Saturday, April 11, 2015

Review: Furious 7 (2015)

Furious 7 (2015)

Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language

Furious 7, unlike past films in this action-packed, happy-go-lucky series, came out with a very dark cloud hanging over it: namely, the sudden death of one of its main stars, Paul Walker, in a fiery car wreck the prior year. Normally, a series like this, which revolves around a large ensemble of men and women who operate almost as a family, should have been able to bounce back from losing one of those members, even one as big as Walker, but the ironic circumstances of how that man, famous for starring in a series of car-chase flicks, went out meant that every scene in which his character was anywhere near an automobile had a certain sense of foreboding to it. Even leaving out the fact that the filmmakers had to finish the film using CGI and Walker's brothers Caleb and Cody as stand-ins for him, it was obvious to everybody going in that this would be Brian O'Conner's last ride. The big question wasn't whether this would be a solid entry in a long-running and successful series that's only seemed to get better with each installment (knowing director James Wan's work in the horror genre, I had little doubt in his abilities). Rather, it was in how they'd address the giant elephant in the room. Would they address Walker's death respectfully, or would they exploit it for cheap emotional points and box-office gain?

The answer to both questions is that they pulled it off wonderfully. Furious 7 may not be quite as good as the last film in the series, but as a straight-up, bombastic action film that embraces its own ridiculousness while bringing a great cast back together, it's still some of the best I've seen outside of Marvel. And the final tribute to Walker, covering all the past films in the series all the way up to the original, not only brought tears to my eyes, it also served as a perfect reminder of just how far this series had come. For action junkies, this is still one of the best pure, non-superhero action franchises around, and more than worth a watch on the big screen.

Most of my thoughts about the action in this are the same as what I thought about Fast & Furious 6 -- it's at its best when it's being absolutely crazy. This is the sort of film that only Hollywood can make, loaded with practical effects and stunt work whenever possible, filming for real several scenes that any other film would've done with a computer. CGI is used the right way, hand-in-hand with practical effects so that they amplify each other, the computer animation giving the stunts that much more flair and the real-world grounding of the action scenes making the CGI look that much more outstanding. It's a lesson that Christopher Nolan knows very well, and James Wan, in his first outing on a big-budget blockbuster, has taken it to heart. Not only does he excel with the automotive mayhem, he also gives the film's other, flesh-and-blood stars ample time to shine with amazing fistfights and shootouts that show off some of today's best action stars, like Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Vin Diesel, and more duking it out. There wasn't anything to match the sheer audacity of the tank or plane sequences from the last movie (the closest equivalent, the vehicular skydiving, was well and truly spoiled by the trailers), but the action here never failed to impress. If this film is any indication of his talents as an action filmmaker, James Wan may well be this generation's Sam Raimi, a director who emerged from the world of horror movies to helm some spectacular action flicks.

As for the plot, well, this is a Fast & Furious movie, what are you expecting? Okay, we do get a villain, one Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) who wants revenge against the crew for putting his brother in a coma in the last movie, while they're also enlisted by Kurt Russell as a government G-man who needs them to help track down terrorists trying to steal a device that would allow them to hack any computer and phone on the planet. Deckard and the terrorists eventually come together when they realize that they're after the same people. It's pure, unapologetic B-movie cheese, but what makes it work is the cast. The main crew at the center of these films -- Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris -- has spent six films before this building their relationships and becoming an extended family, oftentimes literally through marriage. And it's that feeling of knowledge, of mutual respect that these people have, that makes this work so much better than that other ensemble-cast action series, The Expendables. Whereas those films rested on their stars' real-life personas as a substitute for character development (especially in the sequels), the Fast & Furious films, this one included, take the time to build real characters beyond the actors playing them. Dom and Letty's complicated relationship, for instance, worked not because Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez are partners in real life (they aren't), but because both they and the writing sold the hell out of it. Ditto for Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster as Brian and Mia -- I bought them as a married couple, even if Brewster could've stood to have more screen time here. It's this, not the spectacular action, that helps the Fast & Furious movies stand out from other action films, and it's what made the final tribute to Paul Walker that closes off the film work so well. It commemorates not only the man himself, but his tireless work in this series, reminding us why we missed him and felt such a shock at his death.

Score: 4 out of 5

It may not be the best film in the series, but it's still really damn close, making for a great end of an era for the franchise. I came really close to giving this one a 5, but even though it barely missed the mark, this is still a must-see for action fans, car lovers, and anyone who wants to see a damn good, high-octane blockbuster. (Though looking at the box office, most of you have probably already seen this twice, so good on you!)

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