Sunday, September 20, 2015

Furious 7

  I feel the Fast & Furious movies are secretly the live action Hot Wheels movies we never knew we always wanted. Just had to get that out of the way. Seriously though, few movies as stupid as the original The Fast and The Furious have ever given way to such a wildly successful franchise. And few franchises have ever made us care about characters that while now seem human, used to be little more than glorified action figures. And all this from the same franchise that feels more like "Michael Bay's: Hot Wheels" than anything. But what once spawned from a bad Point Break rip-off/remake has being going strong as each subsequent entry (from Fast & Furious on) has been one-upping it's predecessor in terms of sheer well-crafted spectacle, creativity... and even heart.

  What's so great about this is that Paul Walker's Brian O'Connor has gone from a lame Johnny Utah rip-off, to an inspired take on the same character. The same comparison can be made between Diesel's Toretto and Swayze's Bohdi. Toretto and O'Connor can go down in history alongside famous onscreen duos like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid because of their chemistry. The movies around them, even at their finest aren't 'great' movies. They're pure popcorn entertainment that play fast and loose with things like logic and the laws of physics.

  Yet that's not an insult. From Fast Five to this one, (and to a lesser extent even the fourth movie, Fast & Furious) they've proven their worth as slick, finely tuned, well oiled, excitement machines. Lesser movies would buckle under the weight of the ridiculousness on display in these flicks. Yet, these don't. They edge out above obvious criticism with gusto and style, lots of style. Characters survive insane stunts that would eviscerate a normal human body, and one half of you is saying 'Yeah right, come on...' but this is the same franchise which has had no qualms about killing off popular characters, and with the very real death of Paul Walker now hanging over the movies... there's another part of you very willing to suspend disbelief and engage the movie on it's own terms.

  Any other movie(s) simply could not pull this balancing act off the way these do, if they could at all. The craziness, and the courageousness of the action scenes and the stunts quickly have you wondering if this world is populated by super-humans, who can all conveniently hold their own in full on martial arts fights like Jason Bourne or IP Man. Every half hour another key character comes inches away from being little more than a bright red streak of blood and guts on the road. Yet, they won't. We hope. The movie(s) are willing to push the right buttons just enough so that the danger is real enough, which means in turn we have characters we're more ready to accept as just... human.

  This also allows us to not just care, but relate. Furious 7 goes through the rounds of re-introducing all the main players and tricks us with a delightfully clever moment in which, no, Brian is not behind the steering wheel of a blazing fast sports car, ready to speed down the road... but instead behind the wheel of a minivan, dropping his young son off at school. These characters have a life when things aren't exploding and bullets aren't flying. The movie is smart enough to be aware of the fact that if those things didn't happen in a Fast & Furious movie... we probably wouldn't show up. The characters talk about being more at home in the chaos and the car chases than they are with domestic life.

  What we have on our hands here is a team of adrenaline junkies that will always get pulled back into the fray. Not because they're average people in the wrong place at the wrong time, like John McClane, but because they're a magnet to that kind of chaos, by nature. We don't tune in unless something insane is happening to them or with them. Other movies strain credibility by trying to gloss over how the same things can happen to the same characters so many times- but with these movies, the characters live for the kind of stuff that makes great summer blockbuster popcorn flicks.

   It's almost not worth mentioning the side characters or even the villains, because when all is said and done, they're interchangeable. Like parts on a car. There are always exceptions, like Hobbs (The Rock) and now Mr.Nobody (Kurt Russell). These characters are spiffy additions to the core cast that I hope keep returning for as many movies as they make. Anyway, while the villains and side-villains are interchangeable, the same can't be said about the main characters though. When one dies, it's a loss that's felt through subsequent movies- and despite a convoluted timeline, this franchise seems more dedicated to the emotional growth and development of their character than Marvel is.

   After all, who stays dead in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Nobody. Yet on top of fictional deaths like that of Han and Vince, the franchise now has the tremendously sad death of Paul Walker to contend with. This is a franchise that wouldn't dare recast him, instead they're more likely to introduce a new character to fill his shoes. A mourning brother maybe? One can only hope. I am ready to be blown away all over again by the next movie. Bring on Fast & Furious 8.

(Also it really says something about the progression of this franchise that I can write a whole review on the latest movie and not mention hardly anything about cars, but instead talk about the characters the whole time. Huh.)

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