Furious 7 represents the dawn of a new age in the action movie genre, and one in which I have no interest. At an interminable two hours and seventeen minutes, there are no human stakes to be found in this film, just set piece after set piece of supposed humans bludgeoning each other after performing feats that would make Sir Isaac Newton spin in his grave like a top. I blame comic book superhero movies.
Furious 7 is the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Dominic Toretto and Co. Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) started the franchise on opposite sides of the law, O’Conner’s cop to Toretto’s robber. Over the course of the series they have become a team, assembling a rogue’s gallery of criminal experts who help pull off their increasingly impossible missions. There’s Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Toretto’s girlfriend with a case of amnesia that creates friction in their relationship. The group requires two comic reliefs in Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), a con man and a computer expert, respectively, and they do offer up the series’ best laughs. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is the most recent addition, and was originally a federal agent tasked with tracking Toretto and his team down, but now helps them out when he can.
The beginning of the film finds O’Conner chafing a bit at his current life of domesticity as a new father. His wife, Mia (Jordana Brewster), is Toretto’s sister, and she knows O’Conner misses the excitement of his old life, and tells Toretto as much. As you can imagine, events soon transpire that throw all of them back into action. It seems Owen Shaw, the British Special Forces soldier our heroes took down in Fast & Furious 6, has a brother (Jason Statham) who wants revenge on the people that left Owen in a coma.
Meanwhile, a computer hacker named Ramsey (Game of Thrones' Nathalie Emmanuel) has designed surveillance software called God’s Eye that would make Morgan Freeman break down in hysterics, and is sought by the U.S. government. The special ops team in charge of recovering Ramsey and the software is lead by a shadowy agent who refers to himself as Mr. Nobody (the woefully underused Kurt Russell). The government isn’t the only group interested in God’s Eye, though, as a mercenary named Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) also wants the software. Mr. Nobody strikes a deal with Toretto to help him catch Shaw if he will secure God’s Eye and Ramsey.
All this sounds like pretty exciting stuff, and in more skilled hands, it might have been. I never for one second held my breath for the result of any particular chain of events. Every action sequence is a cacophony of noise with a less believable outcome than the last. This is where superhero movies come into play. These fairly new genre films (the main offender being Marvel) have amped up the action so much that the only thing that will suffice is to literally have gods smashing each other over the head with whole cars in order to move the needle of the audience. I was excited by the opening sequence to the 2006 Bond film Casino Royale. It was something I’d never seen before in a Bond movie, and the whole time I just kept asking myself, “Are these two guys superheroes?!?”
We have now reached the natural outcome of that phenomenon, and it’s disheartening. In Furious 7, through all the unimaginable fight scenes, one character’s body took punishment that was halfway believable and he got laid up in the hospital with his arm in a cast. I held onto that one quantum of reality as a way to believe I should care about anyone on the screen. But then that character gets back in the action by breaking off his own cast in order to rejoin the fight. I know it’s “just a movie” but I need to imagine at least some of the peril my heroes face means something in order to buy in on an emotional and intellectual level. It’s obvious the filmmakers want me to care, what with all the dramatic talk of family ties and the way they handle death in the series. Furious 7 makes the brilliant satire of The Last Action Hero and “it’s just a flesh wound” superficiality all the more relevant now than it was even in 1993. I’m left wishing for John McClane’s bloodied feet. At least in the first Die Hard, there are real human stakes. Unfortunately, that series has also gotten more outlandish with each new installment.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the unrestrained sexism on display. I’d love to believe our popular culture views women as more than cuts of meat to be fetishized by a leering camera. The objectified shots of women’s legs, asses, and breasts present here let me know otherwise. Don’t bother arguing that Vin Diesel’s and Dwayne Johnson’s physiques are just as objectified, because the images I’m referring to are of nameless women who don’t advance the story in any meaningful way. Diesel and Johnson have never been the focuses of what amount to upskirt shots designed to make audiences with the mentality of teenage boys go wild.
The filmmakers did get a few things right, and some of the action in Furious 7 is inventive as hell. There are genuinely fun moments like the crew parachuting into a hot zone with their vehicles and another car crashing through the upper stories of two skyscrapers.
Vin Diesel sees this franchise in terms of three distinct trilogies. The first three films are straightforward car racing movies. The second three are heist movies. The final movement – assuming sequels 8 and 9 get made, and, judging by the gigantic box office haul of Furious 7’s opening weekend, that’s not hard to imagine – he envisions as James Bond-like espionage films. Hopefully the next time around Diesel and Co. can offer up something a little more engaging that will make me give a damn about what’s happening on screen.