Scott F. Evans
Furious 7 is cinematic Kool-Aid. The latest film in the juggernaut “Fast” franchise is far too sweet, and ultimately not very good for you. To paraphrase Shakespeare, it is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
To be clear, Furious 7 isn’t all bad. It’s a fireworks show: loud, bright, and empty. Fireworks shows are great because they enter, dazzle you, and exit well short of an hour. Furious 7 comes in loud and make no mistake… it does dazzle, but it overstays its welcome. With an almost two and a half hour run time, it’s easily 45 minutes too long. The bloat makes the film feel overeager, desperately trying to outdo its predecessors and compete with cinematic peers. It wants to be some bizarre hybrid mix of a superhero, espionage, and heist movie — but it ends up being a spectacular mess.
One thing it does nail is spectacle. Director James Wan has done primarily lower budgeted horror films prior, and Furious 7 feels like he lost the film amidst the obscene $250 million budget, studio demands, and star egos. The big action scenes are all well executed but Wan commits some structural missteps with placing. There’s a chase through the Caucasus Mountains about a quarter of the way through. It’s so effective that it should have been saved for the climax. But a lot of the action is repetitive and… well… dumb. Wan is a lot more adept at the larger sequences than he is with the smaller fight scenes. Most of the hand to hand bits are nearly ruined by his intrusive camerawork. Extreme tilts and hyper editing obscure what looks like some truly impressive choreography. And Wan is definitely in love with closeups of feet slamming into clutches and hands jamming gears…
In his defense, Wan is fighting against Chris Morgan’s atrocious script. The dialogue is awkward and feels almost perfunctory, like Morgan had no real investment in it and was just biding his time until the next overblown set piece. Even the puns are forgettable. In all fairness, some of the issues with the story could be attributed to the untimely death of series regular Paul Walker. There’s a lot of exposition and fumbling around, and that may be the result of trying to save the film after losing such an integral part of the cast.
That said, the acting is all over the place. Walker, as Brian O’Conner, has an easygoing charm that makes up for his limited range. The series other lead, Vin Diesel, as Dom Toretto, has apparently giving up any attempts at levity or depth. He just scowls, sulks and growls all of his lines in exact same flat cadence. The crime is, he’s in almost every scene. The rest of the cast are a mixed bag as well. Dwayne Johnson (returning as Luke Hobbs) takes none of this seriously and gleefully chews up his goofy tough guy dialogue. Michelle Rodriguez also returns as Letty Ortiz. She handles the action well (glowering with the best of them) but falters when called on to be vulnerable. Her character’s romantic relationship with Toretto strains credulity. Tyrese Gibson and Chris Bridges (as Roman and Tej respectively) do their best with the very limited amount of material they are given. You can actually feel Morgan struggling to make these characters matter. Kurt Russell makes his series debut as CIA spook Frank Petty, who serves as the team’s M (Bond) or Nick Fury (Avengers). Russell tries to give the character some spark, but Morgan’s weak dialogue fails him in every scene. Jason Statham appears as Deckard Shaw, an unstoppable ex SAS assassin. He’s a solid physical presence, but he’s reduced to being basically a Jason Voorhees/Michael Myers type slasher, unexplainably showing up to challenge the heroes when the script demands it. Rounding out the villains are the underused Tony Jaa and Djimon Honsou, and MMA superstar Ronda Rousey makes a cameo appearance to participate in a needless fight with Rodriguez.
Believe it or not, I didn’t hate Furious 7. It’s mostly dumb fun (even though Diesel would have you think otherwise). These films have always required a generous amount of suspension of disbelief to be enjoyed, but this installment really pushes that need to a breaking point. The need to constantly top itself has pushed an already outlandish series into cartoon land. Each stunt is progressively more ridiculous (yet no one really gets injured). Taken in smaller doses this would all be fine. But with an epic run time and nonsensical plot, you not only feel fatigued by the end but it begins to fade from memory nearly the moment you exit the theater.
Despite all this, I say…