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Film Review 2: Fast & Furious 7

Written by Michael Dequina
13.04.15
Fast&Furious7 (2)

 

It is incredibly difficult, if not downright impossible, to assess Furious Seven completely on the terms on which it was always meant to be taken: as no more than the latest gleefully overblown instalment of the surprisingly durable, nearly 15-year-old action franchise.  But as anyone is well aware, the harsh tragedy of real life upended and endangered this escapist enterprise’s existence.  As such, the proverbial elephant in the room makes for a certain morbid suspense from minute to minute over how veteran series screenwriter Chris Morgan and rookie series director James Wan not only handle the ultimate fate of the late Paul Walker’s character Brian O’Conner, but perhaps more importantly take care of the intermediary material left unshot at the time of the actor’s passing.  The digital compositing used to attach archival footage and images of Walker’s face and/or head onto various stand-ins’ (among them, his two real life brothers) bodies is certainly smooth and impressive on a technical level; however, less seamless are the scenes themselves, which stand out like a sore thumb by how conspicuously, oddly silent Brian is in them.  After all, when, for instance, has Brian ever passed up an opportunity to join Tej (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) in jokingly taking shots at long-time buddy Roman (Tyrese Gibson)?  Yet that’s what he does in one obvious late-in-production scene, with Tej doing all the ribbing, punctuated by an awkwardly placed shot of a laughing Brian.

And as with most Hollywood action films, whatever passes for story comes secondary at best to those big set pieces.  The (now-) well intentioned outlaw gang of Brian, his BFF Dominic (Vin Diesel), love of Dom’s life Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman, and Tej (Brian’s wife/Dom’s sister Mia, again played by Jordana Brewster, literally stays home with the kids) is recruited by their FBI chum Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to rescue a computer genius (Nathalie Emmanuel) from a big bad (Djimon Hounsou), who has dastardly designs on her straight-out-of-Eagle Eye super-surveillance technology.

Meanwhile, the deadly older brother (Jason Statham) of the *previous* film’s big bad (a briefly returning Luke Evans) is on their tail, thirsty for revenge.  The connection of the Statham character is reflective of the sincere and rather admirable effort at a semi-coherent series continuity.  The film also finds Letty still struggling with the amnesia caused by her near-death experience in 2009’s Fast & Furious and temporary brainwashing to the dark side in Furious 6, not to mention this is the first film in the series to finally take place *after* the events of 2005’s tangentially related third instalment, Tokyo Drift, with that film’s lead, Luke Black, finally, officially (if only briefly–for now, at least) joiningFurious_Stratham-Johnson-fi the main line mythology (though Black rather unavoidably looks very much the decade older than he was in that film’s closing scene, which directly dovetails into this story about 20 minutes in).  And so goes another area where Wan picks up right where Lin left off: the ongoing growth of the already large canvas of characters.  In addition to Statham, Emmanuel, Hounsou, and Black, Ronda Rousey turns up as (what else?) a woman warrior; the great Thai martial arts movie megastar Tony Jaa makes his Hollywood debut in a mostly non-verbal evil henchman role; and even Kurt Russell comes aboard as a shady government agent type.  But just as much of a Lin hallmark was the underrated ease with which he and Morgan juggled their widening array of players.  Furious Seven was originally set to be released only a  little over a year after Furious 6, and the hastened pre-production schedule shows in how Morgan clunkily writes out characters for stretches at a time instead of keeping them plot-active while off camera.

Such a shortcoming is fairly moot, though, for when it comes down to what it initially sets out to do, Furious Seven gets the job done.  I speak not just, of course, about being one big, breezy, no-brainer popcorn spectacle, but also serving as a formal send-off to the character of Brian O’Conner and one final tribute to his portrayer, Paul Walker.  And for a series that is by its nature crass and in-your-face, and some of whose earlier instalments were marred by delusional  pretensions of pseudo-existentialist would-be profundity, the surprisingly understated, rather graceful, and altogether classy coda is probably the most outrageous–and satisfying–stunt ever pulled off in its seven-film (and certain to yet still grow) run.

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson,
Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson,
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Elsa Pataky, Lucas Black,
Jason Statham, Djimon Hounsou, Tony Jaa,
Ronda Rousey and Kurt Russell

Directed by: James Wan
Writer: Chris Morgan
Based on the Characters created by: Gary Scott Thompson

Produced by: Neal Moritz, Vin Diesel, Michael Fottrell
Executive Producers: Samantha Vincent, Amanda Lewis, Chris Morgan


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