Furious 7 didn't just have a big opening over Easter weekend, it broke Hollywood records. Many of them. What's interesting is how much of the pop culture world seems to be in love with The Fast and the Furious series, complete with marathons, timelines and all sorts of excited nerdiness leading up to the film.
Many of the same people who heap scorn on Michael Bay are unapologetic Furious 7 fans. The entire Fast series has earned the sort of open fandom that is only matched by superstar franchises like The Avengers. Why do people seem to hate the Transformers series but the equally dumb car racing films get a "free" pass?
This was an interesting conversation on Reddit, I have a few thoughts myself.
They're in on the joke
Michael Bay films tend to be dour, serious affairs that use over-the-top imagery and brute force to make you feel anything. You don't watch a Michael Bay film as much as you sit down and allow it bludgeon your eye holes. Bay goes for the absolute maximum impact in every shot, no matter what, and he takes that pursuit very seriously.
The Furious films, on the other hand, are light and fluffy. They're constantly winking at you and joking about themselves, and everyone involved looks like they're having the time of their life. This is just a small part of why the loss of Paul Walker was so keenly felt by so many; the Furious films rely on the chemistry of people who so obviously like each other.
"I think this is the biggest difference between Bay's films and Fast and Furious. They are both ridiculous, unsubtle, loud and obnoxious, but the Fast and Furious franchise have evolved to a level of slight self-awareness that sets itself up to be laughed at how stupid it is," Reddit user GreedE wrote. "With Bay's films, while immature, are usually serious in tone and style. Fast and Furious wants you to think it's dumb, Bay wants you to know you are dumb for watching this."
Michael Bay uses visuals to scream at you about the emotional response he wants you to have, the Furious films ask you to hold their beer, they're about to show you something cool. They may not make a ton of sense, but that sense of fun and adventure — the idea that the audience is just one more person on this grand adventure — is infectious. The films are easy to watch and enjoy.
"Furious 7's ensemble cast includes Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson and, of course, the late Paul Walker. Christopher 'Ludacris' Bridges, martial artist Tony Jaa and Djimon Hounsou also star," The Hollywood Reporter wrote.
"Someone that I admire quite a lot recently said this is a franchise that really looks like America, and there are characters that everyone can relate to. I think that's a big plus," Universal president of domestic distribution Nicholas Carpou told the publication.
The film has male and female leads from a wide variety of racial backgrounds, in other words. One of the aspects of the film that's getting a ton of play after these record-breaking ticket sales is that the audience is likewise diverse.
"As with previous installments, Furious 7 played to a diverse crowd, with non-Caucasians making up 75 percent of the audience. Hispanics made up the majority of ticket buyers (37 percent), followed by Caucasians (25 percent), African-Americans (24 percent), Asians (10 percent) and other (4 percent)," the Hollywood Reporter stated. "Gender-wise, the turnout was fairly even, with males making up 51 percent of the audience. In terms of age, 66 percent of the audience was over the age of 25."
Hey Hollywood, make fun movies where with the cast is filled with cool people who aren't just white dudes. People love that shit.
The stunts are amazing, and often practical
Michael Bay films, and especially the action scenes, don't tend to make a ton of sense. Not just in terms of story, trying to follow the action in a Michael Bay movie is nearly impossible; it's hard to tell what's happening in the 3D space of each shot because so much is going on. There is way too much movement and chaos to be able to actually tell what's happening, and to what character. The heavy reliance of digital effects doesn't help.
Compare that to how the Furious 7 team shot the scene of cars falling off the back of the plane. There's very little trickery here; they just pushed those things out of a plane and sent the stunt crew skydiving out to shoot it. Even the behind the scenes footage is enough to get your stomach to clench.
How good does the stunt team have to be? Look at the timing of the opening shot of the car leaving the plane. There is almost no room for error. The result of all this work are stunt scenes that are both amazing, but make sense visually. It's easy to tell what's going on and follow the action. It looks and feels real because so much of it is real, a rarity in modern films.
That's not the only scene that benefits from practical stunt work. There is a scene near the end where a character runs up the side of a bus and jumps off onto another car. That stunt? Real. From USA Today:
"There’s no green screen, it’s all done practically," Gill said. "Our goal is to try to get as much in camera real as you can."
While Gill acknowledges that no shot in Furious 7 is completely untouched by CGI (after all, wires and safety harnesses have to be digitally erased), most of it is legit.
"We’re not doing CGI, 95% is all the real deal," echoes Kramer.
For this scene, the filmmakers had almost no margin for error and only one shot at getting it right. After all, you can only crash a bus off a cliff so many times.
You can joke about the plot and the goofier aspects of the film, but there is real craft to how these action scenes were filmed. These are stunts that are operating on a whole 'nother level, and they look great on a big screen. If you're a film geek and want to see some of the best stuntwork in the industry, you go to a Furious film.
While modern cinema is filled with gritty reboots and dark antiheroes, the stars of the Furious franchise are good people. They stick together, they're loyal, and the word "family" is used unironically. There's a certain innocence to the films and characters that's refreshing.
It's an aspect of the franchise that's incredibly attractive. "[Furious 7] offers the pulp immediacy of a world without parents, a lateral world of affinities built of unquestioned tests and forged with unfailing responsibility," the New Yorker stated.
"And the actors bring it out—or, rather, seem to be living it: they share an easy, understated familiarity, a relaxed and good-humored pleasure in performance that could be borrowed from a Hope and Crosby 'Road' movie. (The performances here suggest the wide range of movies—including intimate, naturalistic dramas—that these actors should be cast in, and that the late Paul Walker, whose last film this is, should have been tapped for.)"
Michael Bay movies tend to be cynical; they feel like the creative team and interchangeable stars are taking the audience for granted at best, and at worst exploiting our worst impulses. The Fast and Furious franchise, on the other hand, are made by creative teams that are clearly invested in the franchise and care about showing the audience a good time. They're not cynical, they're hopeful, which is a great thing in a huge-budget action film.
Is this repeatable?
Holy shit is it ever, and I hope other directors and studios are taking notes. Get a diverse cast, a fun script, shoot action scenes a human being can understand and don't get into the temptation to make everyone brooding and tortured.
It's not easy to make a film like Furious 7, and it's certainly expensive, but there are easy to understand reasons why people love these movies so much, and go out to see them in such massive numbers. There may be better films this year, but people who sneer at this series are missing the point; it's hard to find a better time you can have in a movie theater right now.