The box office success of the Fast and Furious franchise, which began 15 years ago and is now on its seventh installation, is undoubtedly mammoth.
Successful as it may be, the consistent deterioration of character and plot has been evident over the past 6 installments. As Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his posse return to cinema screens in Furious 7, with it, the franchise moves even further away from its roots.
The first film, The Fast and the Furious, was essentially a film about racing-buff and car aficionado Toretto, his crew Jesse (Chad Lindberg), Leon (Johnny Strong), Vince (Matt Schulze) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) and undercover cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), characters that were bonded together by their love for cars and street racing.
To them, street racing was a form of escapism from their troubled lives as they tried to balance their lust for crime with the values of family and friendship.
The flawed and broken relationships between these characters, in contrast to the high-adrenaline action of car chases, is what enthralled cinema goers and made the franchise the worldwide sensation that it is.
Of course, fans have another reason for watching Furious 7 — this is the last film Paul Walker shot before his tragic and untimely death in 2013. Walker had mostly finished shooting Furious 7 when he died in a fiery car crash, in a haunting and ironic similarity to his work in Fast and Furious. Whatever few scenes remained were flesh out by his brother and by animations.
Furious 7 was slated to include a tribute or some sort of ode to the late actor, which is another reason people have been eager to watch it.
The movie picks up where Fast and Furious 6 left off: after defeating villain Owen Shaw's gang, Toretto and O'Conner, along with their crew return to the United States in hopes of leading a normal life. However things take a turn for the ugly when Owen Shaw's brother Ian (Jason Statham) comes looking for them as he seeks revenge for the death of his sibling.
With the opening sequence of the movie, we see Shaw miraculously penetrate the headquarters of an advanced security force and proceed to single-handedly destroy the entire building unopposed.
Furious 7 features a handful of high-octane car chases that are aptly described by a news headline in the movie as "vehicular warfare”. Out of touch with reality, the film takes place in a world where law enforcement agencies, the military and the police do not exist.
As the characters go about destroying Los Angeles, Abu Dhabi and London using stealth helicopters and predator drones, they are never disturbed by any security forces that may want to stop them from killing countless civilians.
The thrills: Furious 7 features car chases galore but not much substance
That being said, the action sequences will provide plenty of entertainment value and thrills to fans, who have come to expect mindless action, sexy super cars and women in bikinis from the Fast and Furious franchise.
The film itself does not doubt its strengths, as evident from its unashamed trailer, which shows glimpses of all the main action sequences, serving as a tactic that makes people constantly guess when the next big car chase will be.
Director James Wan has also brought his trademark camera work to the table, making it an additional character of sorts, during the action scenes.
However, the film's score and editing are below par and once again suggest that the entire budget of the film was used to film the action and perform extravagant stunts.
The editing during the action sequences is in parts so fast and confusing that it is difficult to determine what exactly is going on.
Being a fan of the original film in the series, I was disappointed to see that Furious 7 follows the same formula that the studio has relied on since the third installation.
The franchise is now purely driven by gargantuan budgets and the aim to turn a profit. Wan, who has made a name for himself in the horror genre, with films like Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring, himself cited the big budget of Furious 7 as one of the main reasons he chose to do the film.
To me, it seems that the entire budget of the film was used for three or four action sequences, with the minimum amount set aside for the screenplay, cinematography and editing.
'Family values' don't get much credit amidst the action
Speaking about the script, Wan also admitted that the movie was constructed around pre-decided action scenes, like cars falling out of an airplane, saying “at that point, there wasn’t quite a script yet; there was just a sort of loose outline. And they said to me, we’re still trying to connect all the dots, but we know we want a sequence where a car falls out of the sky”.
This quote pretty much perfectly embodies everything that is wrong with the movie.
Even though the makers have stressed upon the importance of core family values to the story of the film, Furious 7 does nothing to develop these values further. The dialogue serves only as filler between the car chases and well-coordinated stunts, which provide the only source of entertainment in the film.
How does the film deal with Paul Walker's death?
My biggest criticism of the film, however, is that while tributes for its late star Paul Walker have been pouring in from all corners, Furious 7 itself may be the worst tribute of the lot.
Throughout the movie I was reminded about how it has no grasp on reality whatsoever; the film takes place in a realm where it seems impossible for anyone to die from a car crash, as characters climb out of car wrecks unscathed.
One such scene involves a full speed head-on collision between two cars, which are completely destroyed but both drivers climb out of their cars without a scratch. I have to ask: isn't this a totally irresponsible depiction given that Paul Walker was killed in a car crash?
The Inclusion of Kurt Russell as one of the antagonists kept reminding me of the contrast between Furious 7 and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, which also starred Russell. In Tarantino’s version, the aftermath of a head-on collision between two cars leads to 3 gruesome deaths and one critically injured character.
It is tragically ironic that Paul Walker passed away in a car crash but Furious 7 creates an irresponsible world where any important character is immortal in a car crash, regardless of whether a car falls out of the sky or off a mountain.
A simple text warning at the end of the movie reminding the audience to not try such stunts at home is too little too late.
An additional scene was specially added by the studio to pay homage to Paul Walker after his untimely death and famously used cutting edge Digital 3D technology to recreate the actor, using his brother as a body double.
While the tribute at the end of Furious 7 will hit an emotional note for many viewers, as it looks back on Paul Walker’s character, for me it was in bad taste considering the recklessness of the film that preceded it.
Furious 7 is a prime example of how budgets and revenue are driving the creative process behind some of the biggest titles to come out of Hollywood, with a complete disregard for the artistic and creative processes that are vital to the art of cinema.