Furious 7 (2015)

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It’s absurd, heartfelt, action-packed, hilariously corny, physics defying, balls-to-the-wall, zero to sixty in three seconds, turn off your brain kind of fun. Furious 7 is everything I expected in a 14-year-long running franchise that’s only getting better with age. While not perfect, even according to my “dumb fun” popcorn movie standards, it still delivers the kind of entertainment one hopes to experience at least a few times a year at the theater. “This time it ain’t just about being fast,” so don’t overthink it, embrace your guilty pleasures, and just sit back and enjoy the ride.

After the events of Fast & Furious 6, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), and friends are now being hunted by Owen Shaw’s (Luke Evans) big bad brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Meanwhile, a government official who calls himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) recruits Dom and his team to save a computer hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel), who has been kidnapped by a terrorist named Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). He wants to get his hands on a program she created called “God’s Eye,” which will allow him to tap into any device with a lens and track anyone anywhere on the planet in a matter of seconds. Mr. Nobody promises Dom that if he saves her and retrieves this chip, he can use it to track down Shaw and kill him before he does anymore damage to their family.

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James Wan, who is known for directing horror movies like Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring, takes over Justin Lin’s seat in the director’s chair. Wan has a knack for elements like tension and suspense, and you can feel it here more than in the previous films. Not to mention, Statham’s character is like a Furious version of a Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees, a near invincible human being popping up out of nowhere without explanation of how he got there, and wreaking havoc on anyone he can. Unfortunately, Wan doesn’t quite have the same eye for action, resorting to the old shaky cam, close-up shots, and quick cuts, making for quite a few nauseating fight sequences. But there are plenty of insane set pieces rivaling anything that has come before to make up for some of that. You’ve got cars parachuting out of an airplane, Paul Walker running on top of a bus teetering off the edge of a cliff, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson jumping out of tall buildings, and cars flying through skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. A lot of great, crazy fun is packed into this movie, and if you ask me, it blows the sixth film right out of the water.

Now let’s look at a few of the things I had issues with. First off, I have to inform everyone that I’m a huge supporter of “The Rock” and that I believe he’s the best thing to ever happen to this franchise. I’m serious. Sure, the fifth film was good because it had united all these characters together and it was a cool heist movie that was wildly entertaining, but don’t even tell me the addition of The Rock had nothing to do with the turning point of this series. They threw him in Fast Five and he totally owned the screen. His character, Hobbs, is the most ridiculous character in the entire franchise, he’s got gigantic muscles and the cheesiest one-liners you could imagine, but best of all, he’s a badass–he’s got everything you would want in a character for this type of movie. It was a sin he was so under utilized, and whoever’s idea it was to reduce his role to a mere cameo needs a good old slap across the face. But I’ll admit he still owned the little screen time he had, which included scenes walking the streets of L.A. with a giant machine gun, busting out of an arm cast like the Hulk, and getting to say awesome lines like, “Woman, I am the calvary.” Long live Dwayne Johnson.

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Still on the topic of under utilization: Tony Jaa. I’m really not surprised, because with the exception of Gina Carano in the sixth film, the awesome fighters they cast in these movies usually get reduced to a small henchman role with little screen time. It sucks. He shined brightly with the small time he was given, though, but Hollywood really doesn’t know what to do with martial artists. Oh, and Ronda Rousey really needs to take some acting lessons if she’s going to be doing movies on a regular basis now. She’s a badass and I love her, but her facial expressions are ridiculous and she really gives Vin Diesel a run for his money on the bad acting front.

They also made Jason Statham’s character a bit of a side story, which I wasn’t expecting to happen. He doesn’t have as much screen time as you’d think, and I wish we could’ve had more of him. He was great and he makes a genuinely threatening villain, he can also throw a punch or two, or fifty, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

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I also found it hilarious in the scene that’s supposed to take place on the same day Tokyo Drift ends, Lucas Black, who is supposed to be a high school student, looks like a 40-year-old dude now. He’s only 32, but man, it is obvious as hell this film is taking place nine years after that one, and it takes you right out of the movie for a bit. On the same kind of subject, the CGI’d Paul Walker face in the some of the scenes is a little noticeably distracting. I’m not going to complain, though, because what kind of a person would I be, right? I’m just saying, you’ll probably notice.

I’d be lying if I said that the sadness related to Paul’s death didn’t overshadow this movie a little bit. Dying young and so sudden like that is an awful thing, and seeing him in this is a bit like watching a ghost. There’s a few sentimental moments in the movie involving his character, Brian, and Mia (Jordana Brewster) as he struggles to adapt to the fatherly life, but the last few minutes of the film are a full blown tribute to him, allowing his co-stars and us as an audience to say good-bye to both Paul and Brian. Yes, I got choked up, really choked up, it’s hard not to when you’ve spent so many years of your life watching him. All I can say is that it was done in a tasteful way, and I’m pretty sure Paul would’ve been pleased.

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Furious 7 is totally over-the-top absurdity, but it’s some honestly good popcorn entertainment for sure. I really enjoyed seeing the characters again, I think that the theme of “family” that seemed so forced in the previous movies actually holds some real sentiment now, and I’m sure that Paul’s real life tragedy has something to do with that. I liked the addition of Kurt Russell and Jason Statham to the cast, there were some underused actors like Dwayne Johnson, Tony Jaa, Djimon Hounsou, and Statham to an extent, but the action makes up for some of what’s lacking in character.

In the end, it does a decent job delivering on what you’d expect, if you’re a fan of the franchise, you most likely won’t be disappointed. It’s good, dumb fun with a real emotional element, and includes a lovely send off to the late Paul Walker.

4/5

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The Expendables 3 (2014)

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No one expects The Expendables franchise to be masterpieces of cinema, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t at least mildly entertaining. The thing that makes them so appealing to action junkies like me is that you get to see a lot of the biggest action stars from the ’80s and ’90s come together and bring their individual classic badassery with them. However, aside from a few awesome additions to the cast (Banderas, Gibson, Snipes), The Expendables 3, under new direction by Patrick Hughes (the guy remaking my precious The Raid movie), suffers from a lame PG-13 rating, a large and unnecessary addition of newbies, and not enough corny fan servicing to the old school action lovers.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) break a former Expendables member named Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of a military prison and recruit him to help them with a mission in Somalia. When they arrive, Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) is already there to assist them. To Barney’s surprise, another former Expendables member and enemy, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), who Barney thought he had killed, is there working as an arms dealer and selling off a shipment of bombs. After a shoot-out, Caesar is injured and hospitalized, and this leads to Barney’s desire to exact revenge on Stonebanks, but he doesn’t want the rest of his crew to be killed in the process. After dropping his crew, he meets up with Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer), who helps him in tracking down some new young members for his team. This leads to the addition of an ex-Marine, John Smilee (Kellan Lutz), a club bouncer, Luna (Ronda Rousey), a computer expert, Thorn (Glen Powell), and a weapons expert, Mars (Victor Ortiz). Somewhere along the way, a looney, fast-talking Spaniard named Galgo (Antonio Banderas), joins him in desperation to find work. When the young crew end up captured and held as hostages, Barney has to reunite with old crew in order to save them.

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I’m excited to see Wesley Snipes back in action again. He even makes a joke about being locked up because of tax evasion–the reason for his real life imprisonment. In this, he’s a knife-wielding badass, rivaling the already established knife-wielding team member, Lee Christmas. I think it’s cheap, though, that they bring in Wesley Snipes and then immediately hospitalize the only other black guy on the team. What’s up with that? Not trying to bring up a race issue or anything, but I’m just saying Terry Crews is one of the better and more enjoyable cast members. This movie is weighed down heavily enough by people who can’t act worth a damn. If you have to hospitalize someone, why not Randy Couture or something? But apparently there can only be one black guy? Lame!

Antonio Banderas is another great addition to the cast, he was actually my favorite character in this whole movie. He was the only one who was even remotely funny, and he had a very goofy, likable charm to him that was present even in his shoot-out action scenes.

Mel Gibson was one of the best things about this movie. He’s a great bad guy and so easy to hate. Having him on the opposite side was one of the filmmakers’ better decisions. I might even like him more than Jean-Claude Van Damme’s villainous character from The Expendables 2, although Gibson can’t bring the awesome roundhouse kicks that Van Damme brought to the last movie, so in that sense, the fight between him and Stallone’s character was not as good.

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I love Harrison Ford in general, but I didn’t like his character in this. He was kind of dull and I wasn’t sure what his purpose was besides taking the place of Bruce Willis. I’m actually surprised he agreed to do this movie. He had a couple of ok scenes involving piloting a helicopter, but other than that, he was forgettable like many others in this bloated cast. I kind of missed Bruce Willis, honestly, he may do a lot of really terrible movies, but at least he is reliable and delivers his special humorous Bruce Willis-y action in every one.

Stallone was his usual self, but I feel like he brought a lot of overly dramatic performances in a few scenes. Actually, I think the story suffered a bit from being too overly dramatic in some places. For example, when Barney tries to drop his old team members and replace them with new ones, you have your typical montage of characters moping around at home, with some kind of melancholy rock music playing in the background. It was a little bit corny, not to mention, I don’t understand the logic behind dropping a bunch of old members so that a bunch of young people can risk their lives for a mission instead. It was just a sad excuse to add in a ton of uninteresting new people to the story.

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I didn’t think the young cast was really needed for this. I mean, the best part about The Expendables is that it’s nostalgic of all the older action films people have either grown up loving or grown to love, the older and more experienced cast is what makes these movies what they are. Now, it seems, it’s losing itself in the desire to cater to those who have no friggin’ clue about the greatness of B-action movies of the ’80s and ’90s. Yes, I love new action movies also and there are quite a few young action stars I love to watch, but that doesn’t mean that they belong in this movie, especially if they aren’t going to be utilized to their full potential. With that said, Kellan Lutz and Glen Powell were ok I guess, Ronda Rousey had a few cool fight scenes, but her acting and weird facial expressions were a little distracting, and I totally forgot that Victor Ortiz even existed in this, and I don’t know if that’s because he can’t act or he was written as an unmemorable, inconsequential character–probably a little of both.

I also have to add that these movies need a lot more Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jet Li. Arnold is just so ridiculous that I can’t help but love him, but he barely exists in these movies, with the exception of a bigger part in The Expendables 2. Jet Li was only ever really in the first movie, as he checked out pretty early on in the second, and in this one he just shows up towards the end. How are you going to have a martial arts star in a movie and make him just sit on a helicopter and shoot stuff? Come on.

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The Expendables 3 also lacked the obvious nods to some of the actors’ previous roles, which is something that totally made the second movie. The Expendables 2 had a ton of nerdy fan servicing too, even going as far to cast Chuck Norris in a role and give him a line consisting of one of the numerous Chuck Norris jokes that circulate the Internet. It was a movie that was so self-aware of being a rehash of old action stars, it was corny in all the right ways, it made better use of its cast members, it had some great nostalgic dialogue, and it was just an all around better attempt at doing what these kind of movies aim to do.

This movie succeeds in bringing quite a few entertaining action scenes, with some great new cast members and a few that are forgettable. Overall, it lacks the same kind of excitement from the previous movies, and a lot of the better characters don’t get enough screen time. You can’t really expect too much from a movie like this, but coming from someone who actually loves stupid action movies, this wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for in a movie that stars a lot of people I’ve enjoyed watching over the years.

1.5/5