Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Furious 7": Fast Cars Make For Dumb Ridiculous Fun

Now Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Fast and/or Furious franchise (besides its increasingly ludicrous installment titling conventions) is that they have somehow taken their formerly poor quality and elevated it into something that, if not legitimately great, is a hell of a lot of fun.  The first four films are of varying quality but have always existed on the dumber, duller side of the spectrum, their continued existence only justified by filling a niche for dude-bros who love fast cars on the big screen.  However, something changed in the fifth film, which left the underground racing origins of the series behind in favor of an action heist plot, and the action elements have only been emphasized ever since.  This has led to an escalation in the last three films that has served not to make the films any more intelligent, but to make them fun enough where the their lack of depth doesn’t matter compared to the pure visceral thrill of their existence.  Furious 7 continues this tradition and ends up being what is probably the best in the series.

Continuing from the events of Fast & Furious 6, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) swears revenge against Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and crew (Paul Walker, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and Michelle Rodriguez) for leaving his villainous brother in a coma, attacking them one by one with intense black operative skills.  Dom is approached by secret agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to track down a surveillance MacGuffin that will allow the crew to find Shaw, and Dom agrees on the condition that Mr. Nobody will assist in taking Shaw down.

In all honesty, the plot to this film is full of gaping holes, most notably that the whole purpose of finding the program in order to find Shaw is undermined by the fact that Shaw appears in every major action scene, making the task of hunting him down a complete non-sequitur.  However, the plot is not the reason anyone sees a recent Fast and/or Furious film: it’s the ridiculous action setpieces, and boy does the seventh installment deliver.  As awesome as the tank battle from part six was, it cannot compete against skydiving cars, jumps between moving vehicles, drone attacks, missile barrages, and driving a brakeless car through a skyscraper dozens of stories into the air.  Previous films in this franchise were hampered by their cost-saving transition into computer-generated stuntwork, but now that the films are so far removed from reality as to justify that transition, the cartoony nature of such scenes feels welcome precisely because they are so unbelievable.

It’s also worth mentioning that this may be the only ensemble action franchise to be predominately headlined by people of color and have female characters with defined personalities and actual agency within the plot.  Considering that other franchises greatly lack such empowering diversity (like a certain Cinematic Universe), the fact that such a cast remains intact and hasn't become Hollywood whitewashed is astounding and hopefully will endure in future installments.

Furious 7 ends with a tribute to the late Paul Walker, using his character’s transition into family life and out of the franchise as a metaphor for Walker’s premature demise.  It’s a touching moment that fans of this fifteen year franchise will appreciate, and it really hammers home that the franchise’s boast of the value of family and loyalty is not empty, but is an expression of the cast’s actual dedication to one another.  Though Walker may not have been the greatest actor, his presence will clearly be missed by those who worked with him, and with this as his final film, I’m happy to say he left on a high note.  If you’re looking for some pure dumb fun, Furious 7 won’t let you down.

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