On the Vast and the Curious Appeal of Furious 7

04/03/2015 9:00 AM |

Furious FiveTen notes from watching Furious 7 after rewatching all six previous Fast and Furious movies and generally being fully on board the Fast and Furious train in a way that didn’t seem at all likely or even possible as late as 2009:

1. One hallmark of the current incarnation of the Fast and Furious film: having a character accurately describe the experience of watching the film. In Fast and Furious 6, Tyrese referred to some of the movie’s story as “007-type shit” (well-put; that is where the series has been migrating over the years); here in the seventh, handler Kurt Russell talks about how the files on Dom (Vin Diesel) and his cohorts are “detailed and extremely entertaining.” Yeah, that about covers it: the Fast and Furious movies have become thick with backstory and soap-opera relationships (along with 007-type shit) while somehow avoiding the tedium that often comes with heavy continuity. They are extremely entertaining, even sometimes when cars aren’t flying through the air, and down mountains, between buildings, and across the sea (the last thing does not happen in Furious 7; consider that my pitch for Fast 8, although then again, maybe take a look at Speed 2 and ignore that pitch).

2. The series may never be in a better position than it was right before Fast Five came out. As cool as those trailers looked, and as enjoyable as certain sequences from the previous films were, I went into Fast Five with the most cautious of expectations, and the movie kicked my ass like a Transporter. It’s very strange, then, to be watching subsequent Fast and Furious movies just assuming that they’re going to be awesome. Furious 7 does everything a later-period Fast and Furious movie is supposed to do, and does it well, and it manages some surprises even if you’ve seen all of the trailers and ads with their endless money shots. But the delighted shock of the series’ midlife transformation has mostly dissipated.

3. That said: those set pieces, though. This movie sticks to the Fast Five/Furious 6 template of arranging its 130-plus minutes around four or five expansive action sequences, and adds for the climax sort of a Return of the Jedi approach where the big action climax is actually several different action scenes cut together as the core heroes split up for various fights and chases. It’s not the best piece of the movie—that would be either the sequence in Abu Dhabi or the one that begins (begins, mind you) with cars parachuting out of an airplane for some reason—but it does show that the ambition of this series has not flagged. While part of the climax does indulge the building-smashing that has turned too many action-adventure movies into de facto disaster films, mostly it focuses on brawny daredevil stunts and fights. Basically, the series has extrapolated not from the signature street-racing of the original, but the sequence from that movie that details a truck robbery gone wrong (although if the crew of Furious 7 returned to merely ripping off truckers for some DVD players, they would really crush that, probably in and out within forty-five seconds).

4. Speaking of the first film: The desert racing expo first glimpsed in The Fast and the Furious, back in 2001, is still going on—and still calling itself Race Wars. I feel like they should consider a rebranding.

5. Tyrese Gibson started this series, in 2 Fast 2 Furious, as sort of a poor man’s Diesel, in that he was partnered with Paul Walker; when Diesel returned, he was set aside as the comic relief (though several of his wisecracks are Stallone level, which is to say: wisecrackalikes that don’t actually have coherent jokes in them). He gets some laughs here, but his big moments have to do with angrily insisting that everyone listen to him, then fearfully trying to back out of the movie’s most audacious stunt. Time to call it out properly: Tyrese is the C3PO of this series.

6. Circa 2 Fast 2 Furious, I would have called out the building up of Paul Walker’s character in this movie as hilariously stupid. When Brian (Walker), his common-law wife Mia (Jordana Brewster), and their young child need to hide out in a Dominican Republic mansion, it’s mentioned casually that mostly-disgraced former cop Brian has already “built a surveillance hub in the garage.” Later, mostly-disgraced former cop Brian fights Tony Jaa twice, and doesn’t get his ass handed to him. In other words, this movie is making some patently absurd claims about mostly-disgraced former cop Brian O’Connor. But because this is Walker’s final performance, the worship afforded Brian is actually kind of sweet. Why shouldn’t Walker go out hand-to-hand with Jaa?

7. Because the fifth and sixth movies already did the all-star avengers-assemble version of this material (even the fourth movie has a lot of returning characters beyond the core of Diesel, Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, and the increasingly marginalized Jordana Brewster), Furious 7 does not have a lot of room to grow in that regard. It does bring back Lucas Black, star of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the least entertaining of the bunch, but only for a cameo to conduct some plot business that could have easily occurred off-screen. In fact, I tend to think that Black appears here less for either a career boost or fan demand, but out of some kind of bizarre dare to see just how old Black can get while still playing a teenager. He’s one of those guys, like his Tokyo Drift co-star Zachery Ty Bryan, who played a senior in high school (or thereabouts) for the better part of a decade. His Tokyo Drift character was, indeed, about eighteen when that movie came out in 2006. By virtue of the series’ surprisingly strong continuity, he appears in Furious 7 playing that same character in a scene set moments after the end of Tokyo Drift, and nearly a full decade later in actual time. The Fast and Furious saga will demonstrate true success when it has lasted long enough for Lucas Black not to play a teenager in it.

8. I’m sure the series will continue; I’m less sure of who is going to be driving, so to speak. Justin Lin performed an amazing rescue job, not just on the series but on himself; his crack at this was Tokyo Drift, the worst entry; five years later, he helmed Fast Five, still the best of the bunch. But as such, Lin has been mentioned for pretty much every franchise gig in Hollywood, finally landing on the third Star Trek movie, coming next summer. He could still return for Fast 8, but he remains in high demand and his replacement, James Wan, does an impressive job here, though occasionally his cutting is slightly choppy compared to the austerity of his recent horror films. The seventh film was once thought to start a new trilogy, but real-life circumstances make it feel more like a victory lap and chapter-closing for the fourth, fifth, and sixth movies (or, if you want to discount the just-OK fourth: five, six, and seven make an impressive trilogy of non-superhero all-star action movies). Wan deserves some time to make the series his own, to the extent that it’s possible with Diesel looming over the proceedings, but the all-star thing may not pan out, if only because there are shockingly few A-list or even B-plus-list action heroes whose addition would be on par with The Rock or Jason Statham. Maybe Liam Neeson, but good as he is that’s really more Expendables territory, which Furious 7 already flirts with by recruiting Kurt Russell. Maybe fifty-ish Keanu? I don’t usually go in for the game of complaining about how today’s young actors are too boyish, fey, unmanly, whatever—retrograde, simpleminded nostalgia, mostly. But I admit: there aren’t a lot of thirtysomething or fortysomething actors of much repute who demand to be thrown against Diesel and/or the Rock in sweaty, glass-shattering combat. Hopefully they can figure out a way to resurrect Gina Carano from her fate at the end of Fast and Furious 6.

9. In his first scene in this movie, The Rock is sitting at his desk, closing out some files and sweating. He’s clearly supposed to have just come from a workout, but I like to think that every second he’s at his law-enforcement job, the Agent Hobbs character glistens with sweaty purpose. Even if he’s just doing data entry. I could have watched his smackdown with Statham for two or three times longer than it actually goes on.

10. I came out of the last couple of Fast and Furious movies, especially Fast Five, doped up with adrenaline. It was borderline annoying; just ask my wife (and she’ll tell you there was nothing borderline about it). Furious 7 has any number of adrenaline-doping, fist-pumping moments—The Rock is barely in it, and he still manages four or five all on his own—but I came out feeling perhaps stupidly reflective. Most followers of the series will know that series originator Paul Walker died halfway through the filming of Furious 7, and the movie knows that they know this, and winds up with a finale where a monologuing Diesel pays tribute to the Walker character and, clearly, Walker himself. On its own, this sequence would read a little maudlin. But it takes on tearjerking qualities when taking into account Walker’s real-life fate. This is to say that the movie’s big emotional hook is almost entirely metatextual and, as such, almost accidental—maybe even opportunistic. It’s also surprisingly powerful. None of the Fast movies are really believable, even the sorta-grounded first installment, and the characters are more archetypes with action-figure-style accessories (Walker’s black sneakers; Diesel’s Corona, which gets specifically and repeatedly shouted out in this movie) than fully dimensional human beings. But the pain in Diesel’s voice during that last narration is real, easily the realest moment in this whole chronicle of faux-gritty (and largely delightful) hokum. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to picture another sequel, as inevitable as it is and as sincerely as I want one to happen. Furious 7, aside from being a super-fun action movie, turns out to an affecting study in fleeting thrills.