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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Review & Ranking: FURIOUS 7

When I was younger, I dismissed The Fast and the Furious. Hell, I mocked it pretty relentlessly. It took years for me to come to appreciate the series' macho, lunkhead aesthetic, years to realize what the series was going for with each ridiculous new entry that I'd proudly skip (but still mock, of course). Basically, it took until Fast Five, when the series took a hard turn into the heist movie genre, that I was really sold on the movies, but even revisiting the earlier, dismissed films in the series, I find their earnestness and solid, character driven narratives refreshing. With Furious 7, the gang reunites for, like, a fourth 'one last job' after one of their own - Han (Sung Kang) - is killed by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), an international terrorist out for revenge after the team crippled his brother in Fast & Furious 6. There's a big, save-the-world plot, requisite in modern blockbusters, but the core drama here remains, as ever, personal.

Director James Wan (The Conjuring) is the only meaningful newcomer to the series. Diesel, Walker, Brewster, and others all reprise their roles - though the film hangs a little too heavily on Diesel for dramatic weight, and he doesn't even come close to pulling it off - while Kurt Russell, Ronda Rousey, Nathalie Emmanuel, Tony Jaa, and Djimon Hounsou all have relatively small roles they mostly make the most of. Wan, though, brings some big changes to the look of the film. Some work; during the frequent hand-to-hand fight scenes, Wan periodically 'locks' the camera onto a performer, tilting to follow them along whatever axis they're thrown in an aggressive, show-stopping manner. Others don't; Wan's camera spins obsessively during some conversations, and he really amps up the gratuitous, objectifying ass shots in the film's inferior opening half. Eventually, however, the movie relaxes and really gets into its globetrotting adventure. The stunts get crazier, the performances get bigger - Kurt Russell in particular is very clearly having a blast - and everything clicks. This is bigger and weirder than the typical Fast and Furious film, at times verging on a superhero flick, it's still recognizably a part of the series that came before, particularly during the sloppily touching final tribute late series star Paul Walker.

Furious 7 isn't the series' best film at all - it's going to take, I suspect, another reinvention entirely to tap the world-expanding shock of Fast Five. But it has some of the finest, biggest set pieces I've seen on the big screen in ages, and a willingness to dive deep into ridiculousness for the sake of a good time. Want to see The Rock throw down with Jason Statham? Michelle Rodriguez and MMA champ Ronda Rousey brawl in evening gowns? A series of cars dropped from an airplane onto a mountain road from thousands of feet above the ground? Furious 7 has a lot of problems, but it is a relentlessly entertaining film that takes its characters and their relationships seriously, another successful entry into what has become, much to my surprise, one of the essential modern American action franchises. It's still a ridiculous series with a macho, lunkhead aesthetic and absolutely no sense of restraint whatsoever, but what else can I say: It works. While the Expendables films are obsessed with blandly memorializing the past, Furious 7 is laughingly mining everything you loved about 80s action films and having a blast with each preposterous trope.

Now, my totally scientific ranking of every film in The Fast and the Furious franchise.

7. Fast & Furious
Dour, goofy, and overly-dependent on tacky, obvious CGI, the series' fourth entry is its weakest by a long shot. There are some pleasures here, particularly as Dom's car-themed superpowers begin to come alive, but overall, Fast & Furious just is not a terribly enjoyable movie.

6. 2 Fast 2 Furious
With Vin Diesel gone, they tried to build a light, enjoyable buddy comedy around Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson. It mostly worked, but the film is so slight that it hardly matters. Neither Diesel nor Walker are great actors, but his chemistry with Walker gives a surprisingly important weight to the series.

5. Fast & Furious 6
After briefly becoming a heist film in Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6 changed gears again, albeit less impressively, turning into a James Bond action thriller. 

4. Furious 7
It's a bit too similar to Fast & Furious 6 - both are globetrotting riffs on James Bond in a series that rarely repeats itself - but with superior set-pieces and an immensely touching conclusion that bids farewell to series star Paul Walker. This won't be a series highlight for anyone, but it's a step up from 6.

3. The Fast and the Furious
Is it basically just a Point Break remake with cars replacing extreme sports? Sure. But damn if they don't sell the hell out of it. There's nothing here you haven't seen before, but revisiting it now, the low-key charm still sells it.

2. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
This is a 'love-it-or-hate-it' movie, I admit; a number of lists place this one squarely at the bottom of the list. Fuck them, it's awesome.

1. Fast Five
Fast & Furious had some good ideas, but bad execution. With Fast Five, the series reinvented itself as Ocean's 11 meets The Avengers. It's every bit as fun as it sounds, as Fast Five brings a huge number supporting cast members from previous members back

Furious 7 came out in theaters everywhere on Friday, April 3rd. Written by Chris Morgan and directed by James Wan, Furious 7 stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, and Michelle Rodriguez.
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