Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Furious 7

Furious 7 was written by Chris Morgan and directed by James Wan.

Morgan is no stranger to the franchise, as he wrote The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and Fast & Furious 6, as well as Wanted and 47 Ronin. Well, at least his work's consistent. 

Wan is best known as a director of watered-down PG-13 horror films, helming Insidious, The Conjuring and Insidious 2. He also wrote the R-rated Saw. Insert your own "He's continuing his horror movie streak here" joke.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm probably not the best qualified person to review this film, as I've only seen the first two. You know, back when the series was about street racers, not indestructible supermen who pull off heists in flying cars. Hey, maybe a better title for the film would have been Furious 7, Laws Of Physics 0. Eh? Get it? Eh?

I've never been a car guy or racing fan, so I never bothered to see the first film when it came out way back in 2001. By the time the sixth one was released I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about, and started playing catch up. So far I've only made it through the first two. Note to readers— if you're watching a film series, don't go from two directly to seven like I did. You tend to miss out on important info and details that way.

This seventh (!) installment is closer to the Grand Theft Auto V video game than it is to the first film. Any semblance of reality is long gone at this point, as each successive entry becomes more and more cartoonish and outlandish. Based on the box office returns ($1.52 BILLION as of this review), this is obviously want the public wants to see. Not that there's anything wrong with that! I like watching action movies as much as the next person. I just think it's interesting to see how much the series has changed over the years.

This particular entry is like The Avengers of the Fast & Furious films. They pulled out all the stops, teaming up the stars of all the previous movies and bringing in as many minor characters for cameos as possible. The plan worked though, as the audience around me was practically vibrating with excitement, gasping in surprise and recognition as each character appeared onscreen.

The big news this time around is the death of actor Paul Walker in 2013, and how that affected the production. Walker had reportedly only completed about half his scenes, so the movie was shut down for several months so the producers could figure out what to do next. They eventually decided to complete the film using archival footage, body doubles and CGI of Walker in order to give his Brian O'Connor character a proper final sendoff.

Walker's death seems to have seeped in to the fabric of the film, as it's downright somber at times. There are at least two scenes set in cemeteries, and lots of talk about going on "one last ride."

Something I did not know until I researched the films for this review: the Fast & Furious timeline isn't linear. Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift (the one that doesn't have Paul Walker or Vin Diesel in it) is the THIRD movie in the series, but it actually takes place right before this film (and yes, before anyone points it out, I know Vin Diesel made a five second cameo at the end of Toyko Drift, but that doesn't count).

The timeline goes:
1. The Fast And The Furious
2. 2 Fast, 2 Furious
3. Fast and Furious (which is actually the fourth movie)
4. Fast 5 (the fifth)
5. Fast & Furious 6 (the sixth)
6. The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (the third)
7. Furious 7 (the seventh, of course)

As I'm not a scholar of the series, I have no idea why they're ordered like this. Something really bad must have happened in Tokyo Drift to cause the entire series to go back into time like that.


The Plot:
From what I was able to piece together, in the previous film, Dominic Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) and his makeshift family defeated the villainous Owen Shaw (played by Luke Evans), leaving him comatose and on life support, Shaw's older brother Deckard (played by Jasan Statham) visits him in the hospital, and vows revenge against Dom and his gang.

Deckard breaks into the office of Hobbs (played by Dwayne Johnson), a typical DSS officer who stands 6' 5" and is 300 pounds of solid muscle. Deckard steals info on Dom's gang from Hobbs computer, which doesn't sit well with the hulking public servant. They engage in fisticuffs, and Hobbs is seriously injured when Deckard blows up the office and escapes.

Deckard then starts targeting Dom and his "family." He kills someone named Han, who I'd probably know if I'd seen more than 23% of the films, and blows up Dom's house. He realizes that Deckard is systematically targeting him and his family.

Dom is then approached by Mr. Nobody (played by Kurt Russell), some sort of shadowy government agent. He tells Dom he'll help him bring down Deckard if he'll help him bring down a known terrorist named Jakande, a side mission that will extend the film's runtime an hour or so. Jakande has kidnapped a hacker named Ramsey, who's invented the God's Eye, a sophisticated surveillance program that can track anyone on Earth. If Dom obtains God's Eye, Mr. Nobody will allow him to use it to locate and kill Deckard. Jesus, was that last sentence written in English?

Dom agrees and assembles his team, including Brian O'Connor, (Paul Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Tej and Roman. Their brilliant plan is to get in their parachuted cars and drive out of a cargo plane and land on the convoy transporting Ramsey to Jakande's headquarters. And that's just what happens, in the film's biggest and most elaborate setpiece. They manage to rescue Ramsey, but she tells them she sent God's Eye to a friend in Abu Dhabi for safe keeping. Wah, wahhhhh!

Quicker than you can say "Cut to Abu Dhabi," the gang appears in Abu Dhabi in an effort to pad out the runtime even further. They manage to recover God's Eye, but not before Dom and Brian drive a car out of one skyscraper and into another, and another. Don't ask.

Dom gives God's Eye to Mr. Nobody, who hands it back to him and tells him to go after Deckard. Yep, you read right— a government agent just handed a pardoned felon the means to spy on everyone in the world.

Dom uses God's Eye to locate Deckard, who's now teamed up with Jakande, setting up the final act of the film. Dom and his gang declare war on Deckard, vowing to eliminate him once and for all so they can retire in peace. There's lots of furious action, furious driving and furious drifting, as the battle causes hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage in downtown L.A. Hobbs even gets up out of his sick bed long enough to take out Jankande and his helicopter with a massive chain gun.

Deckard is captured and imprisoned, and Dom is seemingly killed, but his amnesiac wife Letty brings him back to life with the power of love. The gang then retires to the beach, where they watch a CGI Brian frolicking with his family. 

• I'm not going to bother going through every incongruity in the film's ridiculous plot. It's pretty much a live action cartoon, so what's the point? It'd be like nitpicking a Bugs Bunny short. That said, a few things did stand out to me...

• This film definitely could have used a short recap for the benefit of people like me who've not seen the entire series. I had no idea who many of the characters were or what their relationships were to the rest of the cast. Many of the dramatic entrances and callback jokes were completely lost on me.

Note to the filmmakers: Every one of these movies is someone's introduction to the series. You shouldn't automatically assume the entire audience is as well-versed in the mythology as you are. Telling us who were're watching is just good storytelling.

Take the previously mentioned The Avengers for example. Joss Whedon correctly realized that everyone in the world hadn't seen every Marvel movie, so he gave every member of the team a brief and effective introduction to get everyone up to speed.

• In the opening scene, Deckard Shaw visits his brother Owen in the hospital. I wonder how much money Luke Evans got to lie in bed and reprise his role for thirty seconds?

• Play the Furious 7 Drinking Game! Every time Dom growls the word "family," take a shot. You'll be dead of alcohol poisoning before the film ends.

• The majority of the movie's dialog consists of interjections like, "Here we go!" "Punch it!" and "Look out!" On the rare occasion when the screenwriters do manage to string more than three words together, the result is downright cringe-worthy. In fact at the end of the film when Dom has seemingly been killed, Brian pounds on his chest and actually says, "Don't you die, damn you!"

More classic dialogue:

Dom: I used to say I live my life a quarter mile at a time.

Letty: Why didn't you tell me we were married?
Dom: You can't tell someone they love you.

Dom: The thing about street fights... the street always wins.

Hobbs: You just earned yourself a dance with the devil, boy.

Letty: Did you bring the cavalry?
Hobbs: Woman, I am the cavalry.

Sean Boswell: If you get the guy who did this to Han, what are you gonna do?
Dom: Words haven't been invented.

• Dom travels to Tokyo to recover the body of Han, a friend (or is that family member?) and fellow racer. Han's full name is listed on his death certificate as Han Seoul-Oh. Get it? Han Solo? Wakka wakka!

I'm hoping the filmmakers realized that Seoul-Oh would be a Korean name, and not Japanese.

• Dom's wife Letty apparently lost her memory at some point in one of the previous films. In this one she leaves him, saying she needs to "find herself." Yes, she actually says "find herself."

She shows up an hour or so later with no explanation. So mission accomplished, I guess? She found herself somehow? Late in the film when Dom appears to be dead, she cradles his body and tells him her memory's back and she remembers everything. How this miracle was achieved is left to our imaginations. Maybe she was kicked in the head by a mule and it jogged her memory?

• Let's talk about fight scenes. This film is chock-full of them, especially for one that's ostensibly about racing cars. They're also all laughably staged, as almost every one of them features a match-up that would be ridiculously lopsided in real life.

First up we have Jason Statham vs. Dwayne Johnson. Somehow Statham wins. Haw! No matter how skilled a brawler Statham might be, the Rock is about twice his size and weight. Johnson could put him down for a nap through sheer bulk alone.

Next up is Michelle Rodriguez vs. Ronda Rousey. As in UFC Champ Ronda Rousey. To expect us to believe that the diminutive Rodriguez could even land one punch against her is preposterous at best. The Amazonian Rousey would grab her by the feet and spin her around a dozen times before letting go and watching her sail into the next county.

Lastly we have Paul Walker vs. Thai martial artist Tony Jaa. Walker would last about as long in a fight with Jaa as I would. And that ain't very long.

• Dom crashes his car into Deckard's, and the two engage in a knock-down drag-out street brawl. Just then Mr. Nobody and a team of soldiers appear, which allows Deckard to escape. Nobody then tells Dom that he wants him to obtain the God's Eye for him. In exchange for his help, he'll let Dom use it to locate Deckard so he can kill him.

But... but... Dom was fighting Deckard when Nobody intervened! He caused Deckard to escape so he could offer Dom the means to find him! Dom should be furious with him! Make that Furious 7 with him!

• Amazingly enough, in the "air drop" scene, the filmmakers actually dropped real cars out of a real airplane (although no drivers were inside). That an absolute miracle in these days of all-CGI special effects.

• In an effort to pad the second act, the gang goes to Abu Dhabi in search of the God's Eye program. While there, Letty is seen walking around with a lot of skin brazenly uncovered. Nope!

Native women there are required to wear burkas (the full-length black robes that cover everything, including the face) and there are even strict rules governing the clothing foreign tourists can wear. Female tourists don't have to wear burkas (unless they visit a holy place), but they do have to cover everything from their shoulders to just below the knee. Letty would have probably been tossed in fashion jail.

• Dom and Brian escape an angry prince's guards by driving a car out the window of a skyscraper and into an adjoining one (!). As their car crashes through the windows, they smash into an exhibit of Chinese Terracotta Warriors.

Even though the statues were undoubtedly fake, it still made me cringe to see such ancient treasures smashed to bits like that.

• This film needed way more Kurt Russell. He's definitely the best actor in the cast (which I will admit is damning him with faint praise), bringing a sorely needed professionalism and cocky charm to the proceedings.

• In the final act, Hobbs is laid up in the hospital with a fractured arm and collarbone. He watches the action unfold on TV and feels the need to join in. He stands up, flexes his mighty bicep and shatters the entire cast off his arm (!). He then swallows a dozen or so pain pills and swaggers off to shoot Jakande out of the sky.

I'm pretty sure none of that would be possible in real life. Oh, you could try it, but you'd probably spend the rest of the day curled in a ball, shaking like a kitten and vomiting in agony as the jagged ends of your bones ground together.

• Dom has yet another brawl with Deckard on the roof of a parking garage. Jakande hits the building with a missile, causing it to start crumbling. Dom sees the roof start to weaken around Deckard, and stomps a couple times with his mighty foot, causing it to crumble. Deckard seemingly falls to his death hundreds of feet below (don't worry, he gets better— gotta have a bad guy for Furious 8!).

What's interesting about this scene is that actor Vin Diesel is rumored to be starring in Marvel's upcoming Inhumans movie. What part he's playing, no one knows yet. One of the Inhumans is Gorgon, a satyr-like superhero with hooves that can cause the earth to split open when he stomps. Was this scene a bit of Inhumans foreshadowing, or just wishful thinking on my part?

• Late in the film the nigh-indestructible Dom has a parking garage dropped on his car, and appears to be dead. Brian begins pumping his chest, and for some reason tells Letty to begin mouth to mouth resuscitation. Why didn't Brian perform both procedures himself?

The only reason I can come up with as to why Brian delegated the mouth to mouth to Letty is because the director didn't think the no-doubt male-skewing audience would be able to handle the sight of a man planting his lips on those of another man.

In the end it doesn't matter, because Letty screeches at Brian to stop pumping on Dom's chest, and she tells him she's regained her memory, telling him about all the good times they've had, which miraculously resurrects him. Screw your old medical science, Brian! Letty uses the Power Of Love to bring Dom back!

• At the end of the film, Hobbs escorts the miraculously still-alive Deckard to some sort of high tech super prison. Deckard says, "You know this won't hold me." Hobbs then says, "After you dig through thirty eight feet of concrete and steel, my fist and a body bag will be waiting for you on the other side. Until then, you better start digging."

We then see the door to Deckard's little cell shut. Amazingly, it actually has a narrow window in the center of it! Does that seem like a good idea?

Furious 7 is a preposterous and completely ridiculous film that left its street racing roots far, far behind. It's not great cinema by any means, but it's moderately entertaining, which is apparently what the fans want. It's also a reasonably fitting farewell to the late Paul Walker. I give it a B-.

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