The UnPopular Opinion: Furious 7
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
As much as I was sad to learn of the death of Heath Ledger, I know a great deal of the box office success of THE DARK KNIGHT came from morbid curiosity. Fans wanted to know what the actor's final performance would yield and they were not disappointed. Ledger turned in a peformance that deserves to be ranked amongst the best in the history of film and earned his posthumous Academy Award for it. In regards to FURIOUS 7, the latest installment in a series with a massive fan-base around the globe, a lot of the box office was padded by those wanting to bid farewell to the late Paul Walker. Not to speak ill of the deceased, but Paul Walker was no Heath Ledger and FURIOUS 7 is sure as hell no THE DARK KNIGHT. Ultimately, FURIOUS 7 is a mediocre action film full of nonsensical plot elements that exist just to top the insane stunts of the previous films in the franchise.
Let me be clear that I am not a car guy. I am a movie guy. But, I can still get into a well made movie featuring car chases and stunts. Hell, I enjoyed the heck out of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS even though the stuntwork was nowhere to the level it reached in the second half of the franchise. In all honesty, it was not until Justin Lin came on board and had a film under his belt that things turned around. I would make a case that the franchise peaked with the fifth film and it has been downhill from there. The recent announcement that there will be a ninth and tenth film to wrap un the saga guarantees an end to the long running story of Dominic Toretto and his crew, but there have really only been two worthwhile films in the entire series and FURIOUS 7 is not one of them. In fact, FURIOUS 7 may be the worst film in the series since 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS and if it were not for the obscene box office returns, we really should have bid farewell to this story.
After TOKYO DRIFT took the film in a different direction, Justin Lin brought a different vibe when the original cast reunited for the fourth film. With FAST FIVE, the entire focus of the series shifted completely away from the world of racing to the world of high stakes heists. FAST FIVE was the very definition of a roller coaster ride and put the established cast of characters into a worthy story. The script was still not quite there, but fans responded. FAST AND FURIOUS 6 brought the approach of taking everything from the fifth film and adding an extra set of balls to pump up the testosterone. The result? Bigger box office but the same tired dialogue and cliche character development. With FURIOUS 7, the series has made yet another shift and is now a mash-up of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and THE EXPENDABLES. The producers decided to toss in Ronda Rousey, Tony Jaa and Jason Statham to capitalize on their marquee names while taking the stunts beyond a tank and an airplane and a car in mid-air. What else did they do? Not much.
FURIOUS 7 has to be the poorest scripted action film that I have seen in a long time. The dialogue is stilted and peppered with one liners. James Wan, who had never helmed an action film of this scope before, seems out of his element with the choreography and editing of this film. Under the direction of Justin Lin, the previous four films at least had a consistent look and feel to them. Wan's mediocre direction prevents FURIOUS 7 from overcoming the weaknesses of the script. In fact, despite having the biggest budget of any film in the franchise, FURIOUS 7 feels the most fake and least gritty in the series. If the prior films had anything to their credit, it was the use of cars in elaborate stunts. This film relies so heavily on CGI that it undermines the rush that came with seeing realistically executed crashes and races.
What has allowed the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series to top itself with each new film is the fact that the films have focused on one or two set-piece stunts that take your breath away and rely on intricately crafted stories to do the rest. FURIOUS 7 never slows down enough for the viewer to engage with the characters or care about their predicament before throwing us headfirst into another dangerous scenario. The actions of the characters are stupid and lazy and it becomes tedious to root for them when they do things that defy all logic or reason. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but Dwayne Johnson smashing his cast and saying it is time to go to work is just dumb. I am not beholden to these films obliging the laws of physics but it would be nice if the characters were fleshed out even the tiniest bit. The reliance of this film weighs so heavily on sending Paul Walker off in a respectful fashion that not a single other castmember is given any sort of arc. They exist just to say goodbye to Walker. This makes me wonder what the hell the movie would have looked like if Paul Walker had not died mid-production. The prospects are not so good.
While I laud the passion that Vin Diesel and his fellow castmates have for this franchise, they look like they really don't care anymore about whether the movie is a good one or not. I could say that maybe they are just cashing checks because Universal continues to be willing to write them, but there seems to be a bit more effort than that. The filmmakers are trying here but they aren't trying hard enough. With each subsequent film, this series is proving more and more that FAST FIVE was a fluke and not a resurgence for the saga,
Films like FURIOUS 7 are ultimately critic-proof, like the TWILIGHT or Harry Potter franchises. The fan-bases for those series are all so dedicated to the films that they will make them profitable regardless of who is in the cast. Case in point, Vin Diesel has struggled to be as profitable a star outside of the FAST AND FURIOUS films as did Paul Walker and the majority of the cast. Dwayne Johnson is the only star in these films that has been able to turn a profit on his own, so that should tell you something about whether people are seeing these movies for quality or nostalgia. When the eighth film debuts next year, I am sure it will go on to break new box office records and please fans of the first seven movies, but if the goal is to simply top the films that came before it, we are all going to have to lower our expectations for it to be anything more than a bunch of explosions.
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