James Wan‘s Furious 7 (Universal, 4.3) is, of course, a cyborg muscle-car flick made for people who despise real action flicks and prefer, instead, the comfort of cranked-up, big-screen videogame delirium inhabited (I don’t want to say “performed”) by flesh-and-blood actors and facilitated by a special kind of obnoxious CG fakeitude that grabs you by the shirt collar and says “eat this, bitch!” I hated it like nothing I’ve seen in a long time. The critics who went apeshit for Furious 7 in Austin are to be regarded askance for at least the next ten years. Anyone who looks you in the eye and says Furious 7 delivers great, gleeful escapism really needs to submit to psychological testing.
“What’s wrong with silly, stupid fun?” they all ask. What’s wrong is that movies like this are deathly boring and deflating and toxic to the soul. They’re anti-fun, anti-life, anti-cinema, anti-everything except paychecks.
Furious 7 is odious, obnoxious corporate napalm on a scale that is better left undescribed. It is fast, flashy, thrompy crap that dispenses so much poison it feels like a kind of plague. Wan’s film is certainly a metaphor for a kind of plague that has been afflicting action films for a good 20-plus years.
In Act 3, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare‘s Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus is asked by a crowd of alarmed plebians why he conspired to murder their leader. “T’was not that I loved Caesar less,” Brutus answers, “but that I loved Rome more.” By the same token I spit upon Furious 7 and the whole cyborg action muscle-boy genre not because I love sitting through cranked-up, power-pump, beyond-silly action flicks less (although my feelings of revulsion are as sincere as a heart attack) but because I love real action movies more.
I hated the first 65 minutes of Furious 7 so much that I was literally twitching and flinching in my seat and making little squeaky moaning sounds. I was checking my watch every five minutes, wondering how much more of this crap I could take. I was firing psychic hate grenades at the screen.
All I wanted were two or three half-assed simulations of serious fast-car realism…you know, a little Drive nostalgia, a little Gone In Sixty Seconds action, a little Bullitt, even a taste of 2001’s The Fast and the Furious. Or a replay of that truck-chase sequence in J.C. Chandor‘s A Most Violent Year, which I loved. But no. Wasn’t in the cards, hasn’t been for years. Exploitation cyborgs like Wan and particularly Justin Lin, the cinematic anti-Christ who directed five Fast/Furious flicks between ’06 to ’13, have become death…the destroyer of worlds.
So I bolted at the 65-minute mark. I really couldn’t take any more. I wanted to see the big parachuting-cars sequence and get a sense of how Paul Walker‘s performance felt and basically see how it played for an hour. But enough was enough. I stepped around Peter Sciretta, ran out, jumped on the bike and drove home at sensible speeds.
My decision to leave may have been influenced by the fact that ten minutes before I left Wan leapt out of the screen and ran up and yanked me out my seat, threw me on the floor and slugged me several times…whoomph! whoompf! whoomph! And then he sat on my chest and screamed at the top of his banshee lungs, “Fuck you, Wells…fuck you and your pathetic Steve McQueen nostalgia bullshit…go off into a cave and die! I am the god of hellfire and I bring you…crunched metal! Vin Diesel and Nathalie Emmanuel rolling over and over inside a car down a steep rocky cliff, crashing and somersaulting and only incurring a couple of bruises…the late Paul Walker leaping 25 to 30 feet off a teetering bus, T-1000-style…Dwayne Johnson getting blown out of an office building by a huge bomb and crashing with some girl through a huge glass window and landing on the roof of a car below, and getting only a broken arm out of it.
“Do you like that shit, Wells?,” Wan continued. “Because you’re gonna get a lot more of it. I am the future of action cinema! And if you don’t believe me, ask the critics who cheered Furious 7 during those South by Southwest screenings. They’re almost as responsible for this pestilence as Universal or me. Then again I’m making 100 times more than the yearly salaries of all those action-geek critics put together so fuck it…what do I care?”
Remember how much fun it was when James Cameron went to the trouble of allowing moviegoers to believe in cyborg action in Terminator 2: Judgment Day? I was completely delighted by every stunt that Robert Patrick‘s T-1000 performed in that film because Cameron had given me information that let me believe in the rules of his existence. It was beautiful. But at the same time and certainly by the mid ’90s Asian action cinema (violent choreography presented as physics-defying ballet) had come along and polluted the realism well, and then Ang Lee‘s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (’00) showed combatants flying around on wires and everyone copied that, and eventually action cinema as McQueen fans and realism-adherents knew it was more or less marginalized.
The stars of Furious 7 can do any stupid-ass, Wile E. Coyote vs. Road Runner stunt they want and it doesn’t matter at all. Everyone in this film is a T-1000 or an Arnold-style “good” Terminator. And it doesn’t get much emptier than that.
And the emotional-exchange non-action scenes…God! In a way these are almost as bad as the action material. When the mood downshifts and things turn all quiet and confessional macho Diesel frowns and stares at the ground or the horizon and goes into his somber-and-serious routine. I’ll always be a fan of Diesel’s performance in Sidney Lumet‘s Find Me Guilty, but that was 13 years ago. You can’t live in the past. You have to grapple with the now.