“The Fast and the Furious”
For a series that consistently makes top-ten lists of the highest grossing franchises, The Fast and the Furious has a surprisingly subdued start. Paul Walker plays Brian O’Conner, a cop who goes undercover in a street racing gang, led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel).
As tends to happen, Brian gets in too far, developing an obligatory romance with Dominic’s sister, but also a bromance with Dom that ultimately drives the entire series. If it sounds like Point Break except with street racing, that’s because it mostly is, but it’s worthwhile on its own merits and it starts off the franchise, both plot-wise and thematically.
The first entry in the franchise is probably the film most concerned with depicting raw speed. Unlike the complicated setpiece chases in the later films, The Fast and The Furious is mostly concerned with drag racing, which means that most of the races in the film could boil down to shots of the racers’ faces while they go into some kind of speed-induced grimace.
Thankfully, somebody, maybe director Rob Cohen, was too smart for that, and gave us some variety in terms of cinematography, including a few bumper-level midrace shots and a CGI view of an engine starting which could still hold its own against today’s B-movies.
Unfortunately, The Fast and The Furious is lacking in the fury. Admittedly, the title could be interpreted several different ways, with the Furious possibly referring to Vin Deisel’s character, who has an anger problem, or to Johnny Tran, the most clear-cut antagonist, or even to the furious world that the characters seek to escape by street racing.
The fact is that I’m looking for some Mad Max-style furious, and the movie disappoints. Despite an admittedly thrilling sequence concerned with rescuing a character from the hood of a moving semi and a short gunfight, the film is mostly whatever the opposite of furious is.
“2 Fast 2 Furious”
With an even more cliched, go-undercover-and-catch-a-cartel plot, this is the movie that everyone pretends doesn’t exist. Admittedly, it introduced several series regulars, such as Tej Parker, played with surprising deftness by Ludacris, and I have trouble hating a movie with characters that seriously consider stopping a boat by jumping a car into it.
However, it has uneven pacing, there’s no Vin Diesel, Brian does the thing where he falls in love with a woman for no reason, and the only female Asian driver in the series is given a pink car with anime decals, because that’s just the kind of movie this is.
If you thought that the Fast & Furious series gets by on being fast, 2 Fast 2 Furious provides a compelling counterexample. In the rest of the series, whenever Vin Diesel gives a speech about family, which is apparently his favorite hobby besides street racing, it feels corny and cloying. Without that grounding, though, the films turn into what their harshest critics believe them to be–indulgent displays of excess.
The main characters are basically only interested in helping themselves and going fast, and the supporting characters don’t really seem to have lives of their own, beyond going fast, obviously. The movie is aptly named, if only because it’s too fast for it’s own good.
It’s also not very furious, to be honest. Just like the first film, there aren’t many scenes dedicated to fury over fast. Since we don’t really have a reason to car e about the characters, we don’t really care how furiously they behave, even if that includes the aforementioned jumping a car into a boat. With its more traditional action movie trappings of guns and cartels, this is also the first movie to invite comparisons to the excesses of the later films.
Even though Paul Walker hanging halfway out of a car is objectively thrilling, it really can’t compete with what Paul Walker gets up to in later movies.
“The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift”
This film is another series outlier. It completely discards the cast and plot of the previous two films to tell a story about a high school delinquent who’s given a choice between Tokyo and jail after a disastrous street racing accident.
Putting aside what that choice says about the writer’s opinions of Japan, it gives newcomer director Justin Lin, who directed entries three through six, a great chance to showcase a tighter, less roomy country. Incidentally, this film also introduces and kills off Han, a character so popular that the next three movies are made into prequels of this one, just so that they can have Han in them.
The claustrophobic confines of Tokyo are a far cry from the open cities of LA and Miami from the last two movies. This allows for the titular drifting, which is essentially just oversteering and letting your car slide sideways. Combined with the fact that Tokyo is basically one of the prettiest cities in the world, drifting allows for some of the best driving shots in the series. Whether it’s a cheesy slow-mo shot of a car’s bumper just barely avoiding a wall, or a legitimately beautiful shot of a group of cars drifting, almost floating, through a dense crowd, the cars in this film could go the slowest, but they would still look the best doing it.
On the surface, the movie doesn’t seem particularly furious. Since it deals with high schoolers, it starts off with the lowest stakes in the series. However, this lets us actually understand how much trouble the characters are in. Unlike the other movies, where nobody even bats an eye at the fact that they’re being shot at, we actually get to experience the transition from carefree street racing to street racing where the Yakuza kills you if you lose. Where the later films in the series deal mostly in the loud, throwing-cars-out-of-a-plane kind of tension, this is the last film to seriously utilize the quiet kind of tension, and it pays off in furiousness.
“Fast & Furious”
The confusingly-named fourth entry in the series loses the “the’s,” and apparently trades them in for a forgettable movie. It’s not that it’s that bad–it’s at least better than 2 Fast–it’s just that it’s sandwiched between the two best movies in the series, and it largely just rehashes things we’ve already seen. Brian’s a cop again, and Dom’s still a criminal, and they do basically the same thing they did in the first movie, except now there’s a bigger criminal that they’re both after, since he killed Dom’s girlfriend. If you decide to marathon the series, which is an exceptionally good idea, you could just skip this one, or replace it with any other action movie, and have a better time.
Fast: Who cares/10
Furious: Watch The Raid instead/10
This is where things actually start to get furious. Fast Five is a turning point for the series, less of a street racing movie and more of an action-heist. During the obligatory bringing-the-team together montage, the franchise shows its greatest strength–it has a history, but you’re not required to know it.
Every character brought in for the heist–Ludacris, the one female character from the last film, Han, Roman–has played a part in the series before, and we know them and like them, but if this is the first movie you see, as it was for many people, you don’t miss much. Let’s see Marvel pull that off.
There’s not much racing here, but it’s still the Fast and Furious series, so everything is somehow still about cars. A heist of cars goes wrong when some of the heisters turn on other heisters, and it turns out one of the cars contains a microchip detailing where all of a cartel’s money is kept.
Just when you thought the word “heist” was about to lose all meaning, the characters decide to plan a heist to heist that money. Unfortunately, the only actual car chase in the film isn’t especially fast, since the cars are dragging an entire bank vault behind them. Apparently when you live in the Fast and Furious universe, that’s a reasonable plan.
Along with a new focus come some growing pains as the film tries to figure out how realistic it wants to be. The first segments, featuring Paul Walker hanging off of a car which is hanging out of a train, and a chase across the rooftops of Rio de Janeiro, are pretty standard as action movies go. While furious, they seem within the realm of possibility. When two cars pull a vault out of a police station and start using it like a flail, though, suspensions of belief might be strained. While it certainly has a lot of aspirations toward fury, there’s a little awkwardness in bringing it to bear.
“Fast & Furious 6”
If the series was going through an awkward adolescence in Fast Five, then Fast & Furious 6 is it emerging from its pimply, acne-scarred cocoon and learning to fly. The series has essentially dropped its criminal origins, as Dom and friends help Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character catch an international criminal in exchange for amnesty, and a return to the United States.
We’re back to car chases, but with more of a twist than the street races of the first four films. While the main characters drive their typical modded street racers, the villains drive terrifying ramp-cars that are something between Formula One cars and tanks. There’s also a sequence where a tank bursts out of a truck, and they have to streetrace it, which sounds a lot more stupid than it is. The climax of the film comes when they have to streetrace a plane, which ends with Vin Diesel jumping a car out the cockpit of a plane as it explodes. The racing is over-the-top, but somehow it all works.
I’m really glad that the latest entry in the Fast and Furious series is named after its defining characteristic, because this is the most furious thing I’ve ever seen. This movie single handedly merits the inclusion of the word ‘furious’ in the English language. I refuse to evaluate the fastness of this film on principle, because any evaluation other than that of fury misses the point.
To give some context, the villain, played by Jason Statham, himself a pretty furious dude, is revealed to have been responsible for the death of Han, which, given how much I like Han, made me furious. It also made Vin Diesel, Paul Walker and Dwayne Johnson pretty furious, because they go on to do some pretty furious things, as in they jump a car out of a skyscraper into another skyscraper.
Fast: It doesn’t even matter at this point/10
This is a movie where, when you’re getting attacked by a drone, you drive an ambulance into it, then shoot it in its drone face with your revolver. When you can’t get your car past a mountain, you have a plane fly you over the mountain, then you drop your car onto the mountain. If that had been it, I would have written off the movie as just another male power fantasy, but it manages to retain enough of the series’ sentimentality that the characters still seem grounded, despite being airborne while jumping their car into a helicopter.