FURIOUS 7 has to do, it does an admirable job balancing what it can. The emotional elements falter a bit more in the unfocused, schizophrenic nature of the story but by the end, the now mythological subtext – or blatant text – of loyalty and family still stands tall. Nothing interesting is said about these ideas; they just exist – making you feel them in an intimate, visceral way. And as the film doubles as a public wake for the tragic, real-life passing of Paul Walker, by the time FURIOUS 7 screeches to a halt and honors him in a genuinely touching tribute, the film does a fine job ensuring we know exactly what Walker was a part of and why it was important. That warmness and inclusiveness extends far beyond this group of friends making all of us part of the FAST AND FURIOUS family.

4 sheep

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