Tuesday 14 April 2015

Review: Furious 7

Year: 2015
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: Chris Morgan 
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Kurt Russell, Jason Statham

Synopsis is here

Note: Review features a spoiler for the 6th entry of the series.

My review starts with the end of the film. Furious 7 completes with an ensemble moment, before delivering a simple metaphor. One that can be observed as Christian symbolism due to its overtones. It’s also an ending which remarks on a real life tragedy and its relationship to fiction. We consider the Fast and Furious series to be one that lacks subtly. Yet here its final moments become a quiet gesture that marks an end of an era. Both of the films and reality. Is it easy to suggest that the actors we’re watching are merely acting?

Not since Gladiator (2000) have I felt so aware of an actor’s death in a movie. More talented performers than Paul Walker have passed on. Yet to me, their final films have never felt as painfully self-reflexive. There’s no surprise that Furious 7’s final moments finish with such an affecting tribute to Walker. 

Then again, as the Fast and Furious films have grown, they've always been highly aware of themselves as well as their audience. The films evolved, the audience grew, and so did the diversity of both product and consumer.   The film's large opening box office may have had one or two morbidly fascinated viewers, but in the grand scheme of things, this has been a series that has catered to its audience in a way the likes of The Expendables (2010) have struggled with from the first film. Both franchises are inherently silly, yet Fast’s candour sets it apart.

As the Fast films have worn on, they have of course, became more comic book-like in their nature. They’ve also picked up the motifs of 80's actioners. We only have to witness Dwayne Johnson picking up a drone mini gun in Furious 7 to notice this. However, the Fast series (in particular 7) have dealt with coming to terms with the finite aspect of life with slightly more poignancy than say Marvel. Some of this has occurred via cosmic calamity, but also via its plotting. The death of Han for instance. 

An on screen death after the credits roll, of the previous film, suddenly becomes more than a plot device. A fatalistic cloud hangs over Furious 7.  Not just because of Walker's death. The film itself has his character Brian, struggling with the rigours of family life and misses “the bullets”. He finds it hard to settle. This is also part of the reasoning behind his move away from FBI agent to career criminal from the first film onwards. His love of the rush. Furious 7 has lots of nonsense going on throughout it. A hodgepodge mixture of a revenge flick, heist caper and erratic foreign policy, with some cyber espionage thrown in. The one through line that seems to stick (when the film has time to go back to it) is the wish to regain a sense of normality. We see Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty suffering from the same sort of flittering PSTD symptoms that got Iron Man in a funk and wishes to reclaim her sense of self. Vin Diesel’s Dom endeavours to help her recover throughout. These smaller character beats often play off as corny (Morgan’s script is a cornucopia of cheddar) but give the film a relative sense of weight and balance. 

Softer stuff aside, Furious 7 brings out all the action tropes it can, as the filmmakers clearly know why your butt is on the seat. The streams of obvious expository dialogue. The facial closes ups and musical stings that are held for a timing that often feel more comedic than dramatic. Furious 7 is the HAL 9000 of absurd action films. It's fully self-aware. 

But it's earned the right to be. It's a film in which its action sequences are not only insanely constructed and controlled, but feel far removed from what we expect. Mission Impossible: 4 scaled Dubai skyscrapers, so Furious 7 smash into Abu Dhabi landmarks... three times. Iron Man 3 enjoyed drone warfare, but in the bland eighties stalwart: the docks. Furious feels it’s to use the whole of LA. The film also appears to reference the Italian Job (1969), in a way that only they could.

Screenwriter Chris Morgan, Director James Wan and the stunt crew have really outdone themselves in terms of the sheer scale of the action. Wan; whose always been more known for his lower budget shock fair, balances the various amounts of set pieces like this isn’t his first rodeo. Showing clear growth in his setups since the likes of Death Sentence (2007).

As mentioned, most of the film’s plot is bobbins. From Tyrese's awkward comic relief, to Dwayne Johnson cracking arm casts with his muscles. At one point Kurt Russell, winks directly at the camera to remind you that he knows what type of film he is in. The film labels Jason Statham’s character a “ghost”, to hilariously ensure they don't have to explain how he pops up into the thick of the action without a thorough explanation. Consider this with the fact that the films McGuffin, is a Dark Knight-lite device which allows all smartphones to be hacked into as remote GPS’ for whoever operates it. Statham’s enters scenes as if he already owns what he’s chasing. 

That said, Furious 7 likes to show that it is fun bobbins that is smart at being dumb. It also likes to see who’s keeping up with what. The Row Three Superticket podcast was quick to pick up on the scantily clad women who take up less about two minutes of screen time, but say very little to the five lead females who all have their own (thinly spread) sense of purpose throughout. This mainstay aspect of the series is not the most welcome, and yet it’s clearly the one that is becoming more minimalized as the series moves on. 

Due to the Fast series not being based on any previous materials other than themselves, the series has slowly become a driving force for diversity.  The fact is Furious 7 understands its intent and audience. It cottoned on to diversity years ago and now feels like a trailblazer while the likes of Sony during their hack and Deadline articles have been sneering their noses at the idea of BAME characters going above the imaginary station these people believe exist. While buffoonery and dubious gender politics still exist within the framework. Furious 7 actually handles mixed race relationships with a commanding force. The series has clearly become all the better for it. Its box office numbers are fascinating. Not just because they’re large, but because of whose going and why. For a dumb film, it’s brilliant at pushing the boundaries that smarter films don’t.   

Furious 7 knows for a fact that I'll never buy it (or any of the other entries) for keeps, yet the films stupid jokes, kinetic action and united colours of Benetton casting still serve up a deliriously absurd time at the cinema in a way other films failed. It's a film is smart enough to know how dumb it is. For that I raise a glass to Mr Walker, Mr Diesel and the others for their "one last ride".