Film Review: FURIOUS 7
Starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Lucas Black, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou
Directed by James Wan
Produced by Neal Moritz, Vin Diesel
Screenplay by Chris Morgan
Based on characters by Gary Scott Thompson
Visual Effects: Weta Digital, Rodeo FX, Digital Domain, Scanline VFX, Outback Post
Interestingly, several real-life backstories in association with Universal’s disappointing, embarrassing, lunkheaded, clichéd, stereotyped, overblown, overdone, over-expensive—and, on a very real level, dumb—costly blunder “Furious 7” are far more compelling, dramatic and fascinating than anything in the just-barely average action-adventure film that startlingly fails on just about every filmic level.
Tragically, of course, “Fast and Furious” franchise star Paul Walker (“Furious 7” is the seventh film in the “Fast and Furious” series) died in a real-life car crash during a Thanksgiving 2013 break from filming, throwing the entire big-budget production into turmoil. After a period of mourning and introspection, director James Wan, producers Vin Diesel and Neal Moritz, Universal and the cast and crew ultimately decided to carry on—in honor of Walker, and in honor of the wholly dedicated fans of this series, who have somehow kept this franchise going for seven films during fourteen years. They found various ways to continue the film and story while still using Walker and Walker’s character, utilizing high-tech digital technology, Walker’s real-life brothers, stand-ins, revolutionary and state-of-the-art scanning techniques that use images of the actors from past footage that are incorporated into the film along with new footage, and other high-tech digital, computer and visual effect techniques.
That is the biggest backstory associated with “Furious 7,” and the most tragic and emotional, of course. The filmmakers are to be commended for carrying on, and for utilizing Walker and Walker’s character in an honorable, respectable manner, and for a genuinely sweet, emotional, sentimental and tearjerker conclusion and dedication to Walker in the film. That’s not giving anything away, by the way—fans and the film-going public already know that Walker is in the film, and that the film is dedicated to him—Wan and Diesel and others have long confirmed this, and they talked about it in advance of the film’s release. In fact, the use of Walker, the ending and the dedication are probably the kindest things to mention about the film—and just about the only kind things to say about the film.
Because most of the rest of “Furious 7,” alas, is just embarrassingly mind-numbing in its dumbness, loudness, obnoxiousness, crassness and rawness—and not a good rawness, but an irritating and grating rawness that is not entertaining or pleasant to watch. The film also suffers from clichés, stereotyping, lack of originality from start to finish, and an amazingly crazy reliance on nearly deafening, conscious-obliterating—and non-clever, non-smart and unoriginal–explosions, fights, gun battles, helicopter battles, car chases, car crashes and moronic pseudo-macho posturing, fighting, arguing and insulting. All of this just simply collapses in a heap and ends up swallowing the film due to its sameness, blandness and, again, loudness and dumbness.
And all of that huge, steaming disappointment leads to the next interesting real-life backstory: The unfortunate predicament that talented horror and supernatural and previously-low-budget director James Wan found himself in once he signed on as director. You have to sort of feel sorry for Wan and a thousand other talented directors before him who sadly, terribly end up in these situations—suddenly, you’re hot, and wanted, and everyone fights to hire you, and big studios wave big money at you, from big executives, to sign up and direct big, bloated—and somewhat dumb—popcorn blockbusters or potential blockbusters, and what’s a young, talented film director to do? Say no? If you are a purebred, dedicated, ambitious and energetic film fan and still-young director like Wan—who has said in interviews that he loves all genres and wants to direct in all genres—then, sometimes, you take advantage of that big opportunity, and you sign on for something like, say, “Furious 7.” You have all the money and toys and glamorous locations (“Furious 7” included shoots in Los Angeles, Colorado, Tokyo and Abu Dhabi) and some of the biggest current action stars all lined up—and that is indeed a sweet filmmaking temptation that is difficult to pass up. And the money is big, too, for a young director.
Wan, 38, straight off a successful nine years of directing, producing and writing low-budget horror and supernatural films—including the excellent first-in-the-series “Saw,” from 2004—and “Death Sentence” (2007), “Insidious” (2010) and “The Conjuring” (2013)—indeed signed on for “Furious 7,” apparently drawn by the chance to direct a big-budget action-adventure thriller, and lured by the chance to break out from his low-budget horror and supernatural films to some exciting upper-tier of big-budget Hollywood direction and production. Again, that all seems tempting and promising and exciting when you’re a young director. However, the depressing downside is that all the money in the world, all the biggest stars in the world, all of the literally best and most state-of-the-art digital and visual and special effects, and all of the biggest budgets, staffs, crews and gadgets and gizmos simply do not always, or mostly, buy you a quality, above-average film. In the case of “Furious 7,” despite all of the biggest this-and-that and despite Wan’s considerable, acknowledged talent as a filmmaker, “Furious 7” falls disappointingly flat and ends up being simply a big average film.
On some levels, it may not even be fair to fully blame Wan, who does his best with, admittedly, some inventive, occasion original camera work, rolling the camera over, above, under, around, upside down and up and down often; and who utilizes a quick, breathless pace; includes constant action scenes; presents a lavish—yet ultimately overdone—production design; has a horde of top-level action actors who are indeed buff and energized and fill up the screen with macho presence; and, again, has that visual, digital and special effects budget that likely was half the cost of the estimated $250 million budget. And yes, you read that number right. Wan was likely facing pressure from crazed Universal studio suits who were desperate for a hit and, it appears, willing to do anything to get back in the black.
Sometimes, it’s not solely the director’s fault when a film implodes as crazily and goofily as “Furious 7.” In this film’s case, a big part of the blame does have to rest with maniac producers Neal Moritz and Vin Diesel and apparently writing-blocked screenwriter Chris Morgan. The film is so over-done, over-produced, so dependent on clichéd, unoriginal and numbing explosions, car chases, fights and gunfights, and the screenplay is so severely lacking in depth, intelligence, originality and cleverness—even for a popcorn action-adventure film—it’s clear that the producers and screenwriter failed more than their talented director. “Furious 7” could have had its budget sliced in half, could have been better-written, could have had fewer sets, scenes, chases, explosions—and characters, even—and could easily have been tightened up, trimmed, and edited into a much-smaller, tighter, better-paced, better-timed and more streamlined—and smarter—action-adventure film.
But someone or some folks in the conference suites agreed to spend an outrageous amount of money—that much-talked-about $250 millio. And their wayward over-spending simply resulted in a movie that is so overdone and bloated, the movies loses itself amid the special effects and action sequences. Although there is an attempt at a deeper meaning with some talk about the importance of family and kids and the importance of a normal, domestic life, the attempts at this message, in the context of the entire rest of the film, come off as desperate, strained, stretched and reaching. There is no real, meaningful dialogue, conversations, analysis, discussions on a real, deep level. The dialogue and talk are all surface, all simplistic, and all overly stated, making everything so obvious and unoriginal.
An additional real-life back story is the use of technology in “Furious 7.” According to several news reports, possibly some groundbreaking digital, visual and special effects were used not only to bring Walker and his character to good use throughout the film, but also in some other huge action sequences. In one scene—again, not giving anything away since it’s been all over the media for some time now—a military plane flies over a designated drop zone, and a group of cars—with the lead characters inside of them—are literally dropped out of the plane, and are sent hurling through the skies to the ground below. In another sequence—again, already spotlighted everywhere before the release of the film—Diesel’s character drives an insanely expensive and rare sports car out of the upper floors of an Abu Dhabi tower through the air to another tower—and then does the same thing a second time, ending up in a third tower.
Admittedly, these two sequences—which will be talked about—are breathtaking, exhilarating and mind-blowing to watch, especially in state-of-the-art IMAX theaters (thankfully, “Furious 7” is not a 3D film). That’s true—they are impressive scenes. And these scenes, and others in “Furious 7,” were accomplished due to the work of literally hundreds of talented, hard-working digital and visual effects artists, working for at least five special effects companies, including Peter Jackson’s now-industry-leading Weta Digital. And that work takes months and months of extremely detailed, technical and studious labor, often accomplished away from the glamour of a working set and instead performed in offices and labs and work stations far from the set. All of that difficult, detailed and talented high-technology, state-of-the-art work in “Furious 7” is to be commended and applauded.
The problem is, two big scenes and scores of digital effects do not make a quality film. Alas, in “Furious 7,” as the film plods on, the viewer realizes that, perhaps, there’s just too many digital, visual and special effects, and the film drowns amid its own digital excesses. There are too many explosions, car chases, gunshots, helicopter chases, fist fights and squealing wheels and dust and dirt and grime and blood—and digitally-enhanced everything. When too many films like “Furious 7” have too many digital effects in too many scenes, the films end up losing the ability to provoke awe and wonder—and instead, they just invoke a boredom and numbness to it all. And that is exactly what happens in “Furious 7.”
The story—well, there’s not too much of a story, thanks to Morgan’s tired, cliched tale. The core group of rogues and rebels from previous “Fast and Furious” films—Dominic Toretto (Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty Ortiz (the beautiful Michelle Rodriguez), Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris Bridges)—are drawn together to fight off a seemingly super-human, indestructible, possibly supernaturally-gifted rogue agent, Deckard Shaw, who is clearly psycho and is bent on revenge to avenge the death of his brother. Shaw is ably played by a fit, focused Jason Statham, who is always fascinating to watch, even in lesser film roles. Meanwhile, Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou play villains who are hell-bent on hijacking and hacking a revolutionary Big Brother device that grants villains, rogues, rebels, terrorists and assassins instant upper hands in battles against military, rebel and intelligence agencies, agents and operatives. Toretto, the leader of the good guy crew, has to lead his team to rescue a team member, maintain control of the hacking device, and keep everyone alive and safe from Shaw’s relentless pursuits, deceptions, booby-traps and elaborate cat-and-mouse games. Throw in good ol’ Snake Plissken, Kurt Russell, as a sympathetic, nice-guy government official who actually likes, and helps, Toretto’s crew, for good, nostalgic measure. Russell actually plays a character named Frank Petty; Plissken was a Russell character from Russell’s previous ‘80s days as an action hero.
To their credit, Diesel (47), Johnson (42), Statham (47) and Russell (64) fill the screen with vitality, energy, presence and exhilaration. They are fit, buff, toned, and they handle their action sequences ably and energetically. Jaa and Hounsou handle their actions sequences ably, also. However, they are all done in by the same problem as the rest of the film—too much of everything. Diesel drives a car off a cliff not once, but twice. And then, there’s that car-flying-through-the-towers thing, too. Johnson, who is really only in the film for a few minutes at the beginning and the end, doesn’t really end up doing much—and he has to walk down a street firing an over-sized machine gun at a helicopter that’s firing down at him. Statham’s given feats are so overdone, and occur so often it’s almost laughable. It’s not Stathams’ fault, either—Statham is always an exciting, riveting presence. Like everyone else, he’s simply given too much to do, too many times. Russell’s character probably comes across best—he’s given a certain classy and stylish poise, dignity and authority that, oddly, the other characters seem to lack. But, again, all of the hard work by all of the actors ends up getting swallowed up by the constant over-production.
The final backstory regarding “Furious 7” is that seven of these movies actually managed to get made. But in a world where the “Halloween,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Friday the 13th,” “Taken” and “Twilight” films stretched into absurd sequels and remakes and re-imaginings, and in a world of endless “Spider-Man,” “Batman,” “Superman,” “Avengers” and “X-Men” sequels, prequels, remakes and re-imaginings, and in a world where Wan’s and filmmaking partner Leigh Whannell’s own “Saw” creation stretched into a crazily unneeded series of sequels, no one should be surprised at Hollywood’s ridiculousness anymore with unoriginal releases. Why, just this year, 2015, there is a new “Mad Max” movie and a new “Terminator” film set to be released—within the next few months. And a new “Avengers” movie. And a “Batman Vs. Superman” hybrid thing is in production.
There’s even plans for an eighth “Fast and Furious” film. Let’s hope it’s nothing like “Furious 7.” That, of course, won’t happen—it will likely be exactly like the previous seven “Fast and Furious” films. Many sighs. These thoughts are enough to make one drive a car off a cliff—or out of a plane.