Furious 7 – A Review

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As loyal readers know, I am a recent convert to the Fast & Furious franchise. I watched the first six movies within a week of each other to get myself up to speed (pun intended) and unsurprisingly, I started digging these movies a lot more once they became straight up action movies that just so happened to be about cars and when The Rock appeared. He is, after all, franchise Viagra. Since Fast Five, I think that the films have gotten progressively better and the news that Jason Statham would appear in Furious 7 was cause for celebration. Furious 7 was probably the most I’ve been looking forward to any of these movies, which isn’t necessarily a ringing endorsement, but probably the most praise I’m ever going to heap on these movies, which are big and loud and ridiculous, but also fairly entertaining.

My enthusiasm dipped, however, with Paul Walker’s untimely passing during the filming of the movie. I was sincerely hoping that they would work around his absence in a tasteful manner and that it wouldn’t be too much for the movie to overcome. Given the way that he died, I also wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy a film where his life is routinely in peril behind the wheel of a fast car. What I like about these movies is that they are mindless fun and escapism; I wasn’t sure if the large specter of reality would cast too dark a shadow over the franchise and take away my overall enjoyment.

The good news is that while it was a little difficult for me to fully enjoy some of the scenes, Walker’s passing did not prevent me from still having a lot of fun watching Furious 7. I think that they did the best possible job working around his absence and provided his character with a fitting send-off and tribute. It helped that there was so much craziness going on in this film that there wasn’t a lot of time to sit and dwell over anything; they may have dropped “Fast” from the title, but not from the actual movie. Furious 7 accelerates the action and rarely slows down. It may only just beginning to feel like spring, but summer movie season has officially arrived.

The weird chronology of the franchise means that the events of Furious 7 come after the events of The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, the closest thing to a full on abomination that the series has released. Seriously, I still have PTSD after sitting through that nonsense. The body count from Fast & Furious 6 and Tokyo Drift have depleted the ranks of Dom Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) “family.” The crew is now pretty lean – Brian (Paul Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludicris) and Mia (Jordana Brewster), who has been mostly marginalized from the franchise while she’s home having Brian’s babies (no great loss). Hobbs (The Rock) is kind of an unofficial member of the group; he’s a friend that hasn’t quite reached “family” status. The group discovers that they are being hunted by Ian Shaw (Jason Statham), the meaner and more deadly brother of a man that the crew tangled with in Furious 6. I had absolutely no memory of the bad guy from Furious 6, so I had to take all of this on faith. I actually don’t remember much plot-wise from a lot of these movies; they are kind of disposable entertainment to me in that twenty minutes after I’ve seen them, I’d be hard pressed to tell you much that actually happened it them. In order to get to Shaw, the group hooks up with a covert military organization that is headed up by Kurt Russell and who needs Dom and company to save a hacker who has been kidnapped. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter – it’s just a reason for all sorts of insane stunts and fights. Ronda Rousey also turns up, because why the hell not at this point.

If you’ve seen any of the trailers for the film, you know that the stunts in Furious 7 have been taken up another notch. They’ve participated in some gravity-defying shenanigans in the past, but this film may have the most over-the-top sequences of the entire franchise. Once you have cars parachuting out of an airplane and cars jumping between buildings, all bets are kind of off. I didn’t do particularly well in physics when I took that back in high school, but I’m pretty sure that none of what they pull of is even remotely realistic from a logistical and laws of the universe standpoint. That doesn’t really matter though; it’s just very exciting and executed so well that I was willing to suspend all disbelief and just go with it. I can appreciate a well pulled-off stunt just like anyone else and in general if you thinking a lot during these movies, you’re doing it wrong.

Beyond the vehicular acrobatics, Furious 7 also features a lot of great mano a mano fight sequences. It doesn’t take very long into the film before The Rock and Statham are brought to fisticuffs and it’s pretty great. They use some crazy camera angles and it’s all very intense and thrilling. Paul Walker gets to throw down as well and Michelle Rodriguez and Ronda Rousey tangle as well. And of course, you can’t have Jason Statham and Vin Diesel in a movie together without some sort of altercation, so they have the required street fight as well. All the brawling actually helps mix things up a little; it’s no more realistic but it’s a different kind of action. The more the movie keeps moving, the better it is.

My biggest complaint about Furious 7, other than the obvious plot holes and complete lapses in logic, is that there isn’t enough of The Rock. He helps kick off the movie, but then disappears for most of the rest of the film. That’s not what I signed up for. The Rock makes the most of his time, but I’m always going to be happy with more Rock rather than less. There’s also less Jason Statham than you might be lead to believe; he’s in a lot of the movie, but his presence ebbs and flows. Jordana Brewster doesn’t really have anything to add to these movies any longer, so they wisely ship her off pretty quickly.

Some other thoughts:

  • Other than one scene with some cheesy (and obvious) CGI, it isn’t noticeable that Walker wasn’t used for some scenes. I think it helps that they used Paul Walker’s brothers as stand-ins; Cody Walker, in particular, looks a LOT like his famous brother.
  • Much to my dismay, they do briefly revisit Tokyo Drift characters. It’s pointless and not handled particularly well – why not just re-shoot the scenes rather than use footage from a movie that is nine years old? – but I guess it’s a nice shout out to fans.
  • I’ll admit that I got a little teary during the goodbye to Walker. I was a little surprised by that, but maybe I’m a bigger softie than I think.
  • The comedy in these movies continues to become less unintentional; Tyrese Gibson and Ludicrous provide most of the laughs.
  • A familiar face for Game of Thrones fans pops up in this installment; Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei, Daenerys’ right hand woman) plays the hacker that they are tasked with rescuing.
  • I’d love to see an estimate as to how much property damage these fools caused. It’s got to be an astronomical number.
  • This franchise is determined to keep shortening the name of its movies; by the next film, it might just be a number and drop any reference to Fast and or Furious altogether.
  • There are a lot of ridiculous things going on in this movie, but the whole “Letty has amnesia” angle may be the dumbest of the bunch.

Furious 7 could probably benefit from an editor – I’d say it ran about twenty minutes too long – and despite Vin Diesel’s proclamations, it will never win a Best Picture Oscar. But it is still a fun way to spend some time at the theater and as far as mindless entertainment goes, it is certainly a high performing popcorn movie. I honestly see no signs of this franchise slowing down – the film made ridiculous bank in its first two weekends – even with Walker’s death. I do think it is smart to reboot things a bit; the 8th movie is rumored to move east to NYC and they’ll obviously have to bring in some new faces to help round out the crew. This may be in completion with Fast & Furious 6 for my favorite of the bunch; I do enjoy myself some Jason Statham which almost makes up for the lack of The Rock. If you are a fan of the franchise or enjoy over-the-top action films, you’ll totally dig Furious 7. A fitting tribute to Paul Walker and a go for broke mentality on action and fight sequences put this film in the fast lane for springtime fun.

Furious 7 is currently in wide release.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – Hell Has Frozen Over Edition

Now, I don’t know for a fact that Hell has in fact frozen over, but I don’t see why it should be exempt from the deep cool that most of the United States has been plummeted into. This weather is ridiculous – part of western New York may get 80 inches of snow in the next few days. 80 inches! I didn’t even know that was possible! For someone who hates winter on a good year, I’m miserable beyond belief. I need to move.

I’m bouncing back from several weeks of computer issues – malware is no joke, my friends – so unfortunately this week’s pop culture roundup is not as thorough. There’s still plenty of good stuff in here to peruse when you are hibernating from these frigid temperatures. Kick back, grab some hot cocoa and catch up on what’s been going on in the world of pop:

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  • It was only a matter of time: Jordan Belfort (the inspiration for The Wolf of Wall Street) is shopping a reality show.
  • Freed up from his commitments on Community, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) is going out on tour.
  • Marvel has released the first still for Guardians of the Galaxy:

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  • How many times would The Wet Bandits die if Home Alone was real?

 

  • Forbes released their list of 30 Under 30 for arts and entertainment.
  • MythBusters is getting a spinoff, perhaps as a result of all the posts I’ve written about the show recently.
  • An A to Z guide to Abed’s pop culture references on Community.
  • A Girls parody involving cats? Sounds good to me:

 

  • Steven Seagal and Clay Aiken are both considering running for office (Arizona governor and Congress, respectively).
  • A recent Jeopardy! category forced Alex Trebek to rap:

Seriously – those were the easiest questions ever!

  • Ringo Starr and…the Powerpuff Girls?

 

Trailer Time:

  • This new Sundance Channel series Red Road looks promising:

 

  • The first promos for the late night changing of the guard at NBC have been released. First up, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon:

Too much Leno for me and I’m surprised Conan got any screen time at all.

  • Next up – Late Night with Seth Meyers:

 

  • A new promo for FOX’s The Following:

 

  • A new trailer for the second season of House of Cards:

 

  • A trailer for the Veronica Mars movie:

 

  • This documentary about Tom’s Restaruant in NYC, made famous by Seinfeld, looks interesting:

 

  • New footage from Spiderman 2:

 

  • The Raid 2:

 

  • Falling Downton Abbey:

 

  • Will Smith, Tyrese and the Crown Prince of Dubai all went skydiving. That sounds like the set-up to a joke, but it really happened.

And, as always, we end with the supercuts and mashups:

  • A tribute to dancing in movies (set to The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” for extra awesomeness):

 

  • A supercut of Norm MacDonald being a terrible salesman:

 

  • A supercut of TV commercials of actors and actresses before they were famous:

 

  • A Psy/Lincoln Park mashup:

 

  • Leonardo DiCaprio: The Movie:

 

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  • And finally – two of my absolute favorite things: The Breaking Bad opening credits done in the style of The Wire:

 

Stay warm, people!

The Future of the Fast & Furious Franchise

It was just over a week ago that the unexpected news was announced: actor Paul Walker was dead at the age of 40. At first when I saw the news on Twitter I thought it was a mistake or a “death hoax.” TMZ was the only outlet reporting the news and while they are actually pretty accurate for the tabloid journalism genre, they are far from infallible.  They had erroneously reported that rapper Lil Wayne was on his deathbed and receiving the last rites, when the situation was not nearly so dire. So I dismissed the story until it was confirmed by at least two “legitimate” new outlets that weren’t only citing TMZ as their source. Only then was it real.

Now, I admittedly was not a huge Paul Walker fan; he was nice to look at and seemed like a pretty amiable guy, but I didn’t necessarily think that he was that great of an actor. He had, however, found a movie franchise that totally played to his strengths in the Fast and the Furious movies. Those movies don’t require Oscar worthy performances or a lot of emotional depth; they are simply full of action and stunts and are based on adrenalin. They were pure popcorn movies and escapism; you go to see one of the Fast and the Furious movies because you like cars or you like the action. I’m a very recent convert to the franchise; while the early films are pretty dreadful – do not even mention Tokyo Drift in my presence – I think they finally figured out the right formula in the later movies that made them work. The films became less about the cars per se and more about the stunts and the pseudo family that was created by the rapidly increasing cast. I saw Fast & Furious 6 in the theaters and walked out of the film entertained and for the first time kind of looking forward to the release of the next installment. Even I like a mindlessly fun movie every once in a while.

Walker’s unexpected death raises some questions for what Fast & Furious 7 is going to look like. Though the films are ensemble in nature, Walker and Vin Diesel have always been the de facto stars of the franchise; they have been in the films the longest and the relationship between Dom and Brian is really at the heart of the films. Though they had started filming the newest installment, a lot of scenes involving Walker had yet to be shot. The studio has vowed that the movie will be released despite his untimely passing, but production was temporarily shut down while the cast and crew mourned the death of their friend and colleague and story lines are re-written to reflect the changing circumstances.

It is not at all surprising that the film will be released; while it could serve as a nice tribute to Walker’s life and give fans a chance to see him in one last performance, it would be naïve to not admit that this was also a business decision. The Fast & Furious movies make a TON of money and there was no way that Universal was going to walk away from that kind of stew unless they absolutely had to. That might sound crass, but that’s business; the 7th installment will probably gross even more money because it is Walker’s last film and there is built in curiosity as to how the studio will address real life events. When a singer dies, their records suddenly appear back on the charts as the artist is back on everyone’s radar; there is no reason to believe that the same boost will come to Fast & Furious 7 whenever it is released.

I had already planned to see the newest film, but I will be very curious to see how the powers that be decide to handle Walker’s death. There was already one death planned for Fast & Furious 7 – that was pre-ordained in Tokyo Drift – but I’m curious if they will decide to kill off Walker’s character as well. On the one hand that seems like the easiest solution to wrap up that character, but on the other hand I’m not sure if that is the best way to handle the situation. I guess it would depend on how they decided to kill the character, assuming that they choose that route; it can’t parallel real events too closely or it will be perceived by some as in poor taste. They could alternatively have the character of Brian decide that he wants to “leave the life” and spend time with his wife and child, but depending on what footage is already filmed that may not seem like the most organic choice. It may feel too shoehorned in.

Unfortunately, Fast & Furious 7 isn’t the first film that has had to deal with handling the real life death of a star. One of the most famous examples of a film having to react to the death of its star was The Crow, when actor Brandon Lee was killed during an on-set accident while filming. There is no textbook way of approaching the situation; the circumstances of the death and how far they are in production has a large bearing on the resolution. With The Crow, most of the film was completed at the time of his death and because the film was so dark and Lee was in makeup they could use a stand in to film any necessary scenes. I think that the Walker death is even more problematic in some regards because of how he died; because he was in a car accident that so closely parallels the scenes that are in the Fast & Furious movies, there is a heavier burden on the writers and director. While in the past the crazy car chases and stunts have always seemed a little cartoonish and over the top, it is going to be hard to watch them now and not think of the real life consequences. Walker’s death would have been tragic regardless, but the fact that he was killed in a way where life imitates art makes this a trickier situation to resolve. For me, the films that were always about fun and escapism just became a little more somber.

I’m not sure what the future of the Fast & Furious franchise will be beyond the 7th movie; the large ensemble cast gives them a lot of options for continuing the story and the Walker didn’t appear in all of the films of the franchise. They could shift the focus to Diesel’s relationship with The Rock, which would seem like the most logical route to take. The addition of Jason Statham to the cast also raises some possibilities. A lot will depend on if the actors are under contract and their willingness to continue with the franchise. Audience reaction will play a part as well; if they have difficulty separating the films from Walker’s death, the films may cease to be as successful as they once were. And of course, how Walker’s death is handled in the 7th film will have some bearing as well; I would hope that they wouldn’t do anything tasteless or upsetting, but until we see the finished product you just don’t know how people will react.

In theory, the franchise could continue without Walker and financial interests may outweigh everything else. Right now his death is fresh in everyone’s mind, but by the time the 7th film comes out emotions may have cooled and opinions may change on the right course of action to take. A lot is riding on this next film and how it is received. Time heals all wounds and people may want to see more of these movies as a tribute to Walker’s legacy. It’s really too early to tell, but right now I’m glad that there is some distance between his death and the next film. R.I.P., Paul Walker.

 

How do you think the Fast & Furious movies should handle Walker’s death? Should the franchise go on beyond the 7th film? Share your thoughts in the comments below.