As Fancy As It Looks: Furious 7

furious-7

I’ve now seen both Furious 7 and Age of Ultron.  I like both of these movies, but I think I might actually like Furious 7 more. To be fair, my expectations were so startlingly low when I walked into Furious 7 that the movie had nowhere to go but up; even so, this supremely goofy movie successfully hit me in the feels when I hadn’t expected it, and I like that.  It hit me in the feels partly for reasons outside of the movie itself, but it didn’t really matter in the end.  It was still good.

On the topic of my low expectations, it seems that I’d forgotten what I learned with the previous movie in the series, 6 Fast 6 Furious, or whatever it was called.  It turns out that I really enjoy the speed and enthusiasm of this fast-car soap-opera-with-guns.  I still have some significant problems with it, from the omnipresent male gaze to the inconsistent outcomes of characters’ consistently dangerous shenanigans, but … somehow I still found it highly entertaining.  Maybe I’ll be able to explain.

Let’s start with what this movie does well: it does an excellent job of foreshadowing events to come, and it is exceptionally good at delivering silly and entertaining zoom-zoom-bang-bang.  It also managed to make me care about some of the characters (which was weird to realize), and while I can’t hold it up as a paragon of good characterization it didn’t feel bad either.  Also, as my friend Alex pointed out while we were watching it, the whole thing feels a lot like someone decided to turn a cinematic RPG campaign into a movie series, complete with villains, powerful henchmen, and the occasional badly flubbed roll.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it feels like a well conceived and delivered soap-opera adventure story.

To add to that point, I continue to be impressed by the writers / director / choreographers understanding how to make a fight scene feel really compelling by making our heroes the underdogs, and making that feel believable.  Casting the competition with Ronda Rousey, women’s UFC star, and Tony Jaa, martial arts movie star, doesn’t hurt at all.  It’s awesome to see the people that we want to win just barely managing to hold their own, especially when it’s done convincingly.

So, about the things that were more questionable…

As I said about the preceding movie, these movies have an obsession with showing off women’s bodies for reasons totally irrelevant to, well, anything to do with the movie.  As someone who is attracted to women, this is enjoyable.  But as someone who’s aware of how problematic the overwhelming presence of male gaze is, it’s also very frustrating in a rather uncomfortable way.  And my awareness basically spoils any pleasure I might have derived from it, especially when I start wondering what the people involved in each scene were thinking as they prepped and shot each scene.  It’s especially disconcerting when the movie’s characters say things like “No, you shouldn’t objectify [female character],” immediately followed by having the camera objectify said character.  I don’t like it.

There’s also a running theme of having characters live through things that should definitely kill them, without giving us any sense of how they were able to do so.  As a story aesthetic, this makes any character death feel really weird; there’s no way for the audience to know whether any given crisis is a stunt to be laughed off, or a moment of impending death.  Without a clear genre signal regarding when we should expect it, character death becomes unbelievable to some extent.  Yes, I’m still unhappy with movie #6.

But somehow, despite this, I really enjoyed watching something so fundamentally silly being taken so totally seriously.  Furious 7 is pulpy to its core, and it doesn’t ever shy away from the fact.  And, somehow, I love it for that.

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