By Bill Arceneaux
It’s interesting how a sudden death – or rather a wonderful life – can change the context of a movie. Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight was indeed brilliant (as was the movie itself), but his unfortunate passing was in the back of our minds when watching, giving his role a more ghostly (and sadder) air.
The same can be said for Furious 7, but perhaps moreso, as co-star Paul Walker died midway into production. The marketing for this blockbuster really pushed – sometimes subtly, sometimes heavily – the fact that this would be Walker’s final film. One of the posters shows just Walker and Vin Diesel. It’s black and white, with Diesel close up, hanging his head low. Depressed? Bowing to Walker? Before we even head to the theater, the whole perception of the picture has changed, from sequel schlock to swan song.
During press rounds, Vin Diesel stated that this would get a Best Picture nomination. I appreciate such boasting, but that might be stretching things a bit. Furious 7 is still, at its core, silly. Silliness is not an automatic disqualifier for an Oscar, but when your movie pushes and drives through the boundaries of physics… Now, as I understand, the special effects team behind The Lord of the Rings helped out with reshoots and such to fix Walker’s unfinished scenes. These bits are absolutely flawless, and deserve much recognition. If Diesel walks the red carpet next year, it’ll be because of that.
Having left the franchise to helm the next Star Trek, Justin Lin was replaced with James Wan, the creator of Saw. This shift in directing is very noticeable from the brilliant Jason Statham introduction in the opening credits. Car crashes hit harder, people get hurt and danger is prevalent. Where the previous entry in the series was improbable and goofy, Furious 7 is gritty and tense. By no means is this a Dark Knight. Director Wan and the cast and crew know their place with this movie, and deliver enough rear ends, hip hop, action and one liners to satisfy everyone. In fact, this might have the most one liners of the series thus far (not 100% sure though).
I can’t express enough how much of a turn I’ve made in my opinion on these movies. As it progressed, it has only ramped up and gotten better. By “better,” I mean more ridiculous and more stunt-filled. Basically, more deliverable to mass audiences. Which is ok. Do we really want a deep, existential question from Vin Diesel?
In my theater, the touching ending – which gave off a Bone Thugz N Harmony vibe – left many person teary eyed, and me stunned as I was given a hug. While I can’t say the movie fully executed its “plot” well enough to “deserve” its ending, the reaction from the audience was one of a kind. Thinking on it some more, that’s a perfect way for Paul Walker to leave his mark on this mortal coil. That and getting to beat up Tony Jaa. Which he does. Twice.
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