Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Furious 7

What I Knew Going In / What I Was Expecting

I've absorbed plenty of pieces of the Fast and the Furious franchise over the last fifteen years without ever actually watching any of it besides the occasional trailer here or there.  The praise I sometimes hear strikes me like Bigfoot sightings. "A good Fast and the Furious movie?  Yeah, right, buddy.  I'll believe it when I see it."  Supposedly they exist, but I'm still under the impression that this is a crappy franchise.

It's especially strange for me because I know there's got to be kids out there who are currently growing up with the understanding that this is a great series - classic, even.  When the hell did that happen?

So I'm pretty much just really confused about the whole thing.  Is it a good series? A bad series? Is there a rule, like the even ones suck and the odd ones are good?  Is it more like the first four suck and the last three are good?  What order do they go in?  And I don't just mean the confusing titles - though they're not helping - I mean the sequence of events.  Some of these are prequels, right?  Which ones?  Where does Furious 7 fall?  Is it actually the first adventure?

The only things I ever knew were: 1) Paul Walker was (is?) an undercover cop who tried to infiltrate a gang of racers led by Vin Diesel, 2) There were (are?) lots of car porn shots, and 3) The action scenes and plot are batshit insane.

So here's my guess.  The military has developed a new James Bond styled super car that's fitted with miniature nuclear devices, but it was stolen by a cover team of North Korean operatives who are threatening to deploy it in the middle of England for some reason. The Rock is an Interpol agent who used to date Michelle Rodriguez, who is Vin Diesel's sister somehow, and through that connection knows that Vin Diesel is the best car thief ever, so he secretly pays Vin Diesel to steal the James Bond car.  But Paul Walker is there because he's been fired from his job for being a shitty cop, so he's trying to help out, and it turns out The Rock hates him because Michelle Rodriguez dumped The Rock to date Paul Walker.  They end up having a lot of infighting and have to get over it in order to steal the car and save the day.  And since Paul Walker died somewhere in the middle of filming, his threads are never tied up.  There might also be a helicopter.

The Plot Summary

Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is a street racer whose girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), was presumed dead and recently found alive but with amnesia. This is creating a strain in their relationship. Meanwhile, Dom's friend, Brian (Paul Walker), a former cop, is trying to adjust to family life as the husband to Dom's sister, Jordana Brewster.  They have a bunch of other racer friends, including Ludacris.  They also have a high profile FBI friend played by The Rock.

Things are laid back until Shaw (Jason Statham) shows up.  Shaw is an elite special ops soldier whose brother was recently killed by Dom and company.  He's out for revenge, so he starts by punching The Rock out a window and blowing up Dom's house.

Dom isn't having it, so he vows to get revenge.  The Rock gives him some information on where to find Shaw, and this in turn leads to him getting a surprise visit from a CIA stooge named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell).  As it turns out, Mr. Nobody is not a big fan of Shaw and would be totally cool with him being killed, but he's got bigger fish to fry.  So he offers Dom a deal.  If Dom and his crew help him to recover a stolen surveillance technology called "God's Eye," Dom can use it to track down Shaw's specific whereabouts, and then kill him to his heart's content.

Dom accepts, so the crew goes off on a major international adventure to do all that stuff I just said. Every time they go to a new country, they come into contact with Shaw and have a fight with him, then find some way to shoehorn fast cars into the task at hand.  It makes less and less sense as the movie goes on.  But it also leads to a bunch of nifty scenes like them driving a car out of a skyscraper, landing it in another skyscraper, and then driving out the window and into a third skyscraper.

Eventually Shaw ends up getting the better of them and steals the God's Eye.  He's going to use it to kill Dom once and for all, so Dom and company gear up and have a huge showdown in Los Angeles where they blow up several buildings and helicopters.  Shaw is incapacitated and arrested, and Dom and his family go home.

Also, Michelle Rodriguez gets her memory back.

What I Liked

I'm not a car guy, so I think a lot of the car porn was lost on me.  Nevertheless, cars being used as weapons will never not be entertaining, so this movie was a lot of fun.

I enjoyed seeing how they made up any possible excuse to get a car airborne.  The most ridiculous sequence is probably the skyscraper-hopping scene I mentioned above.  It's a huge joy to watch with probably the weakest possible set up imaginable.  It literally opens with somebody saying that there's a car on the top floor of one building, and after somebody asks, "Why?" somebody else answers, "Eh. He's rich."

There's so much fun to be had in watching them try to outdo themselves that you kinda can't look at anything else.  Furious 7 is to killing people with cars what The Raid is to punching people to death.  It has only the most superficial lip service paid to traditional movie elements so it can deliver on that one thing.

So, it may seem like there's not a lot for me to say that I liked, but that's only because the movie just does that one thing really well.

What I Didn't Like

So... yeah, I know I got here late and that's the point of the blog and all, but... how do I phrase this the right way... what exactly does Vin Diesel do?

Like, I thought he was a street racer who used to steal cars or something and Paul Walker is a cop who almost busted them but then changed his mind.  That much would make sense.  And I get that the series has gotten more ridiculous over time, so there's a lot of suspension of disbelief for each movie to make sense.

Even so, what exactly is his role in the world?  If he had a business card, what would it say?

His gang, too, confuses me.  Ludacris is a technology specialist of some sort.  What does he do?  Is he a business partner, or do they hang out purely because of a shared affinity for cars?  When they aren't being contracted by the government for shady purposes, what is their status in the world?

I guess what I'm getting at is, I knew ahead of time that I'd be confused about how the characters got from Point A to Point B because I skipped that part, but I just don't understand why the movie even exists at all.  Every other ridiculous action movie at least pretends like there's some sense behind the catalyzing action.  Even if there isn't a hype scene where somebody says, "Oh, I know the right guy for the job, let me tell you all about this other wacky shit Dom did," you expect the movie to do a little more than have Kurt Russell just say, "Hey, you assholes, come here and kill this dude for me."

It's got this attitude toward plot that's gleefully anarchic, which gives me mixed feelings.  I kinda like it when a movie brushes aside all the baggage that comes with character and plot and so forth - it can actually be really funny in a self-deprecating way when other movies do it.  But here it seems like there's some level of scope that's missing, and it just makes me wonder if the movie knows there's a joke being told.

Let me give you another example of this.  The big plot device of the movie is God's Eye, a highly advanced technology that will allow the user to find literally anybody in the world and track them with pinpoint accuracy using all available satellites, cameras, microphones, and any other technology that exists in the world.  God's Eye is the kind of fantastical invention that we all secretly suspect the NSA already has and is using on us at any given moment.  Naturally, such technology would have significant social, moral, political, and tactical ramifications, especially in a post-Snowden America.

I'm not expecting Furious 7 to provide commentary on government surveillance - that seems just a tad above the movie's intellectual pay grade - but I'd expect it to at least acknowledge that, hey, this is like some serious stuff, brah.  You expect that maybe Vin Diesel will make a big point about how they have to destroy the God's Eye chip after Jason Statham starts using it and he realizes just how badly that power can be abused.

But, no.  The movie never handles God's Eye beyond a plot contrivance.  Nobody cares.  Are they afraid of the technology, do they embrace it, do they fear what the government may do with it, do they fear what repercussions it may have on their family.... eh.  Whatever.

If the movie had just a dash more self-awareness, you could just laugh this away.  Maybe you'd think it was a joke about how the public at large doesn't care, or maybe you'd just think it was funny how the movie itself just really doesn't care.  But without that awareness, it feels broken.

This next part's going to be hard for me to say without sounding like a dick, but they spent too much time sending off Paul Walker.  Don't get me wrong - it was very sweet and heartwarming and works as a beautiful eulogy for the guy.  But if you're talking about it in cinematic or storytelling terms?  It makes very little sense.

The movie ends with Paul Walker's character retiring from... whatever it is he does, and Vin Diesel's bummed that his shootin' buddy is going to be a dad from now on.  So he and the rest of his crew kinda pout about it and act gloomy.  But the character's not dead.  He's just being a dad.  In the world of the movie, they can see each other any time they want, right?

Even worse - the whole movie is about preservation of family, right?  It's about how Vin Diesel can't stand to see his family get hurt and he tries to protect them and keep them safe.  So... why does he act like Paul Walker being with his family is so bittersweet and permanent?  Forget real life for a minute and look at the story - those last five minutes are a contradiction to the rest of the movie.  Their hearts should be light and breezy, not heavy and mournful.

Ironically, since they decided to end the movie this way, that means seeing the prequels is less important than simply knowing that Paul Walker died while the movie was being made.  I'm trying to imagine what that ending would look like to somebody with even less context than me.

Would I Recommend It?

Yeah, I think so. It's not quite as fun as I was hoping after all the hype the franchise has been getting these last few years, but the action scenes are a delight and it never feels as long as it actually is.  That's always a great sign.

What I Think the Prequels Were About

Oh, boy.  This is going to be tough.  See, I have bits and pieces of understanding of what some of these movies are about, but none of it actually adds up to a coherent through line.  I'm also under the understanding that a bunch of these are prequels, so what the hell does that mean?

Part 1 - Paul Walker has to infiltrate Vin Diesel's gang of underground street racers because he thinks they're stealing a bunch of cars. He falls in love with Jordana Brewster and finds out that although Vin Diesel has been stealing some cars, he's not responsible for the main cars that Paul Walker is investigating.  Those are actually being stolen by a rival gang.  So they team up to kill the rival gang, and Paul Walker is outed as a cop. Vin Diesel drives away in disgust, and Paul Walker's really sad.

Part 2 - Vin Diesel goes to Japan to lay low for awhile and gets into trouble with the Yakuza. It's actually really boring and nothing much happens.

Part 3 - Vin Diesel comes back home and gets arrested immediately, but Paul Walker sweet-talks the authorities into letting him go if he agrees to help them with a different gang of car thieves.  They end up patching up their broken relationship by working together, and then tragedy strikes: one of the bad thieves kills Michelle Rodriguez. Paul Walker helps Vin Diesel get revenge, and then he marries Jordana Brewster.  With his name cleared, Vin Diesel decides to go straight from now on, but he's kinda bummed about his girlfriend being dead.

Part 4 - This is a prequel to Part 1.  We see how Vin Diesel first became a car thief and it's actually really boring.  Nothing much happens.

Part 5 - This is another prequel, but it takes place after Part 1 and before Part 2.  Vin Diesel and his buddies steal a car from a high profile target, and it somehow gets The Rock's attention.  The Rock pursues them while they try to steal a different car from an even higher profile target, but it turns out that's a bad idea because the higher profile is some kind of terrorist or something, so the stakes are higher.  Paul Walker is brought into the case because of his past involvement, but out of loyalty to Vin Diesel, he can't bust him.  Instead, he goes off separately to confront Vin Diesel and try to help him evade The Rock.  And even though this should screw up the continuity to Part 3 because that's where their friendship is legitimately patched up, it somehow doesn't.  They kill the terrorist (or something) and The Rock vows he'll catch them eventually.

Part 6 - This is a sequel to Part 3.  Vin Diesel finds out that Michelle Rodriguez is actually alive, but has lost her memory.  Unfortunately, this is a big problem for everyone because there's a rich villain dude named Ian Shaw who was going to buy a really cool stolen car from her, and she can't remember where she hid it.  (All of this happened somewhere between Parts 5 and 3 and we didn't know about it until now.)  Shaw is going to kill Vin Diesel and his family if he can't get the car, so they get Paul Walker and The Rock's help to find it.  Except it turns out the car was just a cover, and what Shaw really wants is some kind of nuclear weapon or other plot device that's hidden in the engine or something.  So they stage a fake deal with Ian Shaw to give him the car, but then they kill him and The Rock decides Vin Diesel's a pretty cool dude.

Part 7 - Ian Shaw's brother tries and fails to get revenge, Michelle Rodriguez's memory comes back, and they all live happily ever after.

My Pitch for Another One

Vin Diesel has to steal KITT for some reason.

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