by Thom Yee
Seven movies is a lot.
That’s like four more than most series usually get.
That’s like thirteen to fourteen hours of movies.
That’s like Police Academy territory.
And really the only thing most people remember about Police Academy is that there were too many of them.
The difference with The Fast and the Furious is that the first three are mostly separate pieces — boots and reboots of a core concept that basically reads, “this is a movie about cars.” The first Fast and Furious was about street racing at its most bloated, decaled, body-modded, and giant-spoiler-winged, where all the drivers had to do was press a steering-wheel-mounted button for a Mario-Kart-mushroom-esque speed boost. The second was a tossed-together monstrosity and is, in all the ways that matter, a perfect embodiment of how and why sequels don’t work. The third, Tokyo Drift, was theatrically released despite its predecessor’s scorched-earth-level deficiencies, and was a resetting of location and character types away from America and towards one of the most popularly misconstrued cultures in the world. Technically, there still hasn’t been even one actor who’s appeared in every installment, and it’s not until the fourth, simply titled Fast & Furious, that we actually officially caught up with the fully assembled crew that started it all (minus Leon, ‘cause who knows what happened to that guy, and Jesse, ‘cause he dead, bro).
It wasn’t until Fast Five that we completed a trilogy in the sense of attempting closure for the characters that introduced us to this world. Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner went from undercover cop to actual street racer to FBI agent to on-the-run fugitive to pardoned anti-hero; Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto went from thieving, scofflaw, king of the streets to hardened criminal to international criminal to pardoned anti-hero (in the same deal as Brian’s); Letty went from beleaguered girlfriend/sidekick to believed dead to amnesiac mercenary; and everyone else did something that revolved around Brian or Dom in some way or another.
By that measure, it’s not until Fast Six that we entered into overt excess, and luckily by that point the series had managed to find greater success as a straight-ahead action movie that happened to feature cars for a lot of the stunts. Through that lens, what we have with the sixth and now seventh is more of a different series that happens to star familiar characters, only this time most of anything that could be called an arc has largely been resolved and now the producers are just grasping at story straws as an excuse to continue with a franchise that’s made more money in its sixth installment than it did in its first three combined.
You can call the Fast and Furious series good or bad, even if a more accurate label would probably be unnecessary or opportunistic. Honestly, one of the main reasons it’s experienced popularity as widespread as it has is precisely because it’s so stupid, but like it or not, it did help to give birth to the car cultures and action cultures and bro cultures of the early 21st century thus far. The latter may be bad, but the former two are far from the worst things I’ve ever seen.
But I have seen a lot.
The Fast and the Furious
The year 2001 was a strange time to be alive, probably because it was basically like today, only computers were mostly desktops, there was no Wi-Fi, and we couldn’t look everything up on our smartphones, so when Paul Walker showed up on screen in an impressive-looking green car running at seemingly high speeds, we couldn’t easily find out that he was just driving a Mitsubishi Eclipse, at least not right away.
The watch word for the very first entry in the series was street racing, and it’s a world that’s taken entirely too seriously in a movie that now feels like it could only exist in a pre-Internet-proliferated society — you just kind of had to not know anything about cars to get any real enjoyment out of the movie. Floor pans came flying off cars just because they were driving too fast. “Granny shifting, not double clutching like you should.” People still drove Civic del Sols.
The Fast and the Furious introduces us to Paul Walker’s Brian, an undercover cop trying to determine which group of L.A.-based street racers is responsible for highjacking semi-trucks throughout California. Infiltrating Dominic Toretto’s group, Brian finds they are less a gang and more a family after ingratiating himself to Dom and dating his sister Mia, and soon finds himself conflicted as he discovers mounting evidence implicating Dom in the highjackings.
If I’m being honest, the movie had a huge influence on me as a teenager; I had only spent a small portion of my childhood obsessed with cars, and it had been a long time since I had given them much thought, especially since I felt so far away from owning a car of my own. I first watched the Fast and the Furious in theatres and would go on to buy it on DVD on its first day of release, watching it more obsessively than I should have while harbouring dreams of cold air intakes, ground effects, and giant spoilers. Later I picked up a JDM legend of my own after a year of driving an ’86 Dodge Caravan and then an ’89 Mazda MPV (at least the Mazda had air conditioning), but soon enough things like home theatre equipment and going out and not living with my parents would start to eat up the balance of my cash, and my ambitions of modifying that car fell by the way side, as had any thoughts of The Fast and the Furious. Having watched it again recently, it totally doesn’t hold up.
It’s a self-serious, clichéd piece that lacks essential depth and isn’t aware of how ridiculous it looks. I think a friend of mine put it best when he said it’s basically Point Break, only with cars and worse. It’s a dumb movie, but one with just enough heart and soul and hopes and dreams to spark a franchise.
The Fast and the Furious final score: 6
Best Car: Dom’s Dodge Charger R/T
Worst Car: Vince’s Nissan Maxima
On the Edge
- Dom: “You can have any brew you want.” As long as it’s the bottle of Corona Vince was just drinking from, because that’s not gross.
- Oh for the days when a truck full of VCRs, mini TVs, and camcorders were considered a money load. Nowadays, not only would they be impossible to fence, you would have to pay someone else just to haul all that junk away.
- To this day I still think Michelle Rodriguez knocking out Johnny Tran’s cousin is one of the best on-screen punches I’ve ever seen, regardless of gender.
- “I miss Ja Rule,” said nobody.
2 Fast 2 Furious
If I was speaking these words out loud and you could hear the tone in my voice as I write this, you could probably tell how little I want to talk about 2 Fast 2 Furious. I’d considered skipping it altogether as that would’ve sent a strong message about how I feel about it, but ultimately that would’ve been kind of a cheat, and I hate cheaters (except when I cheat, because then it’s justified, as are all the things I do [and have done]).
Taking place after Brian let Dom go in the first (because bros before PoPos), Brian has become nothing more than a dirty, filthy, no good, rotten street racer. Picked up by the Miami police for street racing, Brian’s former boss offers him the chance to have his record wiped clean if he agrees to go undercover to infiltrate the operations of ruthless importer/exporter/drug lord, Carter Verone. Offering the same deal to former friend and ex-con Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and enlisting the help of mechanic Tej Parker (Ludacris), Brian and Roman become Verone’s wheelmen, assisted by Verone’s girlfriend Monica (Eva Mendes), another mole in Verone’s organization. That guy was not a good judge of character.
No matter how little you may think of the original Fast and the Furious, you should’ve been able to detect that there was a little bit more to the movie than its superficial, uninformed waster appearance might suggest. There’s a feeling you’ll sometimes get, no matter how a movie looks or ultimately turns out, when something of substance forms. The Fast and the Furious may not be a great movie, particularly in retrospect, but it is a movie with substance, even if it’s overblown and underdeveloped.
In sharp contrast, 2 Fast 2 Furious feels calculated, disingenuous, and not something anyone wanted to make for any other reason than to make money. It’s a movie that’s just as silly and excessive and ultimately cynical as its title. You can tell something is wrong from the very first race, as we’re taken through a world designed to emulate and then trump the excesses of its predecessor without the ambition or design or ability to say anything new or meaningful or necessary. That first race presents us with two heroes, Brian and Suki, and two villains, Orange Julius and Slap Jack (wtf?), each with their own self-contained mini races within the larger race in a shallow attempt to let both heroes win. There is no prize for second place, Suki.
Beyond introducing us to Roman and Tej, the legacy of 2 Fast 2 Furious lies mostly in temporarily derailing the franchise, and the only joy I’ve ever derived from its existence is applying the same naming convention to its successors, as in the upcoming 7 Fast 7 Furious.
2 Fast 2 Furious final score: 4
Best Car: Brian’s Yenko Camaro
Worst Car: Suki’s Honda S2000
On the Edge
- Suki: “Smack that ass!” And then she ruins her car and doesn’t win any of the money.
- Why in the hell is Brian wearing khaki pants with All-Stars? And then he switches to board shorts and a West Coast Choppers tee? What a fool.
- “I miss Devon Aoki,” said nobody.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
I think there’s a strong argument to be made that Tokyo Drift is the first in the Fast and Furious franchise’s steps towards becoming a modern movie series. Looking back, as I just have, the first two feel like separate pieces, relics of a pre-information age, whereas Tokyo Drift feels a lot more like a movie that could come out today. Technically, and until the release of Furious 7, Tokyo Drift was also chronologically the last in the series since every movie that followed it kept pushing back the significant events of this movie in order to include Sung Kang’s Han Seoul-Oh.
When high-school student Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a brand new character to the series, finds himself in car-related trouble, he’s forced to move in with his to-that-point absent military father, uprooting him (and the series) from America to Japan. Where he gets into more car-related trouble.
Sean’s fish-out-of-water story presents us with all the usual Karate Kid conventions, including lovable best friend Twinkie (Bow Wow), hard-to-identify background friends, D.K., bad guy representative of a greater evil empire, and beautiful, unthreatening girlfriend material, Neela, but of all of the principals, it’s really Han as Sean’s benefactor and mentor that injects the movie with anything meaningful. By this point in the series chronology, he’s clearly a hardened man, and it’s interesting to see how his current life’s philosophies are informed by what he will go through in the chronologically earlier Fast and Furious movies that would follow.
Of all of the Fast and Furious races, I like Tokyo Drift’s Monte Carlo-Viper in the housing development race the most simply because it looked more real than anything else in the series and, therefore, had more visceral impact. I also prefer this movie’s drifting to most of the other races in general as it comes across as more nuanced and better choreographed than most anything else in the Fast and Furious repertoire of over-the-top, computer-generated, non-believable mayhem.
Overall, and especially to this point in the series, Tokyo Drift is the Fast and Furious with the strongest sense of soul. There’s just something a little more delicate and considered about it, but it’s also really hit or miss with fans and many people’s’ second least favourite (because everyone hates 2 Fast). At the least, it does beg the question of why these mid-20’s gangster-types spend so much time with high school students, and it does boil down to little more than two dudes had a fight about a girl, but I still think it’s one of the best in the series.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift final score: 7.5
Best Car: Han’s Veilside RX-7
Worst Car: Sean’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII (for crimes against grip driving)
On the Edge
- Home Improvement kid’s girlfriend: “Guess I got a new date for prom.”
- What a slut.
- “Videotaping this destructive, illegal race was the best idea we’ve ever had!”
- I don’t have a lot to say about Lucas Black’s accent… but man, that accent.
- What in the f*ck was Sean supposed to learn in a school that doesn’t speak his language? Lucky for our main character Japan is full of people who not only speak English, but apparently prefer speaking it to their native language.
- Sean: “You’re, like, the Justin Timberlake of Japan, right?”
- An S15 isn’t too many people’s favourite, but watching Sean smash up that car is still really painful.
- Despite the American film industry’s indifference toward accurate Asian casting, the producers still somehow managed to cast one main character who is actually Japanese and actually able to speak Japanese.
- “I miss Bow Wow,” said nobody.
Fast & Furious
Finally, the series returned to its roots, reuniting the original cast in a story that made many of us wonder why this didn’t happen sooner and what the hell the producers were thinking with the last two. As shallow as the series may have been, the first three Fast and Furious movies at least hinted at a continuing narrative between installments, and somehow it wasn’t until the fourth in the series that we would see a true sequel to the first. This time around, our heroes are caught in a tale of revenge, with Dom returning to America after the death of Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty, and Brian, now an FBI agent, hunting down those responsible.
I remember expecting to like this one a lot more and coming away not so much disappointed as bored. After eight years apart, it was nice to see Brian, Dom, Mia, and Letty back together. Okay, maybe not so much Mia and Letty, because neither got to do enough in the original for anyone to care about them, but it was satisfying to at least get Paul Walker and Vin Diesel back together, and for the first half of the movie everything was about as good as it should’ve been. Brian and Dom put together their own investigations into Letty’s death and built cars reflective of their personalities, and luckily by 2009, the world had been distilled down to a more tasteful vision of car styling, sans decals and neon lighting, and a more balanced view of Japanese, American, and European autos.
Too bad nothing else worked.
At this point, The Fast and the Furious had never been known for its bad guys, and by the time we got to John Ortiz’s Braga, we had the vision of a man who might be better suited playing a stressed-out, put-upon husband suffering anxiety attacks rather than the surreptitious leader of a drug empire. It’s not that Ortiz doesn’t do a decent job with the material and it’s not that his enforcers don’t seem threatening, it’s just the fact that an actor like John Ortiz just seems too friendly and likable and normal. He’s just a little miscast as Braga, and it wouldn’t matter if he were bigger or younger, he just looks like he wouldn’t hurt a fly. And, at his size, maybe couldn’t.
Setting the story against the backdrop of Letty’s murder helps propel the movie foward, and the fact that Letty was actually working with the FBI in an attempt to clear Dom adds a depth to the story that I could at least appreciate, but once you get past Dom and Brian’s first race, we’re not left with much. The biggest problem with Fast & Furious is that so much of the action takes place in the dark tunnels that formed the infrastructure of Braga’s cross-border drug network. The action wasn’t too hard to follow, I just wasn’t looking for muted tones and poor lighting in my chase scenes. The last fifteen minutes of the movie really drag, and what we’re told is a suicide mission for Brian and Dom as they attempt to capture Braga turns out to be the two of them just sneaking up on him when he’s alone, then running away with him. Sure, that’s followed by another dark tunnel chase, but that sequence isn’t tense so much as it’s… another boring dark tunnel chase. Finally, it was also disappointing to see how little the writers did in establishing the Dom and Han relationship hinted at in Tokyo Drift.
I think Fast & Furious is the chapter in the series where the producers realized that the foundation they’d set with its predecessors wasn’t enough to sustain a series. It does contain my favourite stunt in the series, when Dom slipped his Grand National underneath the exploding gas tanker that was barreling towards himself and Letty in the movie’s opening, but we’d have to wait for the next movies before we’d get anything else that would match that level of action. Fast & Furious is just really unsatisfying, and it’s the chapter in the series that started the Star Trek-esque odds and evens theory of the series where the odds are the good ones.
I would probably agree with that theory more if the first held up better.
Fast & Furious final score: 6.5
Best Car: Mia’s Acura NSX
Worst Car: Unnamed driver’s Nissan Silvia
On the Edge
- Brian: “Letty was my friend, too.”
- I don’t think Brian and Letty said one thing to each other in the entire first movie. And they definitely didn’t have any scenes together in this one.
- Weird that the guys playing Braga and Agent Stasiak both ended up in Silver Linings Playbook.
Where the preceding four installments helped form the spine of the Fast and Furious fandom, Fast Five is really the chapter that broke the series open to the masses. Up until this point, every element of the Fast and Furious movies revolved around street racing as the core, and that was starting to become the series’ albatross as it made the movies and the entire series easy to ignore for a lot of people. Rather than follow the same formula, the Fast Five producers wisely made street racing just another orbiting piece around the core elements of action and family, and we had what’s probably the best Fast and Furious movie of all time.
Dom, Brian, and Mia have escaped to Rio de Janeiro after breaking Dominic out of his prison sentence in a dramatic daytime breakout that, by the looks of it, must’ve killed at least a few of the other people on that bus. Desperate for cash, the three take a job from former friend Vince (from the first one!) to steal cars from a moving train car only to be double crossed by their employer, Brazilian crime lord Herman Reyes, after they learn the nature of what they were stealing. Now implicated in the murder of the DEA agents that were killed while guarding the seized cars, the three find themselves on the run from US D.S.S. Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and in direct opposition of Reyes. Assembling a team made up of everyone even mildly useful still left in the Fast and Furious universe in what would be a crazy “What If…?”-type scenario if any of them were bigger stars on stronger career paths, the now expanded Toretto clan hatch a plan to take down Reyes’ empire and steal his $100,000,000 fortune.
Consistent with its immediate predecessor, Fast Five starts out relatively heavy handed with our heroes on their lowest ebb, establishing a bit of a downer atmosphere before busting the whole thing wide open. It almost feels like two different movies, the first act dealing with both the literal and tonal left overs of the world our heroes were leaving behind, allowing the rest of the movie to become something different and better. Where the action in the Fast and the Furious could verge on the unbelievable, the first signs of the shift towards balls-out absurdity showed up in the first major action set piece. Brian and Dom had been tough characters before, but in Fast Five they became nearly invincible heroes, jumping from high-speed trains and defeating anyone in their path on their way to a bone-breakingly high desert chasm drop with nothing more than a fun story to tell their grandchildren. These were no longer the boys who once struggled to help their friend Vince off the trailer truck he’d become tethered to, they’d become the type of men who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn, and it’s right when they start naming team members for their heist plsn that you should start getting a huge grin on your fence and start going “Whaaaaaat?”
With Tokyo Drift’s Han as team chameleon, 2 Fast 2 Furious’ Tej and Roman as tech support and team fast talker respectively, and Fast and Furious’ Giselle as utilities and weapons expert and those two weird Spanish guys for demolitions, honestly the movie strains more than a little bit trying to justify everyone’s inclusion, but that’s the fun of the whole thing. Fast Five isn’t significantly more than “Let’s get everyone and hope it all hangs together… also, the Rock,” and luckily it does hang together. Fast Five is widely considered the best in the series, and while that can be individually disputed, it’s certainly the most fun and action packed. Importantly, it also doesn’t lose sight of its car roots, only trading in the quaint notion of rebuilt Civics and Paseos for world-class cars like a GT3 RS, two (!) Koenigseggs, and even cultural rarities like a De Tomaso Pantera.
I still have a tough time with the ending and believing that two Chargers could haul a giant money vault all over Rio, even with all the NOS in the world, and I refuse to believe that the team’s actions didn’t lead to a massive amount of innocent civilian casualties. With the way they destroy the city in that scene, it also seems like they did so much damage that even if they gave the $100 million they stole back to the city it wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of repairs. And of course they didn’t give the money back.
On the other hand, the one that counts, Fast Five is just a really fun movie, one that transcends logic and reason. It feels like the reward we, the audience, and they, the actors, have earned after so many more serious installments, none of which were ever really that good. If you can buy into the series’ expansion as a balls-out action franchise, you can smell what the Rock is cooking, and you just want to have fun with an engaging movie that doesn’t insult you with incomprehensible camera movements and tone-deaf storytelling, I can’t imagine you not liking Fast Five.
Fast Five final score: 8.5
Best Car: Mia’s Ford GT40
Worst Car: The gang’s Subaru WRX STI (again, for crimes against grip driving)
On the Edge
- How hot did Mia look behind the wheel of that NSX? And those bangs!
- Roman: “Eleven million? Sounds like a whole lotta vaginal activity to me.”
- Is Hobbs’ entire team sponsored by Under Armor or something?
- I know the big fight was Dom and Hobbs, but they still should’ve found a more intimidating enforcer for Reyes than Zizi.
- I wish they had done either more or less with Elsa Pataky’s character. She had an arc, but not one that was well served as is, and her continued inclusion, paired up with Dom, just leaves us with a messy obstacle later on when they needed to write her out. And they knew they were bringing back Letty anyways, so that’s an obstacle that could’ve been avoided.
Fast & Furious 6
It’s with Fast Five that the Fast and Furious series became a world-beating juggernaut of a movie franchise, as evidenced by its box office take, and it’s also the movie that finally allowed the characters and concepts to really start creeping their way into our hearts. If the series had simply ended with Fast & Furious, we’d probably only have a forgettable series of movies notable only for glorifying immature boy racers, but Fast Five was the one that allowed us all to love these characters and this world. Fast Five was so fun and so ridiculous and such a departure from the series’ once self-serious storytelling that suddenly it was okay to like the world of The Fast and the Furious. Even if it defined the shut-your-brain-off-and-watch movie-going experience, it was good enough and strong enough and earnest enough to gain loyal followers. Fast Five set a high bar for the series, and Fast & Furious 6 had a lot to live up to.
In the wake of their successful Rio heist, our heroes have settled into lives of comfort and privilege, but when Agent Hobbs discovers that Dom’s former accomplice and love interest Letty may still be alive and working with former British Special Forces officer Owen Shaw and his evil, twisted, mirror-image team in various bits of car-related evil-doing, he enlists the help of Dominic Torreto and his crew to take down Shaw and get Letty back.
The thing I most appreciate with Fast & Furious 6 is that it involves and resolves plot threads that have been established all throughout the series’ history, with Letty’s mysterious return, Brian’s time with the FBI, Braga’s ongoing involvement, and Han’s ultimate fate. The movie proceeds through all of these points without allowing them to weigh it down, and it’s a testament to the writers that most of it comes across organically (if not necessarily or realistically). At least compared to the writing in the rest of the series.
For me, Fast & Furious 6 started off on the wrong foot with its incredibly clichéd “you’re gonna be a great dad or I’ll kill you” dialogue between Dom and Brian, and it’s such an eye-rolling moment that I almost couldn’t get over it. More objectively, I’m fine with and even enjoyed most of the rest of the movie, particularly Dom’s teams initial confrontation with Shaw’s team and the bridge tank scenes (though the latter stretches into incredulity without as much of a payoff as Fast Five’s… overall incredulity). The movie slows down a bit too much in the middle and the characters just don’t seem in their element following clues and investigating Shaw, and, really, a paramilitary strike force should probably kick the sh*t out of a street racing gang. To be honest, I also kind of lost the plot immediately because it’s too intricate for what I was looking for in a Fast and Furious movie (I still don’t remember what that computer chip does, and I just watched the movie again). But I’m still okay with all of that.
What really kills the movie is that final set piece on the world’s longest runway. It just doesn’t hang together or make any sense, and it’s not even that visually striking until we see the cars speeding ahead of the burning plane. It’s also ridiculous with who lives and who dies, fulfilling the series continuity by writing Gal Gadot’s Giselle out, essentially having her disappear into the darkness because it would be too hard for audiences to watch such a pretty lady smashed into the ground, but allowing Dom to live through one of the most certain-looking deaths in the series (after surviving the other most certain-looking death on the bridge).
If you’ve accepted what these movies are about and stuck by the series this long, however, none of that matters so much that you wouldn’t want to see Fast & Furious 6, and Shaw’s group, particularly with the flip car really was a pretty cool and credible threat to our group. The movie solidified the Rock’s Agent Hobbs as a member of Dom’s extended family and it’s still pretty good up until the runway scene, just not as good as Fast Five.
Fast & Furious 6 final score: 7
Best Car: Brian’s Ford Escort
Worst Car: Roman’s Ford Mustang (Mustangs suck, period)
On the Edge
- Letty: “Klaus, aren’t you team muscle? Don’t make me go over there and make you team pussy.”
- Y’know what’s not very good for breaking a fall propelled by a car moving at high speeds? Another car.
- Oh yeah, Gina Carano was in this. Yeah, she sucks.
- So did they tell Luke Evans to do his best Jason Statham impression or did that just happen naturally?
Look, I’m not saying that the Fast and Furious series has been a great series, that it doesn’t fall apart the more you think about it, that it’s not shallow and deliberately immature, or that it’s a diverget beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak movie landscape of sequels and remakes. I don’t think anyone’s trying to make those arguments. In fact, other than a couple of installments, it’s not even that good or even that notable, and its finer points are pretty lazily written. It is not, however, a lazy series. It’s full of inspired action choreography, a surprising amount of practical effects, ipeople who love what they’re doing and are proud of the work they’re putting out, and it’s just got a lot of heart. It’s not hateful or cynical or spiteful of its audience the way other, more egregious (but still highly profitable) recent action series have been, and it’s a series that rewards its fans with a message that’s heartwarming and hopeful and ultimately appreciative of the chances its been given.
It’s a series that lives its life a quarter-mile at a time, and four those two hours or less, it lets its fans be free.
And the next one has Kurt Russell, and g*ddamnit, that’s exciting.